James Taylor Quartet: Man In The Hot Seat

The organist sets his famed quartet within an orchestra to play music inspired by film composers such as Lalo Schifrin and John Barry

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When is a homage not a homage? Answer: when it’s part simulacrum. James Taylor’s appreciative nod towards the composers of film scores is not so much reverential as practical. Given time and space, one feels, he might make a decent fist of such work himself.

The cinematic world of composers Lalo Schifrin, John Barry, Quincy Jones, David Shire, Roy Budd and others was the one in which movie buffs not the slightest bit interested in jazz were fed jazz-inflected music without objection. It was jazz of a sophisticated kind derived mainly from big bands. For this latest album of originals and arrangements, Taylor embeds his quartet within an orchestra.

Those film scores were miles away from the acid jazz/funk flag unfurled by the quartet in the 1980s, when some of them had been heard and stored in the memory by Taylor himself. With his wife recovering from a brain haemorrhage and Taylor suffering from long Covid he’s had the time to reflect on them. The core Taylor band is surrounded sonically by the orchestra, and the results are film music reborn as an antidote to the tendency of much on TV and in the cinema that’s just a lazy background drone.

Charts such as the title track and The New Money Spyder keep the quartet in focus with its trademark Hammond organ and Fender Rhodes. Taylor plays Wurlitzer on the latter track and elsewhere synths, zither, theremin and arco vibes. He also sings. Some of the charts themselves read like film titles.

Taylor fans will recall the JTQ’s 1993 album The Moneyspyder and marvel at its reconstruction. In the year when Vanity Fair exposed the way some film score composers farm out their work to uncredited hacks, Taylor’s classy compression of the genre into self-sufficient distillations is a change for him and his loyal followers.

Discography
Man In The Hot Seat; The Danzig Connection; The New Money Spyder; Don’t Mess With The Champ; Cold War Etiquette; Murder On The Vaporetto; Diametric Opposition; The Gravedigger; Time For Revenge; Night Garden (33.68)
Taylor (org, elp, syn, v, zither, and others); Dave Bishop (ts, bar); Pat Illingworth (d); Gareth Lockrane (f); Andrew McKinney (b); with Mark Nightingale (tb); James Davison, Mike Davis (t); Mark Cox (g); and others. London, June 2021.
Audio Network ANWJTQ004