John Taylor: Angel of the Presence (2005)
The title sums this record up perfectly. Presence can be defined as the feeling of being close to someone or something, sometimes of a supernatural order; and angels, symbols of spiritual elevation and purity, are ethereal heavenly beings. English pianist/composer John Taylor has succeeded in crystallizing the two not only in a poetic title, but also the music on this release. Maybe the aptly titled album is a quiet homage to the late pianist's spouse, whose computer-generated artistic work garnishes the album's cover and liner notes? Throughout, the presence of angels is felt nearby.
Steve Swallow's "Up Too Late," a hypnotic mid-tempo swing tune which starts off the record, features Taylor's compositional approach to improvisation in a virtuosic, expressionist solo with jolted oblique lines and large intervals, trading with drummer Martin France. Taylor's "Dry Stone" is a lethargic ballad with a plaintive, unresolved chord progression. Taylor's ability to express moods through a seemingly infinite array of textures and techniques is uncanny.
Following a short, sort of ethnic-sounding intro, the trio takes off for Taylor's melodious "In Cologne," somewhat reminiscent of Kenny Wheeler's "Everybody's Song But My Own" in its fast waltz feel, but with a brighter odd-metered vamp section. "Sweet Dulcinea" is a sleepy ballad meshed in softly ringing chords and sensitive brushes and cymbal work. In its continuation of the Bill Evans trio's collective approach to improvisation, this unit achieves cohesiveness through acute listening and tasteful reaction. Another Swallow song, "Vaguely Asian," has a recurrent pedal-point section that is held together by France's crisp percussive work. Taylor's high-register voicings and string brushing, a technique he made his own, add to the Asian-ness of this selection.
With its slow rubato marshy aura, "Fable" is similar to some of Bobo Stenson's ECM work; the music takes shape as each instrumentalist spills tones carefully on a stark aural landscape in a hazy three-way counterpoint. Taylor's last original, "Afterthought," is an ingenious up-tempo waltz that exemplifies his well-honed compositional skill. It alternates between ample/lyrical passages and a syncopated rhythmic tag (also used as an interlude between solos).
Taylor effortlessly surfs over the pulse, often using repeated rhythmic cells that have their own internally charged impetus, giving his lines a sense of weightlessness. Behind such meandering and gravity-defying phrasing, France and Danielsson, both master accompanists, gracefully add colours, nuances and depth. Danielsson's playing is an art in itself. He is one of the most-recorded bassists on Manfred Eicher's ECM Records.
The closing "Introduction to No Particular Song" is a de rigueur Wheeler composition. (Taylor has adopted the welcome habit of including at least of one his trumpeter friend's pieces on his projects.)
Track Listing: Up Too Late; Dry Stone; In Cologne; Sweet Dulcinea; Vaguely Asian; Fable; Afterthought; Intro To No Particular Song.
Personnel: John Taylor: piano; Martin France: drums; Palle Danielson: bass.