Mike Taylor

August 23, 2021

Trio, Quartet & Composer Revisited
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One of the strangest and saddest stories of 1960s British Jazz was that of pianist/composer Mike Taylor (1938-1969). A promising stylist who was adapting Bill Evans-style pastels to more open formats by the mid-1960s, a reliance on psychedelic drugs by the latter part of the decade led him to become homeless and incoherent. Rejecting both the piano and composing, he finally drowning himself in London’s River Thames. Ironically enough if his name is now known it’s by ProgRock fanatics. Taylor contributed the music to drummer Ginger Baker’s words on three tunes on Cream’s Wheels of Fire session. Read a review of a book on Taylor’s life and influence at: www.jazzword.com/one-review/?id=128886

More generic to Taylor’s legacy are the first nine tracks here from 1965-1966, where in trio and quartet formation he performed some robust, if only slightly advanced sounds. Backed on all tracks by drummer Jon Hiseman, and on one by bassist Tony Reeves, both of whom later played in the Colosseum Jazz Rock band; Cream bassist Jack Bruce on four; journeyman soprano saxist Dave Tomlin on one and Taylor’s closest associate, bassist Ron Rubin, on seven. What strands out here is how good a Jazz drummer Hiseman was. On the trio tracks his focused pitter-patter and cymbal accents keep the tunes moving and he isn’t fazed by the pianist’s time suspension. “Guru” is a drum feature. Backed by a bowed bass line and concluding gently, its heart is a dialogue between piano key clips and low-pitched drum raps that torque the intensity. With both Rubin and Bruce on some tracks, arco and pizzicato bass tones are common. However it’s Rubin’s Mingus-strength-pumps on the Taylor originals which pull more weight. Taylor partially re-harmonizes the trio’s four standards, sometime changing the turnaround. But he’s traditional enough to state and reprise the head. And, except for a touch of spetrofluctuation from Tomlinon, “Night in Tunisia”, is a Bop quartet jam that features hard piano comping.

Like the standards, the other Taylor compositions are usually meditative and shaded though with a touch of swing. The most aggressive playing occurs on “Two Autumns”, where dual bass plucks are superseded by rolls, smacks and double patterning from Hiseman. These are matched by Taylor’s steamroller chording, plus he sneaks in a secondary theme before the end. Very much of their time and codified in Rock history, the three Cream tracks are strident, loud and show Baker’s drumming as simpler and more constrained than Hiseman’s. Bruce’s singing is familiar and Eric Clapton’s Blues-Rock guitar flanges and riffs are characteristic. Taylor’s ultimate tragedy is that he never further expressed the promise he had shown in these 1965/1966 tracks. What could have developed is merely speculative.

–Ken Waxman

Track Listing: 1.All The Things You Are 2. Just A Blues 3.While My Lady Sleeps* 4.The End of a Love Affair 5. Two Autumns* 6. Guru* 7. Stella By Starlight* 8. Abena 9. A Night in Tunisia% 10. Passing the Time# 11.Pessed Rat and Warthog# 12. Those Were the Days#

Personnel: Dave Tomlin (soprano saxophone)%; Mike Taylor (piano, except #); Eric Clapton (guitar)#; Ron Rubin (bass 1-6 & 8); Jack Bruce (bass*; electric bass#); Tony Reeves (bass)%; Jon Hiseman [except #]; Ginger Baker# (drums)