ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Taylor's Universe - 2009 - "Return to Whatever"

(44:30, MALS Records)


Prolusion. TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE is a long running creative output for Danish multi-instrumentalist, composer and workaholic Robin Taylor, and since its genesis in 1994 eight albums have seen the light of day under this moniker. "Return to Whatever" is the ninth outing by the project, issued via the Russian label MALS Records in the spring of 2009.

1.  Mooncake 6:44
2.  July 6th 7:33
3.  Haunted Yellow House 4:21
4.  The Atlas Clock 5:22
5.  Earth 7:16
6.  Pink Island 7:39
7.  Mooncake Reprise 5:35


Robin Taylor – keyboards; guitars; percussion 
Michael Denner – guitars 
Pierre Tassone – violins 
Carsten Sindvald – saxophones  
Flemming Muus Tranberg – bass
Klaus Thrane – drums
Louise Nipper – voice (2)
Tine Lilholt – flute; harp (5)

Analysis. For existing fans of Taylor's Universe, the big news for this venture is a major shift in the band’s lineup. This time around most of the musicians involved in the Art Cinema project participate in it and for the first time in more than a decade Karsten Vogel's fabulous sax work is absent. It's pleasing to be able to state that the change in musicians hasn't resulted in any lack of quality; to some extent one might even say that the creative and musical output has been rejuvenated due to this shift in personnel. Not that Taylor ever has been in danger of repeating himself; it's more like the new musicians have opened up new possibilities, enriching the musical landscape with additional sounds, elements and textures. Still, when listening to this excursion it is evident that it is undeniably a Taylor output. His particular warm sound is easily recognizable, perfectly and impeccably produced as always. The organ is still a key instrument all around and there are plenty of details to be found in the back of the mix. Taylor is one of the best around when it comes to these details, placing sounds from guitars, sax and keyboards way back in the sonic tapestry, enriching the overall sonic palette and creating an almost unnoticeable tension in the compositions by utilizing these dampened and toned down sounds. This time out repeated themes and structures dominate proceedings to a great extent, most times with a very basic foundation repeated over and over, with improvised-sounding melodic flurries played on top of this basic structure. The careful piano theme on top of rhythms and organ on July 6th, where the other instruments to a greater and greater extent utilize the pauses between the repeated piano theme to add in more or less improvised solo bursts and sound collages, is complemented by the repeated organ theme initially placed way back in the mix getting slowly ever stronger. And on Pink Island we're served a distinct blues-tinged chugging musical foundation a bit into the track, upon which the individual instruments serve really neat solos and what appears to be an improvised yet complex interplay of a really impressive nature. The repetitive aspect can be found on all tracks to a greater or lesser extent and all the time it's used as a foundation for some or all instruments to explore and improvise, from soloing by sax, violin, guitar or organ or the creation of more or less brief detailed sonic tapestries. The overall sound is one that may have its home within art rock somewhere; at times majestic and heavy and at other mellow and almost cinematic in nature, with elements from jazz, symphonic rock and hard rock as the arguably most noticeable features. The organ is the dominant instrument though, and despite Michael Denner (formerly of Mercyful Fate/King Diamond) present, the guitar antics never take over, nor do the tracks stray anywhere near metal territories, notwithstanding Denner serving up some stellar soloing. I have to admit that I do miss Vogel's sax excursions on this production as his additions have linked in so beautifully on past albums. Sindvald on sax and Tassone on violin are more than able themselves and both of them add elements to these creations that wouldn't have been possible without their participation. In other words, this observation pertains to breaking the (bad) habits among existing fans only listening for the familiar and not for artistic accomplishments on this production.

Conclusion. A new album by a slightly rejuvenated Taylor's Universe is an event. As always, the compositions and the performance are as strong as the production. New musicians add somewhat different flavors than on past releases, while the overall sound and atmosphere are easily recognizable to any existing fan of this outfit. Robin Taylor's various ventures have for the most part been given lots of praise on ProgressoR, and "Return to Whatever" is yet another one to be given a deserved, highly recommended evaluation.

