James Taylor: James Taylor Quartet's The First Sixty Four Minutes

Trevor MacLaren By

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James Taylor Quartet
The First Sixty Four Minutes
Re-elect The President/Acid Jazz

Though virtually unknown in North America, the James Taylor Quartet has been a cult phenomenon in the UK for the past twenty years. The group began by revitalizing the great soul jazz of Blue Note's late-'60s/early-'70s catalog, then moved on to help lead the organic version of the acid jazz movement. The First Sixty Four Minutes is comprised of the first two JTQ records, Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder, originally issued on the now defunct Re-elect The President label. Taylor and crew mix funk, soul jazz and rock into a stew that is both original and retro, but most importantly a lot of fun.

Taylor started out as the organist of a garage-rock revival band called The Prisoners. After the band broke up, he then stepped out on his own to form the quartet. The original JTQ played loose soul jazz that owed as much to Booker T. and The MG's as it did to Jimmy Smith. The music was completely jam-oriented but worked within a song structure, often taking cues from old spy movie and cop show themes. Lalo Schifrin's classic late-'60s/early-'70s film and television scores play a huge influence on his overall tone. Taylor covered Schifrin's themes for Dirty Harry, Starsky and Hutch and Mission Impossible. As the music in London became more preoccupied with acid jazz, then dubbed "rare groove," so did the JTQ. The group's sound became tighter constructed while vocalists began to appear. With a tighter foundation, the pieces became more oriented toward songs and less toward jams. Though the late records such as Creator are essential to the JTQ sound, the loose vibe of Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder adhere more to the jam idea of jazz.

The JTQ's debut, which comprises the first half of The First Sixty Four Minutes, is the album Mission Impossible, which snaps open with a cover of "Blow Up," an often-overlooked Herbie Hancock classic from the film of the same name that had Hancock swinging like he had never swung before. These players not only capture Hancock's sounds, they grab right onto the groove of '60s swinging London that Antonioni had brilliantly captured in the film. The JTQ is led by Taylor's Hammond B-3, which gives the record a garage band feel while simultaneously tapping into the vibes of Jack McDuff, Jimmy McGriff, Rueben Wilson and Jimmy Smith. Mission Impossible is rounded out by an assortment of film covers and a couple of originals. This half of the reissue does not show Taylor's composing gifts, but it does reveal him as an intricate arranger.

The second half of the CD is comprised of 1987's The Money Spyder, a collection of Taylor originals that allow his talents as a composer to come into the spotlight. The Money Spyder is primarily a concept record. Its concept is a soundtrack to an imaginary '60s spy film called The Money Spyder. With titles like "One Way Street" and "Car Chase," the idea follows through. Here the backbone ideologies of Schifrin's genius scores are worked down into a lower budget, minimal arrangement, yet they still pack the same punch. Taylor uses Schifrin's funk-edged jazz that bled through the high-energy chase scenes. Taylor of course adds his own flourishes, such as putting the organ up front, and omits the over the top string sections. But the tracks flow from solid groove to solid groove, encompassing everything that made the soul jazz and funk jazz records from the late '60s and early '70s so damn good.

The vibe on later JTQ records headed more into the acid jazz vein, starting with 1989's Get Organized. Taylor began basing the arrangements on concise tracks that had become occupied with a dance beat. Still In the Hand of The Inevitable and Creation also feature a more varied sound but are far more cautious. Taylor would work with a lot of outside artists to add horns, vocals, etc. to the music. But the early recordings have a unique, loose and carefree charm that seems to have been lost.

After the appearance of "Austin's Theme" in the Austin Powers movies, Hollywood Records reissued both Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder as separate discs in North America.

Suggested Spins:
James Taylor Quartet, Get Organized, Polydor 1989
James Taylor Quartet, Creation, Acid Jazz, 1996
Herbie Hancock/Various Artists, Blow Up, Columbia 1966
Jimmy McGriff, Electric Funk, Blue Note 1969
Lalo Schifrin, Bullit, Alex 1996
Lalo Schifrin, Dirty Harry [Original Score], Aleph 2004
Lalo Schifrin, Enter The Dragon, Warner 1973
Lalo Schifrin, The Reel Lalo Schifrin, Hip-O 1998
Jimmy Smith, Back at The Chicken Shack, Blue Note 1960
Jimmy Smith, Midnight Special, Blue Note 1960
Dr. Lonnie Smith, Think!, Blue Note 1968
Reuben Wilson, Blue Mode, Blue Note 1969

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