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August 1993 – live reviews – Martin Taylor @ Ferens Live Art Space, Kingston-upon-Hull, England, 5th August (“like hearing crystallised music”)

8 Aug

It’s nice, for a change, not to have to do anything except sit back and listen.

Listening to Martin Taylor is like a breath of fresh air after a particularly sticky storm. He stands alone on a little white block of a stage with only his guitar and gently tapping foot, and gently unravels a long flowing river of melody to soothe the heart and to excite the brain. Pure and simple music. After a surfeit of analysis, a slew of post-modern criticism, a stew of eclecticism and image, it’s nice to get back to that once in a while.

Listening to Martin Taylor allows you to rediscover a love of the old tunes. He’s not a composer; his strength lies in the re-interpretation of classic standards, but rather than murdering them by pouring on strings and pallid flutes to make them ripe for serving up in the air conditioning, he offers you the chance to hear him dust down an oldie, hold it up to the light and then skilfully polish it, smiling as he shows it to you again and points out a hundred little details which you never saw before, a source of fresh wonder.

Because listening to Martin Taylor is like hearing crystallised music. You can distinguish the original tune somewhere in the glittering web of notes which his fingers are drawing out of the guitar – maybe it’s a ballad from ‘West Side Story’, maybe Duke Ellington’s Just Squeeze Me or a Hoagy Carmichael piece – but it’s been reflected and amplified through so many harmonies, echoes and byways along the way that what finally emerges bears as much resemblance to the original as a cut diamond does to glass. Old tunes turned corny and worn down by their own familiarity re-emerge as multi-faceted gems, cut and refined by a master’s technique, multi-layered and ornate.

If you stop listening to Martin Taylor for a moment, you might be able to hear the sharp clicks as the jaws of the guitarists in the audience drop smartly onto the floor. This crystalline music – richly syncopated melody and harmony played together, simultaneously with swooping basslines – is, after all, being played by one man without even the whiff of an effects pedal. During the interval, people are overheard wondering if there are four other guitarists concealed under the stage or behind the curtains. But there’s no denying that this music is being played by a human being; no pristine technician, Taylor’s impeccable skill is shaped as much by punchy string snaps and fretboard noise as it is by his carefully considered polyphony and his vertical, dense approach to arrangement. He’s as likely to use a violent slide up the bass strings as he is to tease out a gentle classic jazz chord in the treble; and, as the most exciting musicians do, he lets you hear him stretching towards his objective rather than simply delivering it ready-packed and icily perfect.

Listening to Martin Taylor when he stops playing and talks for a while is, in its way, no less of a joyful experience. Here we have one of the world’s greatest and most underrated jazz guitarists and he turns out to be a warm, humble and self-effacing guy with a nice line in gentle humour and a shy manner, as if tonight was his first gig. Taylor is possibly also one of the world’s first motherable jazzmen. No guitar god here: even when he speaks of his sessions with the legendary likes of Joe Pass and Chet Atkins, he makes it sound like a comfy jam session after an evening at the pub. Very British. I’m not sure if these isles can produce a legend of their own these days – we’re just no good at mystical PR…

No matter. Who needs a legend or the cartoon padding of a star, anyway? Taylor’s music is possessed of enough to soothe, stun, stimulate, delight and relax without recourse to tortured artistry, space-cadet communion or outlaw chic. And if he prefers to continue playing gorgeously low-key and intimate gigs, just one man and a warm-toned guitar, then I for one will continue to turn up to listen to Martin Taylor.

Because listening to Martin Taylor makes you remember just how wonderful listening can be.

Martin Taylor online:
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