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Artist Profiles

The Not So Strange and Bizarre Life of Mike Taylor

By Published: March 27, 2013
The group's performance was given a fairly lukewarm response by critics, though Ornette was, according to Tomlin, quite complimentary. However, with the support of trumpeter Ian Carr
Ian Carr
Ian Carr
1933 - 2009
, producer Denis Preston agreed to cut an album with the band. Pendulum featured Taylor, Hiseman, Tony Reeves and Dave Tomlin on soprano. Again some critics didn't get it and, for the time, it simply didn't sound like anything else around. The group took standards like "A Night in Tunisia" and "But Not For Me" and fashioned wholly new compositions from them. On the Gillespie tune, only Tomlin ever quotes the theme in its entirety. The group play across bar lines and yet the music swings. As for the three Taylor originals, these are even better with the title track a stone classic of 60s jazz.

For Tony Reeves, the originals work best and he expresses doubts about Taylor's use of the three standards. "I thought they didn't work at all. The original things like "Pendulum" itself were much more effective but "But Not For Me" skirts and wanders around the tune and eventually launches off into hyperspace. You could have played the free form part of it to any head."

It did well enough, however, for Preston to ask Taylor to make a second album for his Lansdowne Series. Meantime, Taylor had also written some pieces for Group Sounds Five, a group "led" by trumpeter Henry Lowther and also featuring Jon Hiseman and Ron Rubin. Of the four pieces he wrote for the band, both "Black and White Raga" and "Thirteen Note Samba" revealed something of Taylor's compositional ambition. The former is featured on the wonderful New Jazz Orchestra recording Mike Taylor Remembered available on Dusk Fire and showcasing many of the musicians who had played with Taylor.

The follow up to Pendulum was a Trio-cum-quartet affair called appropriately Trio, featuring Hiseman and Ron Rubin, back on bass having returned from Mallorca. On three tracks—Sammy Kahn's "While My Lady Sleeps" and two Taylor originals, "Two Autumns" and "Guru"—Jack Bruce joins Rubin on bass and he alone is heard on "Stella By Starlight."

Ron Rubin seemed rather nonplussed about the record 40 plus years on and recalls being told by Taylor, "to play as far away from the standard chords," as he could on "The End of a Love Affair." While accepting that it worked, it seemed "wrong" to him then and now. But as he added in his journal, "Hiseman plays beautifully. For me the best track is the hauntingly lovely "Abena.""

Another entry in Rubin's journal gives both a flavor of the times and a glimpse of Rubin's ambivalence and of the pleasures and pains of working with Mike Taylor,

"Saturday 18 February 1967—Mike Taylor, the Three O'Clock Man came around, as usual bang on time. A gauche mélange of inspiration and inadequacy, hipness and naïveté. Pot smoking, we did our way-out free-form improvisations. Mike tapes and listens to them in the night—heat of the moment creations, which he then transmutes into compositions. There's a lot of dross but when it gels, it's magic. Gabbed for an hour about theories of music and new forms of expression."

The irony that an album he played on is now so sought after certainly does not escape Rubin, as he says, "By 2007, the disc had become a collector's item. I sold my spare copy for £200 and heard the album was on offer on the net for over a grand. At the time it was made Mike was working as a dishwasher. That says it all."

Rubin is right about "Abena," but the record is quite magnificent with "Guru" another dark, exotic masterpiece, while everything else—standards or originals—sounds fresh and beautifully weighted. Trio was Taylor's swan song, though Neil Ardley and the New Jazz Orchestra would revive his work for the Mike Taylor Remembered album and Jon Hiseman with Colosseum would keep the flame alive. Both records are indispensable parts of any self-respecting collection. Whilst Trio was briefly available on Universal, a reissue of Pendulum stalled over an ownership issue, that has never been resolved.

Some of the songs on Mike Taylor Remembered—"Timewind," "Summer Sounds, Summer Sights" and "Jumping Off The Sun"—actually began life as a projected Taylor-Tomlin musical, with the latter contributing lyrics. They never finished the project but perhaps inspired by this experience, Taylor collaborated with old friend Ginger Baker on songs for the third Cream album, Wheels Of Fire. They produced three songs—the whimsical "Passing The Time," eccentric "Pressed Rat And Warthog" and stirring, magnificent "Those Were The Days." For the first time, he was making some money from his music and he was also writing for the New Jazz Orchestra. The band's second and finest album, Déjeuner Sur L'herbe, includes two fine tunes by Taylor—"Ballad" and "Study" (based on an exercise played by Spanish guitarist Segovia).

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