23 June 2009

CD REVIEW: Taylor's Universe, Return to Whatever (MALS, 2009)

Return to Whatever is the newest release from Taylor’s Universe, the somewhat more composed ensemble led by Danish multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor. On this new release he is joined by a fairly familiar group of musicians, including Michael Denner (Mercyful Fate, King Diamond), with whom Taylor has collaborated several times now, including the excellent Soundwall release from 2007. Also present on Return to Whatever are Pierre Tassone on violin, Carsten Sindvald on saxes, Flemming Muus Tranberg on bass, and Klaus Thrane on drums.

The album opens with the propulsive “Mooncake.” I love the bass and keyboard lines that really drive this song forward. It’s not exceptionally jaunty or fast, but the track percolates along and it’s easy to get swept up in it and go along for the ride. This is a solid opening track that really sets the stage for the music to follow. Speaking of following, “July 6th” is the track that follows, and it opens quietly and gently, with a pulsing bass note and some fragile piano playing courtesy, one assumes, of Mr. Taylor. Some scattered percussion and sustained guitar lines here and there build from moment to moment, slowly becoming a constant rhythm and presence. The tension builds slowly on this piece, and the presence of Celtic harp courtesy of guest Tine Elliot adds nicely to the sound.

Things pick up on “Haunted Yellow House,” as the band plays with heat and passion, Sindvald’s saxophones wailing with unrestrained fire. I absolutely love the opening section of the piece, and while perhaps I’d have liked it to go on longer, it may have lost its intensity had it done so. Tassone gets a chance to shine in the spotlight on this track as well, and his contributions are perfect. A more ambient bit about 2-3 minutes in really helps evoke the haunted theme mentioned in the title. “The Atlas Clock” is a bit more jaunty, with some pleasant flute playing courtesy of Lilholt, and a tick-tock clock like rhythm that gets the body swaying a bit. Add in a bit of crunchy guitar to keep things interesting and simmer for a bit, and you have a nicely diverse summer song to tempt and satisfy your music-loving taste buds.

Things get ramped back down several notches on the opening to “Earth,” with piano and flute leading in the track. It doesn’t remain thus for long, as a driving beat and some excellent organ playing kick in to get the track moving forward. With this section being mostly bass/drums/keys (with a touch of guitar in the background), it’s easy to conjure up shades of ELP chugging along, and this is one of the more symphonic moments on this release…at least till the band breaks down and Sindvald steps into the spotlight to let loose with a wonderful sax solo. A second iteration of this theme allows Sindvald to remain, soaring over the musical foundation with more wonderful tenor sax skronking and wailing. I think in the final analysis, this is my fave piece on the album.

“Pink Island” begins moving things toward the album’s resolution, and all the elements are in place right from the beginning: intense guitar, sax and violin, driving rhythms, quirky, shifting arrangements. I love elements here…the guitar playing is wonderfully emotive, and some of the synth/keyboard work really gets out there. All this leads to the album’s closing track, “Mooncake – Reprise.” And yes, it does what it says on the tin…albeit a bit more expansively (the reprise is a bit more than a minute longer than the actual track it is reprising). Having said this, the fast paced organ and drums at the beginning are a wonderful change-up from anything else on the release, and definitely get that ELP vibe going again. I’d love to see (or rather, hear), more material like this, but that’s one of the more enjoyable things about a Robin Taylor album…you really never do know what exactly you’re going to get from release to release, and from song to song.

One other great thing about most of Taylor’s albums is that they truly are albums…they’re concise, and in the case of Return to Whatever, it’s really classic album length (around 45 minutes). Rather than adding in material to get as close to the limit of what a CD can carry, he gives you the material that is the strongest, that fits the theme or sound he is going for on the release, and then wraps things up. You never have to worry about reaching a point on any of his releases where hitting the skip or fast forward button looks like a good idea. I wish more current musos would take a lesson from him and start releasing albums that excise most of the filler and packing intended to pad things out to 75 or more minutes.

Additionally, Return to Whatever has some of the nicest packaging in Taylor’s continually growing C.V. Packed in mini-LP packaging, the album theme is carried over with some thematically connected artwork that almost tells a story from the outside to the inside. Add in track by track line-up notes, and it’s easy to tell who is contributing what. I might have wished that the inside text was a different colour (yellow text on a predominantly red/yellow/orange backing can be tough at times), but that’s a minor quibble. What’s important is what is encoded in 1’s and 0’s on the shiny silver disc enclosed in the packaging, and on that account the books are heavily in Taylor’s favour. Return to Whatever is another enjoyably solid Robin Taylor release, one which sits comfortably near the top of his lengthy discography.

Mooncake 6:44

July 6th 7:33
Haunted Yellow House 4:21
The Atlas Clock 5:22

Earth 7:16
Pink Island 7:39
Mooncake - Reprise 5:35

Robin Taylor: keyboards, bass guitar, keyboards, et cetera
Carsten Sindvald: saxophones

Pierre Tassone: violins

Michael Denner: guitars

Flemming Muus Tranberg: bass

Klaus Thrane: drums

Tine Lilhold: celtic harp, flute
Louise Nipper: voice


No comments: