08 October 2008

REVIEW: Robin Taylor/Art Cinema

I’ve reviewed a number of Robin Taylor albums in the past for a variety of outlets. Taylor is nothing if not prolific…he’s released 25 albums since 1991 on a variety of labels (Marvel of Beauty, his own label, being the primary source). His material varies wildly from release to release…albums by Taylor’s Universe tend toward structured jazz/fusion with a touch of Canterbury, albums by Free Universe are all improvisational, and albums under his own name tend toward ambient and soundscape type material.

Taylor’s released a pair of albums over the past year showing him moving in a new direction. Earlier in 2008 Taylor released Soundwall, a collaboration with Mercyful Fate guitarist Michael Denner. Contrary to assumptions from such a collaboration, the album is tuneful, melodic and very heavily structured. I had this to say about the album at the time:

I never know from album to album what I’ll be getting when I listen to a new Robin Taylor release. I have to say I was surprised with Soundwall...it’s not at all what I might have expected had I gone into my first listen with expectations. I’m glad a few years of experience listening to his releases has opened me to a first listen without being in the cage of expectation. In the final reckoning, Soundwall is, I think, perhaps the best album one could play for a listener unfamiliar with the expansive Robin Taylor catalogue. Melodic without losing focus on the complexity that makes his work so unpredictable, it’s one of the most solid albums I have seen from this prolific musician. Highly recommended.

Apparently Taylor felt his work with Denner had more to say, and as such he’s created a new group for future work with him…Art Cinema. The ensemble’s debut release is the eponymous Art Cinema.

“White Frozen” opens the album with a dark and almost sinister piano line leading into…vocals? On a Robin Taylor album? Yes indeed. This is, I believe, the first album from Robin Taylor to feature vocals heavily throughout the release. Jytte Lindberg’s vocals are processed slightly, multitracked and harmonised to add a touch of tension. Carsten Sindvald’s saxophone playing comes in about 2 minutes into the track (no contributions this time around from long time collaborator Karsten Vogel), with Denner and Jon Hemmersam’s dual (and dueling) guitars following shortly afterward. Taylor seems to be focusing more on keyboards on this release, while his treated instrumental playing helps to add mood and colour throughout.

“World of Shadows” continues along in a slightly lighter mode, with gentle keyboards, Lindberg’s vocals light and almost breathy in delivery. It’s actually an interesting change of pace to see Taylor working in a vocal environment, and the material here tends to be more accessible, more melodic, more song structured than previous albums. The material on this album is all written by songwriter Jesper Harrits, with Taylor, Denner and the band arranging and reworking the music to fit their own image of the pieces. I love the sax solo at 4:15 on this second track. Overall the mood reminds me of Paatos a bit on “World of Shadows.”

Things get a little chaotic as “Crimson Night” opens. I’m not sure based on title if this is intended as some kind of King Crimson homage or anything, but the wailing sax and Bruford-esque drums (courtesy of Bjarne T. Holm) certainly don’t hurt the assumption. Neither does the pastoral bit that follows, evoking comparison to the 1969-1971 band at times. Of course, Crimson never had female vocals, and the music is a bit less clinical that Crimson can be (and this is coming from a long time fan of the King), but the dark mood, cyclical arrangement and pulsing beat all seem descended from the Crimson beast.

“Dreaming of Metamorphosis” brings Art Cinema back to the restrained icy darkness of mood and tone that typify much of this release. The harmonised vocals are gorgeous here (even if I am a touch skeptical about how the word ‘metamorphosis’ is delivered), and combined with the stark piano backing, gentle synth and crying sax…the song is beautiful in its own dark way. “Last Day of Summer” closes out this album in much the same way the release opened…filled with despair, loss, a poignant sense of sadness pervading every note. A slow ballad opening gives way to a quicker paced instrumental workout, with wonderful organ playing and fantastic series of solos (sax, guitar, dual guitar and organ in succession). This instrumental section is almost worth the price of admission on its own; when added to the great songwriting and moody playing/singing throughout, one might be forgiven for thinking the price of the CD is almost cheating the band of their just deserts.

Art Cinema sees Robin Taylor expanding on the direction taken on Soundwall, creating what is easily the most accessible release of his career. Yet it’s a satisfying kind of accessibility, one which does not insult the listener with simplified, easy to digest bits of sonic fondant. There’s meat on these musical bones, and Art Cinema is certainly a worthy musical meal.

1 White Frozen

2 World of Shadows

3 Climb My Ladder

4 What Am I Doing Here?

5 Crimson Night

6 Dreaming of Metamorphosis

7 Last Day of Summer

Jytte Lindberg and Louise Nipper: vocals

Carsten Sindvald: saxes

Robin Taylor: guitars, keyboards, fuzz bass, treatments, percussion

Michael Denner: guitars

Jon Hemmersam: guitar

Flemming Muus Tranberg: bass

Bjarne T. Holm: drums

Pierre Tassone: violins

No comments: