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Mike Taylor: Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited

Chris May By

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Mike Taylor: Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited
Historical context: Extracts from the diary of Ron Rubin, one of two bassists, the other being Jack Bruce, on Mike Taylor's Trio (Lansdowne, 1967)....

"Saturday 18th February 1967. UFO, Tottenham Court Road. 'Giant Sun Trolley' Happening, opposite the Soft Machine etc. Mike spent the evening lying comatose, rigid and immobile in the middle of the floor below the bandstand, dancers gyrating around him, his hands crossed on his chest. We played without him....Monday 28th August 1967. Ronnie Scott's Old Place, Gerrard Street. Mike turned up bearded and barefooted. Had a job getting past the doorman. Played no piano at all, just a broken tabla drum and pipes. Astonished American couple on front row goggling at the burning fag between his toes. At one point he started talking mumbo-jumbo. I said I couldn't understand, and he replied: "It's okay, Ron—I'm talking to the loudspeaker" ....Wednesday 20th September 1967. Mike came round for a rehearsal. Showed me his poems, paintings and songs. Said he'd had an interesting conversation with a deer in Richmond Park, where he was living rough. Told me he'd walked all the way from there, and sat on our sofa picking stones and debris out of his bare feet. I think he's going crazy."

In the mid 1960s, pianist and composer Mike Taylor was shaping up to become one of the stars of jazz, certainly in Britain and possibly further afield. Then things started going seriously wrong in his life and he passed prematurely. Taylor drowned in the Thames estuary in 1969, aged just 31. No witnesses to the event came forward and Taylor's body was not discovered for some days, so the circumstances of his passing remain unknown. Suicide was rumoured but the coroner at the inquest ruled misadventure instead. As Ron Rubin's diary makes clear, Taylor's artistry was accompanied by a fragile mental constitution that was unable to handle the large quantities of psychotropic drugs, primarily LSD, that he consumed. In that respect, if no other, Taylor resembled the contemporaneous singer-songwriter Nick Drake and Pink Floyd singer and guitarist Syd Barrett,

Synchronicity is a mysterious thing: In 2021, three different European labels have stepped forward to memorialise Taylor's music. Jazz In Britain has released Mandala, a previously unissued live recording from 1965, and Sing Song Music has released Mike Taylor Remembered, a previously unreleased collection of material composed by him, which was recorded in 1973 by friends including fellow composer Neil Ardley, drummer Jon Hiseman and saxophonist Barbara Thompson.

Now comes the icing on the cake: Swiss label ezz-thetics' Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited, includes a luminously remastered edition of Taylor's chef d'oeuvre, the studio album Trio, recorded in summer 1966 with the aforementioned Jack Bruce and Ron Rubin (both of them together on some tracks) and Jon Hiseman. There are additional tracks: an extended performance of "A Night In Tunisia" from Taylor's 1966 quartet album, Pendulum (Lansdowne), and three tracks from acid-rockers Cream's 1968 album Wheels Of Fire (Polydor), which Taylor co-wrote with drummer Ginger Baker ("Passing The Time," "Pressed Rat And Warthog" and "Those Were The Days").

By 1966, Taylor had shed most of the hard-bop retentions which had characterised his style in the early 1960s. Someone with knowledge of advanced harmonic theory would be able to explain his new direction in academic terms, but to a layman's ears it sounds as though Taylor was exploring the outer limits of harmonically pleasing sonorities rather like a modern radio-telescope explores the orbital relationships of planets in a distant galaxy. By this time he was almost certainly habitually using LSD. But be that as it may, the music sits in a spacey category of its own, inhabiting a spectrum beyond, on one hand, the codifications of hard bop and, on the other, the harmolodic approach of Ornette Coleman, for whom Taylor's quartet opened the bill at a London concert in 1965. There is much to discover in Taylor's tragically foreshortened output and Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited, a sparkling collection of originals and Great American Songbook covers, is the place to start. You are in for a treat.

Track Listing

All The Things You Are; Just A Blues; While My Lady Sleeps; The End Of A Love Affair; Two Autumns; Guru; Stella By Starlight; Abena; A Night In Tunisia; Passing The Time; Pressed Rat And Warthog; Those Were The Days.

Personnel

Mike Taylor: piano; Ron Rubin: bass, acoustic; Jack Bruce: bass, acoustic; Tony Reeves: bass, acoustic; Jon Hiseman: drums; Dave Tomlin: saxophone, soprano; Eric Clapton: guitar, electric; Ginger Baker: drums.

Additional Instrumentation

Mike Taylor; piano (1-9); Ron Rubin: double bass (1-6, 8); Jack Bruce: double bass (3, 5-7), bass guitar (10-12); Tony Reeves: double bass (9); Jon Hiseman: drums (1-9); Dave Tomlin: soprano saxophone (9); Eric Clapton: guitar (10-12); Ginger Baker: drums (10-12).

Album information

Title: Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited | Year Released: 2021 | Record Label: Ezz-thetics

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