Friday, 30 August 2013

The Independent - Live music review: The James Taylor Quartet, Ronnie Scott's, London

For a figure that has railed against the pleasantries of polite jazz, James Taylor looks suspiciously comfy in this all-seated venue where punters are still polishing off their meals as the Hammond organ king's foursome ease into the night's first tight jazz-soul groove. By the end of the first set, though, many of them have been dragged on their feet for a spirited take on Teddy Pendergrass's 'Love TKO'.

Joined by a zingy two-piece horn section and the formidable voice of Yvonne Yanney, that tune becomes an irresistible funk workout. Despite the preponderance of suits on stage and in the crowd, we are transported back to the early nineties' heights of acid jazz when the James Taylor Quartet's "Theme From Starsky & Hutch" was a dance-floor staple. Not that the group have simply existed as a novelty act for the past 25 years, as a booking at this prestigious jazz institution shows.

Also of note is current album Closer To The Moon, where Taylor has experimented with classical instrumentation to give a more considered touch to his own compositions. The foursome maintain the soundtrack vibe, though tip their hats to continental cinema rather than seventies TV. So instead of cool cops, you think more of sardonic older detectives or louche private investigators. Not that "Paralello" is anyway less driving than more familiar material, though "Nightwalk" adds a more exotic Latino lilt, with Taylor and Yanney cooing sweetly over the top.

Here, the JTQ provide a starkly grown-up take on the modernist scene (Taylor started out in Mod revivalists The Prisoners), this cosmopolitan vibe more authentic than a bunch of Paul Weller wannabes. The evening's main thrust remains that this outfit are designed as a party band par excellence, set up to enthuse a Ronnie Scott's audience containing few hardcore fans. The quartet accomplish this partly through their own terse excursions, with Taylor the virtuoso building the intensity from reedy tones to palms-on-keys exuberance.

He is supported by a series of brief cameos - taut, fat basslines from Andrew McKinney, bullet-headed drummer Pat Illingworth acting unfamiliar with cosmetic or musical brushes, plus Hugh Gledhill's precise solos. Their own chops are displayed best with an expansive, yet always urgent, run through Booker T & The MGs' "Green Onions", before the guest performers join them for a celebratory version of the group's minor hit "Love The Life". On this showing, the JTQ still do.

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