John Taylor Trio: Rosslyn (ECM 1751)


John Taylor Trio

John Taylor piano
Marc Johnson double-bass
Joey Baron drums
Recorded April 2002 at Rainbow Studio, Oslo
Engineer: Jan Erik Kongshaug
Produced by Manfred Eicher

Plenty of pianists are capable of technical brilliance, but so few bring selfless mastery to melody and negative space. Bill Evans progenitor John Taylor does just that, and this first leader date is a stained-glass window in sound. Bassist Marc Johnson (a latter-day discovery of Evans) and drummer Joey Baron (formidable veteran of John Zorn’s Masada quartet) join the British pianist for a set of mostly Taylor-penned tunes. From note one, one may note this as a defining ECM appearance by the ever-smiling Baron, whose adaptive style adds just enough color to Taylor’s monochromatic balancing acts.

“The Bowl Song” introduces us to the trio’s pliant sound. Johnson channels Steve Swallow in the album’s first solo, leaving us enchanted and primed for a webbed version of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean,” of which rubbings on piano strings guild the night with deeper secrets of this immortal standard. Taylor proceeds with archaeological care, his voicing stretching one tendril at a time from the brine. Here and throughout, Baron enacts a breezy restraint, his snare poised and patient, letting the groove establish itself without push. Despite, if not because of, the rhythm section’s resoluteness, Taylor spreads a deck of quick changes to keep things interesting. His lovely teetering of chromatism and octave bliss turns the tune into a hardly recognizable form of itself, an entity of spongy texture and purpose.

From amorphous beginnings, “Between Moons” gels another worthy braid. Taylor shows command of effect and affect in equal measure, while Baron’s smooth tom rolls and Johnson’s lantern flame predict a primrose finish. The title track is the session’s galactic sun. Its chambered clockwork reveals a lullaby, a swath of perpetual motion rounded and secured as if by light through a prism of dark and darker.

Nothing in the album’s first half, however, compares to the pulchritude of its second. This is where unity manifests, where the impressionism of Kenny Wheeler’s “Ma Bel” and the balladry of Ralph Towner’s “Tramonto” can walk hand in hand toward the masterful syncopations of “Field Day.” Each is a fully formed pearl, shucked and illuminated with endearing pathos. Like the skipping record of the album’s final chords, it fills a child’s room with safety, so that visions of a broken world cannot help but shed their barbs upon entering.

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