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Taylor's Universe - 2012 - "Kind of Red"

(43:35, ‘Marvel of Beauty’)


******

Prolusion. The Danish ensemble TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE is basically the band of prolific composer and multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor. At the time of writing he has just about 30 productions tied to his name, of which 11 have been albums issued under the Taylor's Universe moniker. "Kind of Red" is the most recent of them, and also the most recent of Taylor's overall endeavors so far.

TRACK LIST:
           
1.  Firestone 6:31
2.  Jakriborg 6:34
3.  Crackpot Men 5:49
4.  Sunday Image 6:01
5.  Salon Bleu 5:32
6.  Terasso 1:07
7.  Tortugas 7:33
8.  Lost in Jakriborg 4:28

LINEUP:

Robin Taylor – keyboards; bass, guitars; percussion; voice
Hugh Steinmetz – trumpet, flugelhorn
Jakob Mygind – saxophones 
Klaus Thrane – drums 

Analysis. Describing the music of Taylor's Universe is a task that has left more than a few critics slightly at loss for words, as his material tends to escape the common boxes utilized for such tasks. Progressive rock obviously, but just what branch of it belongs to a matter where few have drawn final conclusions, and those who have tend to disagree. Personally I'll coward out of that discussion and merely state that the music is an amalgam of multiple expressions, instrumental by and large. Vintage keyboards, organ and guitars in various constellations provide the thematic foundations for Taylor's escapades, with a tight rhythm section backing it all up and providing virtuous elements when needed. And on top we get to enjoy improvised reeds and brass, Jakob Mygind catering for the saxophone this time around, supplemented by the most excellent Hugh Steinmetz on trumpet and flugelhorn. Firestone and Jakriborg are the first creations that unfold themselves on "Kind of Red", pieces that explore a sound I would describe as typical Taylor's Universe. The former is a darker, majestic number with organ and guitars combining quite nicely for a solid foundation for the soloing on top, the latter exploring territories of a smoother and arguably more refined character, based around a piano motif and with a slight emphasis given to a jazz oriented sound. Solid, high quality compositions, both of them will make all existing followers of the band and artist in question feel right at home. And next up come two musical journeys that documents Taylor's traits as a musical innovator quite nicely, the pieces that, at least to my ears, are purified brilliance in composition and execution. Crackpot Men is the first of these, opening with a desperate saxophone and keyboards construction unraveling into a chaotic state, from which arises a smooth and controlled piano and organ based theme, soon invaded by dark-toned instrument bursts and a new solo placed on top prior to unraveling into a frenzied end sequence. This is followed by Sunday Image, where steady drums and a slightly industrial percussion detail, reminding ever so slightly of Kraftwerk, underscore a bleak keyboard motif. Darker undercurrents then provide a brooding yet warm organic presence, contrasted by a succession of lighter toned instrument solos, before a bleaker theme is explored more thoroughly before a final sequence featuring instrument soloing and a nifty organ detail takes this creation to its conclusion. The following cyclic piece Salon Bleu and the brief interlude Terasso are both creations of a more transitional nature to my ears, not as convincing or intriguing to my mind, but then we're back into the realm of the innovator showcasing his genius again. The three part mini epic Tortugas needs to be heard, one of the finest pieces of music from Taylor's mind so far in my opinion. Opening with an effective piano and organ based theme with a fluctuating lighter-toned keyboard motif on top, suddenly taking a steep turn down onto the bowls of a dark, depressive place with mumbled voice-like effects as undercurrents to a calm but ominous nightmare-inspired keyboard motif, with the guitar and later on organ taking on the role of the vehicles transporting the listener out of this hellish realm and into a more uplifting, majestic musical universe. Lost in Jakriborg is an effective closing statement, opening with sampled bird sounds and a piano and organ motif gradually increasing in stature, followed by a brief flute-inspired interlude that shifts into a typical Taylor's Universe arrangement, sporting guitars, organ and Steinmetz' brass soloing on top in a massive, energetic arrangement, concluding the disc in a manner not too unlike how it kicked off.

