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Sound pioneers are Taylor-made

Crossover appeal of The James Taylor Quartet meant they were destined to leave niche jazz clubs to enjoy mainstream chart success

01 December, 2017 — By Dan Carrier

The James Taylor Quartet will play the Jazz Cafe on December 5

IT has now been three decades since Hammond organ maestro James Taylor pulled together a quartet. And, while some of the backing members of the group that bears his name have changed, they continue on the same mission: bringing a brand of funked-up jazz to their audiences.

The James Taylor Quartet first drew on influences such as Courtney Pine and Herbie Hancock, but with a crossover appeal that meant they were destined to leave the niche landscapes of jazz clubs to enjoy mainstream chart success.

Their first hit, Blow Up, drew on a Hancock number from a 1960s Anglo-Italian B movie thriller. It set them off to produce a slick easy listening (in the best sense of the word) album with takes on other ’60s film themes, including Goldfinger and Alfie. It was a cool nod back to a Swinging London sound, capturing the zeitgeist of the period, and offered plenty of scope for their own nuances to shine through on top of the root of tunes that were already known and seen as standards. It was a very modern take on boogaloo funk of the 1960s, and then a trip over the Atlantic to bring in the Rare Groove of both east and west coast bands in the 1970s.

While studio work helped make the acid/soul/jazz labels major players in British music – and place that is now rock solid cemented as a genre in its own right – JTQ have always been known for their live performances rather than albums. This must be because of the stream of virtuosos who play in the quartet, currently featuring Andrew McKinney on bass, Pat Illingworth on drums and Mark Cox on guitar, and the people who have collaborated with them, such as Jazzie B and Soul II Soul, Alison Limerick, Tom Jones, The Wonder Stuff, the Pogues and the Manic Street Preachers.

And James Taylor’s personal contribution to the UK musical landscape cannot be under-estimated. The peculiar and particular brand and style they peddle means they are often described in terms of “crossover” music. Are they jazz, or funk? Big beat or dance music? What does the term acid-jazz, which it is indelibly linked with in the audience’s eyes, actually mean? And in recent years JTQ have explored the link between classical and improvised jazz sessions, adding further intrigue.

The answer to this question is they are all of these things, and by being so, have truly played the role of pioneers: cherry-picking from genres, mixing it about and creasing something that is undeniably their own.

Now JTQ return to the Jazz Cafe next week, with Taylor playing both the Hammond and Fender Rhodes organs, and, as ever, the audience will be offered something fresh and new, as is the case whenever James Taylor assembles his quartet.

This time around he brings in long-time collaborators in the shape of the Nick Smart Horns section and vocalist Yvonne Yanney.

Having such a range of skilled musicians in one place means no two gigs are ever the same – and that is an element that JTQ pride themselves on.

• JTQ play the Jazz Cafe, at Parkway, on Tuesday, December 5. See http://thejazzcafelondon.com/event/james-taylor-quartet-ft-nick-smart-horns-yvonne-yanney-vocals-2


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