Blues and Soul Music Magazine

Issue 1091

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Feature

James Taylor Quartet: Taylor Made

James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) @bluesandsoul.com
James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) @bluesandsoul.com James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) @bluesandsoul.com James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) @bluesandsoul.com James Taylor Quartet (JTQ) @bluesandsoul.com

Having over the last 30 years, via dozens of well-received albums and legendary gigs both at home and around the world, set the standard for the coolest sounds in funky acid jazz, Britain’s James Taylor Quartet release a milestone album in “Soundtrack From Electric Black”. Which, finding Hammond player Taylor taking his inspiration from such celebrated film music composers as Quincy Jones, Lalo Schifrin, Henry Mancini and Bernard Herrmann, comprises eight instrumental tracks of exciting, cinematic and orchestral music that grooves hard while retaining an identifiable UK vibe. Which in turn marks the culmination of over three decades of James holding on to a musical vision that was first developed within him as a small child growing up in 1970’s Britain.

Indeed, released through the groundbreaking Audio Network label and originally intended for production use only, “Soundtrack From Electric Black” - prestigiously recorded with a full orchestra at London’s world-renowned Abbey Road Studios inside Studio Two (The Beatles’ studio) takes the listener through an ever-evolving creative musical journey that ranges from the menacing and elaborately dramatic, blaxploitation-edged opener “Electric Black” and the Brazilian Rio-style glamorous- millionaires’-playground vibe of the galloping “Making Tracks” to the irrepressibly funky “Shaft In Africa”-influenced “Black Belting” and the cooking organ, stabbing horns and tough drums of “The Frug” which marks the band’s British-flavoured salute to America’s bona fide Hammond king Jimmy Smith.

Originally formed by James in Rochester, Kent in 1987 following the break-up of his former band The Prisoners in the wake of Stiff Records’ bankruptcy, the current line-up of the James Taylor Quartet comprises Taylor himself (Hammond organ); Chris Montague (guitar); Andrew McKinney (bass); and Adam Betts (drums) with both recordings and live performances usually supplemented by John Willmott (tenor sax/flute) and Nick Smart (trumpet) alongside vocalist Yvonne Yanney.

With the Quartet releasing their first two albums - “Mission Impossible “ and “The Money Spyder” - in 1987 for the Re-Elect The President label, 1988 would next find them signing with major-label Polydor with whom they would release five albums. Highlights of which would include the 1988 single “The Theme From Starsky And Hutch” (which remains their signature tune) and its accompanying album “Wait A Minute”; plus 1993’s UK Top 30 LP “Supernatural Feeling” which (with the group at the time including London soul vocalist Noel McKoy in its line-up) spawned the British Top 40 single “Love The Life”. Meanwhile, 1995 would see the band return to the Acid Jazz label for the release of “In The Hand Of The Inevitable” which - featuring Alison Limerick as guest vocalist on three songs - remains said label’s biggest-selling album.

Following which the James Taylor Quartet would return to their original style of instrumental Hammond-led jazz/funk workouts on albums showcasing their instrumental talents, producing a film theme of their own in 1997 when they contributed to the soundtrack of the first “Austin Powers” film (“International Man Of Mystery”), while the late-Nineties would see the beginning of Taylor composing and recording library music for the Bruton Music company for use by the media industry in TV advertisements, programmes and films. Meanwhile, their constant flow of album releases up to the present day have included the likes of 1999’s “A Bigger Picture”; 2002’s “Room At The Top”; 2008’s “Live At The Jazz Café”; and 2015’s groundbreaking “The Rochester Mass”.

…All of which neatly brings us back to today with a personable and articulate Mr. Taylor meeting up with “Blues & Soul” Assistant Editor Pete Lewis over lunchtime drinks at Central London’s 15th-floor bar/restaurant The Heights for an in-depth interview regarding the aforementioned “Soundtrack From Electric Black” while also looking back on highlights from his three-decade-plus career to date.

