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Summit Records recently re-released Tom Taylor's 1986 CD The Crossing, a sophisticated fusion effort that should please fans of Bela Fleck and the Flecktones, Jean Luc Ponty and the Pat Metheny Group.
Taylor is a guitarist and composer who blends classical styles with jazz and hints of bluegrass. Many similar attempts at fusing jazz with classical music have seemed pretentious, but The Crossing works on the strength of the leader's original compositions and his players' vituosity. The CD features Taylor's old band (guitar, vibes, bass, drums) along with some talented guests, including peerless mandolin picker Dave Grisman and the Kronos Quartet.
Colorado native Taylor earned Musician Magazine's Best Unsigned Band Award of 1997 for the opening track here, "Audade." This piece is a tricky but catchy creation with Grisman on mandolin, Taylor on classical and electric guitars, and Joe Caploe on vibes. The album's centerpiece is "Big Basin Breakdown," a knee-slapping blend of baroque counterpoint, bluegrass and jazz. It features the Kronos Quartet, the unconventional string ensemble, and it's all the more compelling because it doesn't take itself too seriously.
Other high points include "Pasque March," a composition with a baroque feel that showcases some jazzy interplay sort of Vivaldi meets the Flecktones. "Swamp Fox" starts out like a pulsing Phillip Glass piece, but gives way to a twisting jazz-rock melody that creates a vaguely martial mood.
I especially like the way the composer uses vibes and marimba to establish different tempos, an approach he shares with Frank Zappa. Equal credit goes to Joe Caploe, the man who actually plays the vibes and marimbas here. And Taylor is one guitarist who doesn't hog the spotlight violinist Erik Golub actually solos more often.
Taylor's intricate music is the rare jazz-classical amalgam that really works. I'd like to hear more of the same, but I understand Taylor's been focusing on symphonic pieces of late. Maybe if The Crossing sells a few copies he'll revisit this format.