The London Times called Martin Taylor “the finest British guitarist of his generation” – which is, if anything, an understatement. If you’re talking strictly about jazz, he’s the finest Great Britain has ever produced. If you’re encompassing all genres, apples-and-oranges comparisons aside, at 11 years younger than, say, Eric Clapton (approximately a generation, musically speaking), I can’t think of a Brit who approaches his musicality and utter mastery of the instrument.
Still criminally overlooked stateside except among the cognoscenti, he has picked up the pace of his releases since launching his own label – with the The Valley featuring a few cameos but primarily solo guitar, while Martins 4 is a live summit of guitarists who, by any name, would create sparks together.
The most amazing thing about Taylor is that, considering he turned pro at 12 and joined violin master Stephane Grappelli in his mid 20s, he’s still growing and improving. Having mastered jazz improvisation in a group setting, he dispensed with the ensemble and has been playing mostly solo of late. When jazz gets too confining (although it never seems to), he delves beyond its perceived boundaries and applies his sensibilities to a Norah Jones pop hit, a Celtic melody, or African polyrhythms.
The latter is featured on his show-stopping “Kwame,” in which his five fingers each assume the role of a different drummer, each playing a simple pattern on a different guitar string – which combine to uncannily resemble five African drummers (Most guitarists would do well to handle two of the patterns at once, let alone five.). The Valley modestly doesn’t even point out that what you’re hearing is not the product of hours of overdubbing, but is played live. The only device employed is a strip of paper threaded through the strings, next to the bridge, to achieve a kalimba-like, staccato tone.
He recreates the tour de force on Martins 4, and, yes, there is also a DVD of the concert, so you can see what’s going on for yourself. Elsewhere in the show, recorded at the Royal Concert Hall in Glasgow, Taylor trades solos with his namesakes – flamenco guitarist Juan Martin, British folk icon Martin Carthy and slide and cross-cultural envelope pusher Martin Simpson. The Martins each take solo turns, but things really heat up when they join forces, nudging each other to greater heights, as on Juan Martin’s “La Pasion Del Lamento.”
If you’re skeptical of the Times quote and what I’ve said here, don’t take our word for it; on your way to the record store, consider Pat Metheny’s statement – “Martin Taylor is one of the most awesome solo guitar players in the history of the instrument. He’s unbelievable.”
This article originally appeared in VG‘s Sept. ’05 issue. All copyrights are by the author and Vintage Guitar magazine. Unauthorized replication or use is strictly prohibited.