The history behind James finally, with “Soundtrack From Electric Black”, making and releasing his first self-orchestrated album

“From the start, I always wanted to make music which sounded like my heroes - something which has always included that sort of Quincy Jones expensive, sophisticated and orchestral sound - while at the same time blending it with funky drums and Hammond. But because I didn’t know how to do it, I realised I had to get an education in it. But what I then found was, because I don’t have any formal training or qualifications in music, the academic kind of route was closed to me - you know, I couldn’t get on the college courses I needed to get on to. So then what I actually ended up doing was joining the local church choir so I could sit with the choristers and study the orchestral and choral scores... So yeah, though it did take me a few years, I basically just learned from the inside out, starting by arranging church pieces - because what I then realised was that what I did with four-part harmonies I could also apply to strings - you know, violin/viola/cello/bass. And so with me already knowing how to write horns anyway, what that did was basically bring me to a point where I felt I could now do the kind of orchestration I’d always wanted to do and raise the bar in terms of my own musicality. And through my career previously, I guess had to an extent, kind of been characterised by being up against a lot of programmed material, with us today coming back into an age where actual musicians are being recognised again. I’ve finally found myself in a position where I can now put out the kind of record I’ve always deep down envisioned myself making. Which is “Soundtrack From Electric Black”!”

Having the whole idea for “Soundtrack From Electric Black” realised by Audio Network, a global company that gives artists the freedom to create the music they love and then provide it with global exposure

“It’s interesting what’s going on in music at the moment. Like for 20 years, I’ve been making library albums or production music albums, some of which have been orchestral although not orchestrated by me. And that’s basically music that gets used in sitcoms, films, adverts - you know, they might take five seconds, they might take ten seconds, they might take a minute, you never know. And then from there, you get into a situation where you look for a record company to buy them or license them. Whereas the difference with Audio Network is that they are increasingly becoming that kind of thing-in-the-middle which is making production music but, since the advent of Spotify, is also up for releasing the stuff to the general public. Which to me is a new development. Like I’d already done three albums for them using a big horn section while the whole time nudging them and keeping on presenting them with pieces I’d orchestrated saying ‘Can we please do this ?’. And while they kept holding off, after like another year went by I eventually went back to them and was like ‘Can we do this now?’!… Which is when they finally went ‘Yes, we’ll do it!’! And with the long-term vision for me being to do some orchestral projects and then have them released to the public - which is something I knew they were moving increasingly towards and that they will do the vinyl and CD if you really push them - that’s exactly now what’s happened!… So yeah, though this did actually start out as a production/library music project, they have been extremely supportive. For which I’m very grateful because I’ve never got a record company to come on board to this extent in the past”.

James’ memories of the Quartet’s move into the song-based soulful acid jazz arena in the early-Nineties when vocalist Noel McKoy for a time became a permanent member of the group

“I met Noel at Polydor. Basically while a lot of the artists and singers were sending in tapes Noel just walked in and just sang at an A&R meeting, and we just went ‘This is like the English Stevie Wonder, man!’. You know, we were basically just thinking ‘You are everything we’ve ever been looking for - in a voice, in the way you look, the way you move onstage... You’ve got the gig!’! And we worked with him for about the next five years! I mean, it just worked! We clicked in the studio, on the road, we did some great gigs, some great albums… So yeah, while it didn’t last for ever - in the end Noel wanted to concentrate on his own thing - for the period of time that it did last the chemistry was really, really good! And though we worked with other singers after that, like Alison Limerick on the (1995-released) “In the Hand Of The Inevitable” album, there it was more a case of few days in the studio and a couple of gigs as opposed to years on the bus together… So yeah, Noel was definitely the main one for me. Because we had a great time and I’ve got very, very good memories of that period“.

The album “Soundtrack From Electric Black” is out through Audio Network

You can read more from our interview jazz/funk royal James Taylor in our exclusive JTQ interview, including how he created his new landmark orchestral infused album "Soundtrack From Electric Black” at world renowned Abbey Road recording studio and Taylor talks candidly about the Quartet's time with British major Polydor Records (1988-1993) and how he feels it impacted on him long-term. All in the current issue of Blues & Soul magazine - click the 'BUY NOW' link below to order straight from the B&S shop or read on for high street retailer details...

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Words PETE LEWIS

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