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Mike Taylor: Pendulum

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The jazz world is certainly littered with its share of unheralded greats who died too young, but even in the world of Sonny Clarks and Wardell Grays, there are those whose recorded legacy is almost nil—ever heard of Jack Graham or Ric Colbeck? English pianist and composer Mike Taylor is among the latter category; his two Lansdowne LPs went out of print almost immediately and he was found floating in a London bay in 1969 after years of drug-induced schizophrenia. Still, with compositions covered by the likes of Cream and Neil Ardley (whose Mike Taylor Remembered disc was released in 2007 on Trunk) and both of his leader sessions now available on CD, a level of interest and appreciation may be attained that he never knew in his lifetime.

Pendulum, the first of his two dates and recorded in 1965, joins Taylor with regular cohorts drummer Jon Hiseman and bassist Ron Rubin, as well as Dave Tomlin on soprano. Of the six pieces rendered here, three are standards and the rest are his compositions. From the opening volleys of "But Not For Me," one knows they're in for something entirely different. Taylor, like Andrew Hill, hangs above and behind the beat and Rubin quickly follows him there, sketching and shading while Hiseman keeps a semblance of meter. Tomlin's sound hearkens back to a young Steve Lacy; indeed, he sticks to extemporizations of the theme while the rhythm section picks it apart in reflection and implications of pulse. "A Night in Tunisia" is a distant soprano call as Taylor roils in the depths, before emerging with a decidedly clunky left-hand approach to the theme. It's not that a quartet covering this tune will necessarily be "thin," but the way this group renders it, is so sketchy and obtuse that, while recognizable, it seems decidedly alien.

Hiseman's looseness is actually the most in-the-pocket of anyone here; he is a melodic drummer with excellent time and yet provides a very expansive net—without it, Taylor's constant diversions might get the entire ensemble lost. The title track is a plaintive rondo, but Taylor quickly finds ways to expand on the minimalist theme in a brutal game of "comping" (the saxophonist is quickly lost). Ironically, when it's his turn to solo, he nearly evaporates—he'd already played one whilst Tomlin took his. "To Segovia" is a weirdly lyrical theme effortlessly swinging with a Moorish ken—it's no wonder that figures like Ginger Baker, Pete Brown and Jack Bruce found ways to put words to his music.

Pendulum presents some of the most challenging music in the annals of British jazz, a busting-open of group interplay in a standard setting and some of the most interesting pianism in the modern canon. Clearly influential on the movers and shakers in English free piano (Howard Riley; Peter Lemer), it's a wonder what Mike Taylor could have become. It's also true that his approach belied his psychology and his story may have had no other end. Thankfully, his playing and compositions are here for rediscovery.

Track Listing: But Not For Me; Exactly Like You; A Night In Tunisia; Pendulum; To Segovia; Leeway.

Personnel: Mike Taylor: piano; Ron Rubin: bass; Jon Hiseman: drums; Dave Tomlin: soprano saxophone.

Title: Pendulum | Year Released: 2008 | Record Label: Sunbeam Records

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