James Taylor Quartet ‘Closer to the Moon’ (Real Self) 4/5

Hammond organist James Taylor has, over a twenty-five year career, marked himself out as a stalwart of the UK jazz music scene and its funkier side sometimes referred to misleadingly as acid jazz, a spurious concept at the best of times even though the jazz dance scene it spawned has continued to thrive. For his latest project, Taylor has had something of a change of approach, although long-term fans need not worry. There are still the familiar Hammond B3 organ licks and funky beats lurking just beneath the surface. The leader has long been interested in other musical forms and in particular a life-long love of classical music. This has inspired him to come up with a more expansive and orchestral sound, performing on a variety of keyboard instruments including acoustic piano and celeste (with the hammond still predominating overall nonetheless) that takes on board these and other influences such as film soundtrack, 1970s soul and jazz-funk. There is a 1970s Latin-fusion feel with Earth, Wind and Fire-style harmonies on ‘Nightwalk’ which recalls in some respects Ramsey Lewis’ Sun Goddess’ period while ‘Tick tock’ has a clockwise asymmetric pattern with blues inflections on organ and piano with Taylor alternating between the two. One of the heaviest jazz grooves is ‘Spencer takes a trip’ which features the excellent flute of Rob Townsend and an interesting combination of tubular bells and horns. Big band hammond sounds abound on ‘Don’t pass me by’ which has some lovely unison brass and a solo by Nick Smart on flugelhorn.

Nitin Sawhney is an invited guest on the album which, in its overall concept, conjures up another of Taylor’s influences, namely the 1970s CTI recordings produced by Creed Taylor which fused classical and jazz grooves, and especially for Hubert Laws. For an uptempo organ groover the psychedelic sounding ‘Parallelo’ sums up James Taylor’s current musical vision as well any piece on the album. A radical reworking of Beethoven’s sonata ‘Pathetique’ is the nearest Taylor gets to the classical repertoire and even here he performs on hammond, and it is anything but a standard interpretation. A follow up to the 2011 ‘The template’, this is certainly not your run of the mill soul-jazz organ outing. Indeed the latest recording is a long way from the early James Taylor music of the 1980s when his ‘Mission Impossible EP was championed by John Peel among others. However, it is is certainly James Taylor’s most diverse album thus far and ultimately one of his most satisfying also.

Tim Stenhouse