John Taylor Trio
St. George’s Church,
Kemp Town, Brighton
Saturday 28th March 2015
Picture a scene with three hugely influential pioneers of contemporary British and European jazz, a kind of modest supergroup bringing highlights of their collective body of work to an audience known for its seeking out of authentic music, and you have Brighton Jazz Club’s hosting of the trio of pianist and composer John Taylor, major recording artist for ECM Records, tenor and soprano sax player and bandleader Julian Arguelles and drummer Martin France, who has played with artists right through the musical spectrum, from John Paul Jones, David Gilmour and Elvis Costello, to Lee Konitz and Maria Joao.
Tonight’s performance probably spans much of jazz history specifically and music history in a wider sense, as both Arguelles and France were members of 1980s jazz collective Loose Tubes, while bandleader John Taylor cut his teeth as accompanist to Cleo Laine and in the Ronnie Scott’s quintet in the early 1970s as well as composing for his own sextet at the beginning of his career.
The first set is introduced with plenty of original pieces, with a number of tracks from albums like “ Circularity”, much of which was written and recorded by Arguelles and Taylor. “Lardy Dardy” composed and played on tenor sax by Arguelles, is beautiful, funny and wistful by turns. His tone is high and clear, with a solo intro showcasing a sensual sound which alternates between both transatlantic and continental influences, echoing and reflecting the presence of Brad Mehldau, Bill Evans and One of the most immediate aspects of Taylor’s live playing is its meandering, random and occasionally form-free quality. There is a meditative, atmospheric indie-film soundtrack to it, which draws the listener in and holds their attention. The trio sets a gentle pace initially, then piano and tenor sax begin to harmonise rhythmically, building to arcs of sound which rise and fall until they reach the rafters. Martin France’s sensitive drumming leaves them all plenty of space to converse, on occasion only adding brushwork accents to add splashes of colour. As well as showcasing the Taylor/Arguelles compositions, the players also bring their trademark reflective but highly rhythmic quality to standards like Kenny Wheeler’s “Sophie”. Taylor’s collaborations with Wheeler are well documented in the form of eight albums, the majority recorded for ECM, this song’s inclusion, with Arguelles’ bright interludes, often conjuring up a wash of light over the Mediterranean, the pale gold of beaches in the South of France, evoking a strong sense of location: the France of Van Gogh, or St Raphael, Nice or Cannes. There is a wistful but engagingly modern feel to it, which leaves the audience wanting more.
For the second set, the mood turns from melancholy in Taylor’s solo work, such as “Ambleside”, to fast and percussive for Cole Porter’s “Everything I Love”, the powerful acoustics of the venue helping to create a powerful, exciting flow. It is here that Taylor’s quiet, professor-like demeanour becomes raw and turbo-charged on stage, illustrating busy, intense passages and culminating with mysterious resolution. These are followed by further interpretations of some of Wheeler’s compositions, which seem to speak of love without words: in these, Taylor makes the piano sing like a nightingale. If there is a jarring note, it is only in the unnecessarily diffident, apologetic, almost inaudible manner in which Taylor introduces the cool beauty and enchantment of each piece he is about to perform.
By contrast, “Frolics” is a mad, daft percussive romp, where the pianist hammers his hands rhythmically against the keyboard. Martin France delights the audience, first with drum rolls which beautifully highlight Arguelles’ sax, then with his own gloriously understated drum solo driven by a superbly controlled but determined passion. There is also more than a hint of the rock drummer about his stage presence. As he tells me afterwards, he continues to work as a studio musician for every kind of band from modern classical to pop, as well as appearing on Julian Arguelles’ album “Phaedrus” and is writing new material for his own band Spin Marvel.
Taylor follows up with the title track from the album “Cadence”, with a long and winding melody full of yearning, vibrancy and excitement. For this piece, piano and drums carry on a distinctive heartwarming call-and-response in contrast to the earlier, cool, more diffuse, melancholy atmosphere. Finishing on an effortless, bluesy finale, the players show just the kind of synchronicity which can come from long acquaintance and deep knowledge of each other’s playing, and there is nothing shallow or lightweight about it.
Watching this trio of masters at work gives an indepth insight into the way that more leftfield compositional jazz has developed over its more recent period and Taylor’s groundbreaking catalogue of work, both live and recorded, is a real inspiration for future generations.
(photo by Rachel Zhang)