For his follow-up to the remarkable Angel of the Presence (Cam Jazz, 2006), John Taylor continues to mine the strong chemistry between himself, bassist Palle Danielsson and drummer Martin France. It's a more balanced set this time around, with three of the pianist's own compositions alongside three by longtime musical compatriot Kenny Wheeler, one jazz standard and a surprising reinvention of a classical piece by Gustav Holst.
Quietly, and without much fuss, Taylor has gradually emerged as one of the most important pianists of the past forty years. His lineage may include the romanticism and impressionism of Bill Evans, but his densely layered harmonies and disposition towards orbiting around freer terrain without actually touching firmly down on it have resulted in a voice evolved far beyond seminal influences.
Danielsson may not be as active, on an international scale, as in earlier years when he was the de facto house bassist for ECM, but he remains a powerful force. His ability to be both conversational partner and unshakable anchor, and his expansion of the jazz vernacular beyond traditional boundaries, makes him the perfect foil for Taylor.
France's reach is the broadest, possessing the ability to form-fit into any context. Much like Norwegian drummer Jarle Vespestad, who is as comfortable with the near-whisper economy of pianist Tord Gustavsen's trio as he is greater extremes with noise improv pioneer Supersilent, France can fit just as easily into his own electronica-tinged Spin Marvel (Babel, 2007) as he does Taylor's all-acoustic setting, with his particular attention to detail and nuance joining together all his work, regardless of context.
Taylor has never been a prolific writer, and both the free-flowing title track and “The Woodcocks”—the latter featuring a delicately ethereal intro by the pianist before moving into its more complex and contrapuntal core—have been covered before. Taylor remains, however, an astute interpreter, with an ability to make extant material sound as if it were just written. He brings spare elegance to Kenny Wheeler's characteristically melancholy “Consolation,” first heard on the trumpeter's Music for Large & Small Ensembles (ECM, 1990), while Danielsson and France lend a softly swinging gait to “Nicolette,” from Angel Song (ECM, 1997).
On “In the Bleak Midwinter,” with its rich and very unclassical changes, gentle, brush-driven pulse and definitive solo from Danielsson, Taylor turns Holst's adaptation of a religious poem into a thing of secular beauty. It's a fitting closer to an album that, while steeped in lyricism, never resorts to tired cliche.
Other pianists may receive more press, but there are few who can approach Taylor's selfless yet unmistakable style. Whirlpool is another stellar release and, with another recording already in the can, it's good to know there's more to come from a trio that never sacrifices substance for style, and for whom sophistication and accessibility are uniquely linked.