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Taylor's Universe: Across the Universe

Dave Wayne By

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Back in the day, record companies would occasionally issue "Greatest Hits" compilation albums. Usually cheaply packaged (no gatefold, no credits, no liner notes, etc.), these collections were a convenient way to have all of an artist's big hits (plus some filler) in one convenient location. Record companies reaped huge profits from these collections and, perhaps, took a little contractual pressure off of the artist. With the advent of streaming and iTunes, Greatest Hits collections have been rendered unnecessary. What's replaced them, though, are "Artists Choice" collections, wherein archival tracks are selected by the artists themselves. Often lavishly packaged and thoroughly annotated, these seem to be aimed at would-be connoisseurs as well as adventurous souls who want to dip their toes into some new music. With Across The Universe, Robin Taylor has upped the ante on the whole Artist's Choice concept. Subtitled An Introduction to Taylor's Universe, this album is comprised of new renditions of pieces from Taylor's back catalog; re-recorded, re-mixed and re-mastered. There may have been some fan-base input to the choices of tracks, or they may have simply been Taylor's favorites. Either way, the album's liners give no clue as to any specifics. The collection consists of three tracks ("Firestone," "Tortugas," and "Salon Bleu") from Kind of Red (Marvel of Beauty, 2012), two ("Mooncake" and "Haunted Yellow House") from Return to Whatever (MALS Records, 2009), and two ("Fame" and "Days Run Like Horses") from Artificial Joy (Marvel of Beauty, 2009).

As strong as the music is throughout—as is always the case with Robin Taylor's projects—the whole thing left me scratching my head. On the plus side, the recording and production quality of Across The Universe is simply astounding. The sound is remarkably rich, full and dimensional. Taylor's music literally leaps out of the speakers. On the minus side, the mix favors Taylor's auxiliary percussion a bit too much. The tambourines, in particular, are very much in one's face; distractingly so during the solos towards the end of "Firestone." As solid as this collection is—and there are interesting reworkings of Taylor's signature pieces such as "Days Run Like Horses," "Fame," and "Firestone"—nothing on this album (aside from some the new Moog and guitar solos) sounds like a vast improvement over the originals. This is mostly because the originals were so good to begin with.

Taylor, who generally prefers to leave the improvisational duties to his fellow musicians, has drafted another choice group of soloists to light up Across the Universe. And frankly, they are all worth checking out. Chief among these is Thomas Thor Videro Ulstrup, whose marvelously acrobatic MinoMoog solos scratch the same spots that Jan Hammer and Max Middleton got to with startling regularity back in their heyday. Another familiar face is Jakob Mygind (ss/ts), a saxophonist whose savvy, rough-hewn sound hews closer to the "soul" end of the spectrum than the "jazz" end. New to Taylor's Universe are guitarist John Sund and guitarist / keyboardist Frank Carvalho. Sund, a jazz virtuoso well-known in his native Denmark, has worked with Palle Mikkelborg and the Danish Radio Big Band. He also leads his own band, Acoustic Sense. Sund's blazing solos on the first four tracks are a real treat. He's one of those guys who never lets his raw emotionality get overtaken by his own considerable chops. Carvalho, a member of the Danish progressive rock band Etcetera, takes a more measured, overtly rock-based approach that seems right at home in Taylor's doomy, bombastic instrumental prog. The biggest surprise: Taylor himself steps out for an all-too-brief solo on "Tortugas."

Across The Universe definitely functions well as an introduction to the music of Taylor's Universe. Though the tropical jazz-fusion sound of the opening track, "Salon Bleu," owes a stylistic debt to late-period Weather Report, the remainder of this collection definitely hews more towards the heavy prog-rock end of the spectrum. A head-scratcher for sure, but also a convenient way to gain entry into Taylor's Universe.

Track Listing

Salon Bleu 2015; Firestone 2015; Days Run Like Horses 2015; Fame 2015; Tortugas 2015; Haunted Yellow House 2015; Mooncake 2015.

Personnel

Robin C. Taylor: guitars (solo on 5), basses, acoustic piano, Hammond M100 organ, Crumar Stringman, Mellotron, Fender Rhodes, Roland JV2080 and MicroKorg synthesizers, Casiotone, Yamaha PortaSound, harmonium, glockenspiel, key bass, percussion; Jakob Mygind: tenor and soprano saxophones; Klaus Thrane: drums; John Sund: guitar solos (1-4); Frank Carvalho: guitar solos (4,6,7), MiniMoog solo (7); Thomas Thor Videro Ulstrup: MiniMoog solos (1-6); Louise Nipper and Jan Fischer: voices (1). Thomas Thor Videro Ulstrup -Synthesizer Frank Carvalho -Guitar, add. synthesizer Klaus Thrane -Drums Louise Nipper and Jan Fischer -Voice

Album information

Title: Across the Universe | Year Released: 2016 | Record Label: Marvel of Beauty

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