NEIL ARDLEY — Mike Taylor Remembered (review)

NEIL ARDLEY — Mike Taylor Remembered album cover Album · 2007 · Post Bop Buy this album from MMA partners
3/5 ·
Sean Trane
MTR is British composer Neil Ardley’s homage to the faint shooting star composer Mike Taylor, who probably wouldn’t be remembered much (if at all) if it was not for the present album. Indeed, Taylor had been a very promising composer that kind of faded from the radar and disappeared from the planet in the late 60’s, part of the drug casualties that hit both the jazz and pop realms. Some go as far as drawing some kind of parallel between Syd Barrett and Mike Taylor, but the former survived his plunge for decades, while the latter was a much more accomplished composer that couldn’t (or wouldn’t) find help from friends or family and finally exhausted its burnt candle without seeing the limelight in early 69. Ardley and many of the London jazz-scene musos that had crossed his path or played his music sat down together and made the present album in homage. And to be honest, it is quite true from this tribute, that Taylor was at least equal composer to Ardley, Carr, Wesbrook, Garrick and a few others, but his chronic instability most likely played him many dirty tricks, everyone witnessing helplessly his descent into street life and becoming a tramp, before extinguishing itself, a bit like a spent candle. Indeed when he first started on the scene, he looked like a bank manager, but in his last studio works, he looked like a hippy or a tramp, as can be seen on the album’s front sleeve.

So it’s a poignant tribute that is paid not only by Ardley (who rearranged the compositions), but Henry Lowther, Ian Carr, Chris Pyne, Barb Thompson, Ray Warleigh, Sulzmann, Branscombe, Laurence, Matthewson, Jon Hiseman and Norma Winstone (amongst others). Opening on the orchestrally-arranged Half Blue/Pendulum, we’re hearing excellent big-band jazz, not far from the best Ellington, but with a more modern English twist. There are also a bunch of lower-keyed songs like I See You, Brown Song Of Love, Summer Sounds (with Thompson using a synth), the silly military Rhyme In Time, all of which are sung by rather soberly by Norma, generally accompanied by a much slower formation. Other tracks, such as Son Of Red Blues and Folk Dance, or Black And White Raga are more complex or higher-energy and demand a bit more attention. The fans of Colosseum will no doubt recognize one of the band’s classic concert track, Jumping Off The Sun, which came from Jon Hiseman’s crossing path with Taylor, but this is obviously a more standard jazz version, but it’s quite charming with Norma giving it a different ring than Chris Farlowe did for years. The album’s highlights are the opening Pendulum and the closing Raga pieces, both of which are showing Taylor’s unpolished talents, but also Ardley’s outstanding arranger gift.

To be honest, I don’t think I have ever heard an original recording of Taylor’s compositions (few have ever been published), so I don’t really know if Ardley’s arrangement were sticking very close to the origins, or if he was rather liberal in his reinterpretations, but it sounds quite excellent to these ears. A fairly poignant album that can easily sit in between Neil Ardley’s excellent early 70’s oeuvres, stepping a bit aside from his usual Third Stream works, to concentrate on more standard (often big-band) jazz. Warmly recommended to those enjoying the British jazz songwriting particularities, even if rearranged by another jazz-Martian and it comes with a detailed booklet.

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