One of the most admired and respected pianists in UK jazz history, an influence on a young generation of international musicians as well as the possessor of a healthy critical reputation around the world based on quality and his musical vision, John Taylor turns 70 today. Since the late-1960s Taylor has been a leading fixture on the international jazz scene as a player, bandleader, recording artist and educator. Emerging initially alongside such players as tenor saxophonist Alan Skidmore, the Manchester-born pianist whose style has a still self-completeness to it, English, yet of no country, cerebral at times, but with a warmth that draws people in. A new generation of players, including young award winning pianist John Turville have been favourably compared to Taylor, and it’s extraordinary to think that a band such as Meadow came together because of the path finding Norwegian drummer Thomas Strønen’s desire to work and play with Taylor in the first place. A generation of British players from the Loose Tubes school in the 1980s (he’s on Julian Arguelles’ album Phaedrus, for instance) to the current generation emerging from music colleges up and down the country has turned to Taylor’s music becoming aware of the sheer distinctiveness of his approach, with its roots in the style of Bill Evans perhaps as well as classical music and English traditions from choral music to the avant garde, and not forgetting the personalised innovations and style of a pianist few would hesitate to comfortably ignore. In the 1970s, with Kenny Wheeler and Norma Winstone, Taylor was involved in the ensemble most associated with his name, Azimuth, one of the most influential instrumental/vocals groupings (sometimes referred to, in terms of the vocals, as “wordless") to have come out of England throughout the 90-odd years jazz has been played here. Taylor by that time was working for ECM, the label that has defined large chunks of his career, along with the Italian Camjazz label more recently, and he went on to record many albums with a range of leading artists that has included Jan Garbarek and Enrico Rava. With Wheeler, for instance, hear Taylor on the sumptuous The Widow in the Window, but his own albums have left their own indelible footprints on jazz, and landmarks along the way have included the the languidly enigmatic Ambleside Days an early-1990s duo album with John Surman that once more consolidated his reputation as a fine interpreter, but also as a composer of note. His recent trio with Martin France and Palle Danielsson has picked up plaudits from a new generation coming to his music perhaps for the first time especially on such albums as Angel of the Presence, a landmark of European jazz past, present and in all likelihood, future. Stephen Graham
John Taylor pictured above
One more important upshot from last night’s iTunes Festival at the Roundhouse, before hunkering down for the next wave of gigs, is definitely worth recalling. Robert Glasper, typically generous with his bandstand and genuinely collectively-inclined, let drop extra detail of some recent news that the Experiment bassist Derrick Hodge standing on the far left of the stage and newly signed to Blue Note will release (as Derrick’s nods and bright smile confirmed) his debut for the label in early-2013.
Titled Live Today the electric bassist’s website adds more information about what’s to come on the release, a record likely to add to this highly tasteful and imaginative player’s wider fanbase. "Live Today”, says Hodge, “is the way I chose to begin my story as a solo artist. It is a melting pot of sound and emotions, and is how I decided to capture my thoughts at that moment in time. There were many directions that this record could have went, but I chose to give people what was on my mind in a very raw, unedited way. Live Today is about acceptance, being in the moment while paying respect to those that came before me, and about writing music that feels good to me."
The Experiment’s set-list last night included a knowing take on Floetry’s ‘Say Yes’, knowing, as Glasper explained because the band had played the song many times before yet Glasper himself as he fessed up did not know who the bassist was until Hodge volunteered “that was a fun session". The cut appeared on the original multi-platinum selling album Floetic released by the UK R&B duo a decade ago.
Hodge besides the Experiment has performed with Maxwell, Common, Mos Def, Jill Scott, Kanye West, Sade and Terence Blanchard, also works as a film composer, and has written a piece for the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. Last night’s gig included a song of Hodge’s, ‘Holding on to You’ performed by singer/guitarist Alan Hampton.
Derrick Hodge pictured
When David Mossman and Irving Kindersley founded the Vortex Jazz Bar, as the sign has it still, 25 years ago on Stoke Newington Church Street little did either of these pioneers know just how the club would develop. As David Mossman explained during a break standing on the stairs leading to the club now relocated in nearby Dalston these past seven years: “It was a complete accident. Irving was the jazz lover, and we had the gallery but needed to make better use of the space. Irving moved on later for the book trade but I was the one who got into jazz and stayed." David, a former taxi driver, who now runs the Harbour Café Bar in Margate, is still is to be found on the door of the club most Fridays and Saturdays.
The Vortex itself is now run by a foundation whose main operational director is Oliver Weindling, the public face of the club in many ways, and inspiration behind its move to Dalston’s Culture House when the landlord of the old place forced the club out preferring to usher in a Nando’s instead. Speaking on NTS radio, the Hackney community web radio station broadcasting live from the special free festival running all day to celebrate the 25th anniversary, Oliver talked to saxophonist Alan Wilkinson on air about the way the club has developed. Wilkinson spoke of the hub of great music in Dalston with neighbouring Cafe Oto boosting the buzz. “It’s like 52nd St," Weindling quipped, and as he spoke as if to prove his point, Mats Gustafsson of The Thing and Thurston Moore were performing at Oto to a full house on the second day of their residency.
Outside the studio on Gillett Square up to 1,000 people and growing were listening to Grime MC Olushola Ajose, aka Afrikan Boy, performing with a DJ and dancers, while later Nostalgia 77, Ben Lamdin’s band fusing old school funk and soul with spiritual jazz, would complete the fest.
The festival had opened at 2pm with the glorious free jazz anarchy of the rarely heard People Band with its Ayler-esque sense of abandon and great horns featuring Davey Payne of Blockheads renown, 33 records’ Paul Jolly, and Westbrook alumnus George Khan, with spoken word poetry from Terry Day also a highlight. An incantatory hippie spell was summoned up at times with bells, little grunts and sighs, the lot. Wonderful stuff.
Later highlights included a feel-good Township Comets with the fine singer Pinise Saul joining the infectious ensemble of Adam Glasser on keys and harmonica, Frank Tontoh on drums, Harry Brown trombone, Rob Townsend saxophone, and Dudley Phillips, bass, creating a scintillating township sound.
With Annie Whitehead’s world music workshop, the sounds of Seddik Zebiri from Algeria and his multicultural Seeds of Creation, gnawa psychedelia from Electric Jalaba (pictured) and more besides the crowd enjoyed the fine weather as they mingled and sampled the food and real ale stands.
David Mossman could not have envisaged the tremendous success of the club all those years ago when the Vortex was emerging tucked away on a quiet London street with only the occasional bus trundling by to make some noise beyond for company. What the future holds is anyone’s guess; however, one thing is for sure, the club holds the key to the most creative edge of the London jazz scene, and without its input that incubating area for the music of today and tomorrow would be immeasurably worse off, and yet it’s only just begun.
Photos: Paolo Ganino and Alev Lenz