To me, one of the pleasures of reviewing music is the opportunity it presents to become acquainted with unrecognized but talented artists and help them get their message across to others. I met Thomas Taylor in January at the 30th conference of the International Association for Jazz Education (IAJE), and he was kind enough to let me have a copy of his debut album.
Taylor is a drummer who teaches at North Carolina Central University in Greensboro and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and is chairman of the Percussion and Jazz Education Center at the Music Academy of NC and the Jamey Aebersold Summer Jazz Camps. Taylor also writes does he ever! The first four numbers are his, and they are as handsomely drawn as anything on the album (which includes charming compositions by John Coltrane, Stanley Clarke, Blue Mitchell and Josh Redman, Bill Lee’s “Again Never” and the Richard Whiting standard, “My Ideal,” dedicated to Taylor’s wife, Yuko).
I assume Taylor arranged everything as well, except for Trane’s “Naima,” credited also to Eric Alexander and Chris Hankins. A second assumption is that all or most of Taylor’s colleagues are teachers (if I’m not mistaken, saxophonist / flutist Ira Wiggins heads the Jazz Studies department at NC Central University in Durham). Wiggins is an impressive player but so is everyone else there are no novices in this neck of the woods. Taylor, a strong but tasteful timekeeper in the Jimmy Cobb / Art Taylor / Lewis Nash tradition, anchors a rock-ribbed rhythm section (Harry Pickens, piano; Jud Franklin, guitar; Herman Burney or Steve Haines, bass), and there are trenchant solos by Wiggins (tenor and flute), Franklin, Pickens, trumpeter Ray Codrington and trombonist Fred Wesley.
As for the tunes, if Mitchell’s playful “Fungi Mama” (a showcase for Franklin’s guitar and rhythm) doesn’t set your toes to tapping, chances are nothing will. Taylor’s drums set the mood, as they do on every number, from the searing “Mango!” to Redman’s soulful “Blues on Sunday” (another feature for Franklin). Taylor steps from behind the drum kit to sing on “My Ideal,” revealing a pleasant tenor that is only a few practice sessions removed from proficient. Taylor’s “Learnin’ the Ropes” is a laid-back blues, “Passing the Torch” a luminous ballad, “Nantoka Kantoka” a well- designed 100-meter dash for Franklin, Taylor and one of the bassists.
Anyone who argues that teachers can’t play should listen with an open ear to these gentlemen.