OMB=Olav M Bjornsen: July 11, 2009
The Rating Room

Taylor's Universe - 2009 - "Return to Whatever"


Analysis. Like plenty of other contemporary bands’ works, that of Denmark’s TAYLOR’S UNIVERSE reflects general tendencies in the progressive rock movement which, after having found its second wind in the ‘90s, nowadays experiences another decadence, the current state of affairs in the genre evoking those we know as the late-‘70s/early-‘80s crisis. Beginning with 2004’s “Once Again”, each of the ensemble’s successive albums is a bit more accessible than the preceding one and its latest release, “Return to Whatever”, is not an exception to the rule. However, no experienced explorer of its work will find a sign of any creative stagnation on this recording which, moreover, instantly manifests that Robin Taylor still continues changing his outfit’s – originally very extensible – style. Unlike most of the band’s other 2000s creations, but particularly so both its immediate predecessors, “Soundwall” and “Terra Nova”, this one doesn’t contain any blazing metalloids (thus setting me free from using any heavy music-related terms this time) on the one hand and is richer in jazzy intonations on the other. The point is that saxophonist Carsten Sindvald, who is the main provider of real improvisations here, has much more room for soloing than his predecessor, Karsten Vogel, had on either of the above two outings (and which, I believe, is the main cause of his leaving). Nevertheless six of the seven instrumental pieces that the album is made up of are basically composed throughout, the first three tracks, Mooncake, Haunted Yellow House and July 6th, all being slow-paced tunes with no meandering moves. The first two of these remind me to a certain extent of a cross between Art Cinema and Manfred Mann’s Earth Band-when-with-saxophonist-Barbara Thompson (think “Chance” above all, only without vocals), while the latter is very much in the style of The Alan Parsons Project and has a very strong swing-of-the-pendulum-like feeling which typifies Alan’s classic instrumentals. In any event, on each of the three the band is focused on melody, keeping the music basically groove-oriented and mellow. Such as they are, these are rather fine, ear-friendly pieces, but compared to the rest of the material they appear as somewhat oddball tracks, which is quite simple, because all the following ones are outstanding. Three of those, Clock, Earth Mooncake Reprise and The Atlas, all contain a few segments where the arrangements are purely symphonic in nature, suggesting either full-blown vintage Art-Rock (in all cases) or – sometimes – light Classical music (on the first two of these). Overall however, each evokes a blend of Symphonic Progressive and Jazz-Fusion, the latter piece being noticeable richer in genuine improvisations than the other two, since it features Taylor’s Free Universe’s violinist Pierre Tassone who, so to speak, redoubles Carsten Sindvald’s corresponding efforts there. None of these compositions echo anyone else’s work, guitarist Michael Denner (of Mercyful Fate/King Diamond fame) still playing a rather significant role in the formation of identity of the band’s modern sound, regardless of the fact that his metal roots are less evident here than on any of the previous ‘Universal’ and related releases with his participation. Robin, in turn, becomes more and more distinctive and skilled as a keyboardist: on the majority of the already described tracks he shows glaringly-vintage symphonic progressive leanings via his organ, string ensemble as well as pianos, only from time to time leaving the implied realm for a breath of a jazzier air, if you will. Distinct from all those, Pink Island is that very afore-hinted stylistic standout and is a classic jazz-fusion piece that only flirts with symphonic harmonies, no matter that it reveals the same two English bands as influences that the first three tracks on the disc do. This time, however, it would be Earth Band at its jazziest (think Manfred improvising even when playing Moog), and only those two of the piece’s – several – musical storylines that are inspired by A Dream within a Dream (from “Tales of Mystery & Imagination” by The Alan Parsons Project) are basically symphonic. On the other hand, there are also plenty of saxophone trills and most of those are beyond comparison, particularly the ones that are delivered on the spur of the moment. Either way, full of quirky chords and dynamic transitions, this composition best of all reflects Robin’s talent in combining his keen songwriting with, generally speaking, the band’s improvisational mastery.

Conclusion. In terms of both composition and performance, “Return to Whatever” is overall an excellent release, but I can’t give it a corresponding rating, because all the groove-oriented tracks here as well as the complicated ones strictly follow one after another, instead of being intermixed among themselves, which is a rather serious shortcoming in my view. If at least Haunted Yellow House, which is very much in the same vein as Mooncake, had been used as a closing track the album would have left a noticeably better impression. I wonder why Robin, who’s definitely more than a merely experienced producer, has compiled it in such a way that its first two fifths seem to be designed for a mainstream audience, whereas the remainder – to fans of progressive rock music. For best effect, program the tracks in the following order: 1-5-4-2-6-7-3 before playing the disc.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: July 11, 2009
The Rating Room

Related Links:

MALS Records
Robin Taylor


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