James Taylor Quartet Big Band cool as cats at QEH

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There cannot be many musicians who live within a stone’s throw of a great cathedral, where not only can they partake of worship, but also have the opportunity to sing with its choir. One such lucky person is James Taylor, Hammond organist of the James Taylor Quartet, aka JTQ. If having Rochester Cathedral on his doorstep is not enough to inspire grand musings then imagine being on the stage of the Queen Elizabeth Hall on 24 March, flanked by the cathedral choir led by Scott Farrell and a 14 strong horn section from the Royal Academy of Music, is surely a blessing.

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JTQ – consisting of Taylor on organ, Pat Illingworth on drums, Andrew McKinney on bass and Mark Cox on guitar – have been proponents of the jazz-funk and Acid Jazz scenes since the mid-1980s. Billed as 'From the Cat to the Moon' the concert featured material mainly from JTQ's latest album Closer To The Moon and songs from the Jimmy Smith album, The Cat. The Jimmy Smith influence is obvious but it's also clear that the lush Lalo Schifrin big band arrangements from The Cat are the main inspiration behind the large line-up.

The quartet got cooking from the get-go, churning out a funky stew of solid bass from McKinney and the tight punctuated drums of Illingworth, with added spice from Cox's guitar. Taylor's organ bubbled and brewed leaving no doubt to the excited audience that the evening would see them well served and that the JTQ have lost none of their original steam or flavour.

Further into the set, each section of this extended ensemble are put through their paces on ‘Spencer Takes a Trip’.  Each show their credentials as a tightly woven interplay between choir and horn section unfurl. The Quartet also shows their metal in keeping the whole thing together, and as if to check the pulse of this behemoth, percussionist Ralph Wyld wields his mallet on the tubular bells sounding like a grandfather clock chiming out the hour which elicits some screeching high motifs from Taylor's Hammond adding to the drama. The choir definitely deserved their chance to sit and rest after that number.

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Songs such as ‘Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf’ and ‘Theme from the Carpetbaggers’ also benefitted from the extended ensemble. Adding to the tonal palette and change of mood Yvonne Yanney took the stage and deliver a rendition of ‘Love TKO’, made famous by Teddy Pendergrass in the 1980's. Yanney’s velvet tone showed how the arrangement of swirling vibrato-rich Hammond and subtle horns with harmon muted trumpet could draw out depth and emotion equal to the countless versions of this classic song. Her performance on other songs also brought a little razzmatazz at the right moment, but as if to regain some limelight Taylor, at one point and with grand gesture, unveils the QEH pipe organ then sits at the controls like a helmsman, steering the choir through a song with great epic style.

– Roger Thomas (Story and Photos)