1. Dark City 11:41
2. Don’t You Miles Me 11:53
3. Heavy Friends 5:13
4. The Ghost of Goran 9:56
5. Stoned Mushroom 7:19
Robin Taylor – el. guitar, bass; keyboards; percussion
Karsten Vogel – saxophones (1, 2)
Pierre Tassone – el. violin (1, 2)
Assi Roar – el. bass (1, 2)
Rasmus Grosell – drums (1, 2)
Klaus Thrane – drums (3, 4, 5)
Jakob Mygind – saxophone (3, 5)
Carsten Sindvald – saxophones (4)
Louise Nipper – voice (4)
“Two-Pack” is the fifth album by Denmark’s TAYLOR’S FREE UNIVERSE (TFU from now on) and is the twenty-sixth outing in Robin Taylor’s overall discography. While its title might seem to hint at a popular rap performer who uses the same set of words as his scenic pseudonym, it in fact indicates that the album is made up of two EPs. One of those (tracks 1 and 2) the band recorded in 2006, and another (tracks 3 to 5) in 2010. Together they last for 46 minutes, which is a perfect time for any full-fledged/full-length release.
Compared to any of the other TFU albums, this one is less hard-edged and wild (which, however, doesn’t mean at all that it fails at anything else). Albeit performed by the band’s classic lineup-quintet, the first of the EPs is not about avant-jazz, but has a unique sound that doesn’t evoke anything Robin Taylor & Co have created before in general. Intense practically throughout, the disc opener Dark City (11:42) is full of fast, mostly improvised, guitar and sax solos, which create crossing harmony lines much more often than parallel ones. The drums and bass provide a solid, edged groove that sets up the framework for all the above interplay. After a few listens to the composition it became obvious to me that the music tends to be more chromatic and detailed than a lot of contemporary Jazz-Fusion, now resembling mid-’70 Soft Machine, now Gong circa “Gazeuce”, albeit just remotely, in both cases. All the musicians perfectly deploy their technical skills on this gem – yeah, just so. The next piece, Don’t You Miles Me (11:53), is in turn for the most part slow-paced in its basis, but varies in theme and structure. In style, it is much closer to Space Fusion, with some of the saxophone leads being – still slightly – reminiscent of Nick Turner’s in Hawkwind. Another EP has nothing in common with TFU either, but I wouldn’t say it sounds atypical of the band leader, bearing in mind Robin’s entire corpus. Fairly traditionally in that regard, the music here ranges from highly complicated and nuanced to more accessible, normally on the same track, such as, well, all three of the remaining ones, Heavy Friends (5:13), Stoned Mushroom (7:19) and The Ghost of Goran (9:56). Now, however, I must note that intricate arrangements dominate on each of these. To put it in different way, the band plays a highly melodic and complex music, which breathes with freshness and inspiration. There aren’t too many sudden turns, but it very frequently shifts in key, theme and rhythm, drawing pictures of mystery and drama, charming and delving into itself. In all cases, the musicians proceed for the most part after the style developed by Taylor’s Universe in the second half of the ‘90s (an innovative blending of symphonic Art-Rock, Jazz-Fusion, Prog-Metal and Avant-garde, which I’ve used to designate with a single term, the Fifth Element), but have added some extra magic to the mix, by your permission. On the former two pieces, there is also an Alan Parsons ethic in places: think early-to-mid-‘80s instrumentals by the Project, beginning with Pipeline from “Ammonia Avenue”. However, it’s only evident in some sax trills – the ones that are brightly melodic, as contrasts with the others, which are more distinctly improvised in nature. Stoned Mushroom has in addition a certain space fusion quality to it, most of the time conjuring up images of darkness.
“Two-Pack” (Top-20-2010) is definitely one of the best TFU albums; it’s on a par with the project’s debut, “File Under Extreme”, and surpasses any of its other creations. Four gems of progressive rock music and one minor masterpiece are presented here, displaying that there is still not even a hint of stagnation in Mr. Taylor’s work. Robin, please don’t stop writing and recording music, don’t give up. You are one of the most original innovators on the genre’s ‘90s as well as modern scene; this is a fact, and the future will certainly bear it out.
