After finishing Gershwin’s “I Got Rhythm” – following his tongue-in-cheek, herky jerky, impossible-to-snap-your-fingers-to intro with a laughably fast walking bass figure, over which he somehow threads both melody and comping chords (simultaneously) – Martin Taylor says of the composer, “He’s probably turning in his grave now.” In truth, however, Taylor is a composer’s dream come true, as he displays on Gershwin’s “They Can’t Take That Away From Me,” as well as chestnuts by Duke Ellington, Jerome Kern, Benny Golson, and especially Hoagy Carmichael’s “Georgia On My Mind.”
Hopefully, the abundance of recent product from this 44-year-old will put an end to his lengthy tenure as “Britain’s greatest jazz guitarist” (a bit like declaring Django Reinhardt “the best Gypsy jazz guitarist in France”), and place him at the forefront of the jazz world’s consciousness, where he belongs. Because if there’s a better straight-ahead jazz guitarist on the planet, I sure haven’t heard him (or her).
First introduced to American ears through his work with violin legend Stephane Grappelli, Taylor has cut a steady stream of hard-to-find releases for Scotland’s Linn label in recent years (solo, with small ensembles, and as leader of his fascinating Spirit Of Django group); recorded with mandolinist David Grisman; and worked with Rolling Stone Bill Wyman’s Rhythm Kings. He signed with Sony in America in ’99, and his slick ensemble CD, Kiss And Tell (Columbia/Legacy) offers a nice contrast to In Concert, a ’98 solo performance at the Manchester Craftsmen’s Guild in Pittsburgh that was previously released as a video.
What sets Taylor apart from the rest of the jazz guitar pack is…well, everything. His tone is crystal clear without being brittle; his rhythmic feel is the definition of swing; and his approach to playing bass, rhythm, and lead simultaneously is dumbfounding but pleasing, rather than an annoying gymnastic assault. Most of all, his fresh melodic sense never seems to rely on devices and tools – a trait (along with his sense of joy and humor) he shares with Django, far more than any sonic resemblance.
To discover Martin Taylor (as I did 20-some years ago) is one of the great perks of being a jazz hound. Those uninitiated should pick this up, then proceed to www.martintaylor.com, credit card in hand. It’s all essential listening for any serious guitar fan, and his charming autobiography (also titled Kiss And Tell, Sanctuary Publishing) is also a great read.
This article originally appeared in VG‘s April ’01 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.