Conclusion. Taylor's Universe has been a project that has provided high quality productions to a limited but dedicated fan base ever since 1994. And with "Kind of Red" I'm pretty sure that this fan base will expand. First and foremost because the music this time around is subtly more accessible in nature, or perhaps slightly less demanding, one might say, yet also maintaining Taylor's qualities as an innovator and creator of music hard to place and harder to categorize. It’s a production well worth seeking out by fans of instrumental progressive rock, and in particular those who tend to be fascinated by artists venturing into realms where few others have imagined going.

OMB=Olav M Bjornses: April 20, 2012
The Rating Room


Taylor's Universe - 2012 - "Kind of Red"

****+

Analysis. For Robin Taylor, it took more than twice as much time as before to issue a new TAYLOR'S UNIVERSE outing, titled “Kind of Red”. Released earlier this year, it follows "Artificial Joy" from 2009. (Though, of course, the next year saw the release of the new Taylor’s Free Universe record.) Traditionally, all tracks are composed by Robin, making the underpinning element for the album, though on the other hand, it also marks his first attempt to create a more laidback music than usual – meaning overall, for sure. Roughly speaking, four types of music are now offered, each of them residing on two of the eight tracks presented. This is quite a highly symmetrical album in appearance, where the compositions of the same style either alternate with each other or strictly follow one another, namely those within the first and the second half of it respectively. On the disc opener Firestone, and also on Crackpot Men, Taylor and his bandmates construct complex music without vivid technical dexterity, but with enough well-developed thematic transitions, intricate soloing patterns and effective contrasts to keep the listener’s attention throughout. The style is in both cases classic (full of genuinely vintage magic) symphonic Art-Rock with elements of Jazz-Fusion, albeit also with fairly evident hints of early forms of RIO in places. Van Der Graaf Generator (think “Godbluff” with some ‘invasions’ of “Pawn Heart”) is the most prominent reference point, as the organ and sax tones often remind me of Hugh Banton and David Jackson respectively. To provide you with more details, I must additionally note that the organ, as well as guitar, sound often has a somber feeling, while the sax parts aren’t that dark, even when they’re sort of wild in nature. The tracks that the above compositions alternate with, Jakriborg and Sunday Image, are much more reflective in contrast, but are full of refined melodies. Appearing for the most part as complicated sympho-prog ballads, both of them rely on Robin’s piano leads, with the melodic sax lines (and also – at times – either with the accent guitar riffs or passages of a string ensemble) complementing those in the pieces’ soloing department. The disc’s imaginary side B is a failure, however, strongly lacking in creative ideas (and while I know the reason for the crisis, as a reviewer I can’t help in any way). It begins with Salon Bleu and Terasso, on both of which the tone veers towards straightforward pop-art themes, with repetitive organ riffs instantly evoking those from Keep It Dark as well as a couple of other suchlike pieces from Genesis’s “Abacab”. Finally, the album’s last two tracks, Tortugas and Lost in Jakriborg, each begin and unfold with the piano walking lonely (if counting so-called effects that surround it), and only within its final segment it – suddenly – transforms into an art-rock move. For the sake of justice, I must add that, unlike the former piece, the latter at least displays some sort of development before assuming the shape of real progressive music. As a curtain falls, here are a few details referring to the band’s previous phase of work. There are no influences of Alan Parsons on this album (most likely because the sax parts are always jazzier than those in the implying work), and even Manfred Mann’s Earth Band may only occasionally come to mind.

Conclusion. One of the true heroes of contemporary Progressive, Robin is still an unsung one, unfortunately. With all sincerity I wish for him to get back in form, in all senses, and kindle new stars on the (already obviously dim) sky of the genre.

VM=Vitaly Menshikov: May 14, 2012
The Rating Room


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