John Taylor: 2081 | Album Review

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Artist: John Taylor
Genre: Jazz
Label: CamJazz

John Taylor wasn't to know that 2081 would be his swansong. The English pianist, who deserves a place among the modern greats of his instrument, suffered a sudden heart-attack on stage in July and died shortly after.

It is appropriate that this final recording should find him in the company of his sons, drummer Leo (of indy band The Invisible) and singer Alex (with John, right). Judging by the quality on show here, both will carry the Taylor name forward with distinction.

Manchester-born, the self- taught Taylor possessed a warm and generous musical mind, and he nurtured many productive relationships over the years, none more so than with the great trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, whose own 2014 passing the UK jazz community is still mourning.

With Wheeler and vocalist Norma Winstone (Taylor’s first wife, mother to Alex and Leo), the pianist founded Azimuth, an outside-the-box trio that redefined the possibilities of a small ensemble which contained neither bass nor drums. Many would follow in their wake.


With Taylor at the keyboard, Azimuth didn’t want for rhythmic drive. His crisp inventions sparkled like cut glass, and he shared with other contemporary greats, particularly Keith Jarrett, a harmonic brightness and rhythmic clarity that pointed the way for a new generation of keyboard artists.

2081 is a song cycle based on a short story by Kurt Vonegut (to whom Taylor, coincidentally, bore a striking resemblance) about a dystopian future world. Alex Taylor sings his own lyrics with a technical polish and an affecting, unaffected sincerity that puts him in a category alongside contemporary male vocalists such as Theo Bleckmann and Kurt Elling.

Oren Marshall’s nimble tuba provides an unusual bottom end to the music, and Leo Taylor orchestrates the music from the drum kit with a sense of purpose and adventure.

But inevitably, and correctly, attention is drawn most to Taylor, a great pianist at the height of his powers, clearly reveling in the youthful company and reeling off a succession of mesmerising solos which – it’s still hard to accept – were among the last to fall from his hands.

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin

Cormac Larkin, a contributor to The Irish Times, is a musician, writer and director