Danish composer and multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor has been amongst the most productive and creative artists to come out of Denmark in recent years, literally involved in dozens of releases and a good handful of different projects the last couple of decades, covering most if not all stylistic territories between experimental electronic music to freeform jazz. "Two-Pack" is his latest venture so far, a curious dual-album affair made up of two mini-CDs, one covering new solo material from 2010 and the other the last unreleased creations of the free-form-oriented fusion project TAYLOR’S FREE UNIVERSE from 2006. Disc 1: The first of the mini CDs that make up this production covers a rather different territory than the second one. Taylor's Free Universe is an outfit whose emphasis is on improvisational features. Moods and atmospheres take something of a back seat on endeavors such as that, while instrumental performance and experimentation is given much more of an emphasis. And while such excursions don't make up any substantial amount of my musical diet, I readily admit that the duo at hand on this occasion is rather intriguing. Dark City with its funky bass line and energetic and at times frantic drums – the role of these two instruments combined being the glue that binds this improvisation together quite nicely – is initially a frantic layered soloing affair that gradually evolves to passages where its individual soloing instrument is given its time to shine individually prior to heading out to different waters altogether. These being made up by atonal, distorted twisted sounds courtesy of the guitar and violin, with the saxophone appearing now and then with improvised solo bursts that add just about the needed melodic and harmonic touches. Towards the end, the bass and drums pick up pace and literally drive this improvised affair to a conclusion. Don't You Miles Me is an affair of a subtler nature, with slower circulating bass and drum patterns again appearing to act as the glue in the performance, but on this occasion haunting and searching soloing evolves to become more of an exploration of reverberating notes and droning instrumental textures, of a manner I think might actually appeal to those accustomed to improvised space rock. The tonalities explored are different, the sounds too, but the approach used should make many space cadets feel right at home in this musical landscape. A brief energetic run around the nine minute mark heralds the end of this piece and album, with an elongated, drawn-out reverberating noisescape sans rhythms taking up the final two or so minutes of the disc. A highly enthralling piece at best, but for which the final part at least for me was somewhat of a distracting feature. Disc 2: Another disc covers new material crafted and recorded by Robin Taylor and his TFU associates in 2010. Not much when compared to his impressive output the last few years, but of the usual high quality those who have followed his career so far have become accustomed to. Opening effort Heavy Friends is arguably the weakest number, not quite as impressive as the other tracks. A chaotic noisescape followed by searching themes where a sax solo underscored by gentle rhythms and keyboards feature and a compact guitar riff-driven construction represent the polar opposites, eventually settling in a construction with dampened guitar riffs, improvised sax soloing and infrequent noise inserts are the main features – an intriguing effort, but one not quite managing to enthrall me. The Ghost of Goran does however, a composition I'd describe as introverted in nature. From the careful start with dark and light keyboard textures underscoring a careful sax solo and a ticking sound upholding momentum, the following sax solo is underscored by watery sounds that unfolds to become a circulating dark keyboard texture with a watery quality to it, gradually increasing in intensity and bringing in other instruments to the feast that turns into a gentle textured keyboard backdrop with sax solo on top, the latter eventually replaced by a shivering cold keyboard pattern prior to the track ending with a dampened, resonating organ sound. It's not an effort that produces an immediate effect and one probably in need of contemplation and some reruns to settle, but personally this was a piece I found to be entrancing, more and more so as I explored it more thoroughly. Stoned Mushroom is the most immediate track at hand here, with layered keyboards partially encapsulating what appears to be a pure noise texture and gentler themes dominated by Taylor's trademark warm organ opening this affair, prior to settling in a gentler mood with dampened keyboards, a distinct and enthralling round bass guitar and careful piano adding nice and perfectly fitting contrasting elements to the proceedings. The tangents start to move in slightly asynchronous patterns when the track halts at the four minute mark, with an almost inaudible light keyboard texture gradually increasing in intensity over the minute following, which in turn reclaims the theme that ended a minute before, but now with a sax solo applied on top. A highly intriguing effort, where the pace and intensity at the onset of the composition are perfect attention grabbers.
The trio of compositions that makes up the second part of this dual production is yet another high-quality display courtesy of Robin Taylor. Creative songs that are hard to describe, well-planned and brilliantly executed, with fans of adventurous instrumental art rock as the most likely audience. The leftover pieces from the Taylor's Free Universe project should find a likely audience among those fond of experimental fusion of the instrumental kind, with enough adventurous constellations and instrumental virtuosity to satisfy most connoisseurs of that musical realm. As is customary for most all productions that come courtesy of Robin Taylor, this is a recommended purchase.