March 16, 2009

Mod-A-Day: James Taylor Quartet

'Brashly, ballsy, bawdy British. In concert and on his diverse albums over the past decade, James Taylor takes the B-3 for a wild ride, driving his a funking frenzy...these guys know how to play and to party!'' Keyboard

The James Taylor Quartet has one of the hippest, grooviest, mod-jazz, now sounds around. The organ and horns fairly leap off every disk, transcending time and space to inundate your ear drums with a sounds so cool, so suave, it's almost alarming. You can't help but think of James Bond at his coolest. A martini at its chillest. Or, a slinky gogo dancer at her hottest.

Not to be confused with that other, anti-suave, wife-abusin' James Taylor from America, this British James Taylor wails on his Hammond B3 organ like some sort of sixties jazz cat who's been Austin Powered to the present day. Speaking of which, JTQ wrote and performed the cool Austin's Theme for the first of Mike Myers' go-go crazy feature length send-up of the Carnabyesque, superspy Austin Powers.

The Taylor brothers --yes, there's two of them, James and David -- got their start with garagish punk bands in the 80s, James with the ever cool Prisoners and David with the lesser known Daggermen. (check out James as a Star Trekkin', organ playin', mod garage rocker.)But later they got away from that underground sound and back to ultra-cool sixties R&B of their mod faves like The Small Faces. Their love of the sixties sound has never gone away. And whenever that cool sixties psychadelic organ sound is called for, James is very much in demand as can be seen by his recordings and appearances with U2, The Wonderstuff, The Pogues and Manic Street Preachers.

More than any other jazz-funk combo, JTQ managed to sound like they'd been playing their stuff since 1966, with a natural progression from shimmering, go-go music right into 70s soul-jazz and funk. It's not hard to sense the styles of hip organ beaters like Jimmy Smith, Jack McDuff and Booker T in Taylor's own playing, which carried over to the band as a whole, helping create that sixties sound and feel.

With so many albums to their credit JTQ have three early ones that stand out in, my mind, as superb musical accomplishments: Mission Impossible(1987), The Money Spyder(1987), and Creation(1997-US). Not that they've ever done anything wasn't really great, but these happen to be the ones that capture my musical ear and shake it 'til it bleeds.

When Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder hit the scene in the 80s, JTQ's special breed of funk, jazz and mod music helped spawn the term Acid Jazz, which later became the name of a label, and even came to represent one of the most diverse musical genres and subcultures.

Mission Impossible laid the foundation for JTQ with covers of sixties pop and jazz songs like "Blow Up," "One Mint Julep," "Mrs. Robinson" and "Goldfinger." JTQ's obsession with spy jazz and copshow music was also present with a very traditional, yet cool cover of the "Mission Impossible" theme. For mods, jazz cats, and soulsters worldwide a new band was preparing to carry the torch.

And they didn't waste any time either, releasing The Money Spyder later that same year. What is supposed to be the soundtrack to a movie, made JTQ the ruling band for the crime-jazz sound. The title track sets the tone, conjuring images of lurkers in trenchcoats and tuxedo clad spies sipping martinis while casing a Riviera casino. The lush orchestration and percussion of the Mancini-like Mr. Cool's Dream and The Spiral Staircase is ultra-cool jazz, with a nod to the traditional jazz sounds of bygone jetsetters. Taylors, Booker-esque organ playing lends the whole album a very sixties "go-go" flavor, especially on the obviously Booker-T inspired The Onion Club.
'' Rude, hard funk -- like all the Blaxploitation movies and cop shows -- that's what we're aiming for," says James Taylor. "Really, instead of calling our music 'acid jazz' it's more accurate to call it 'cop funk.' Yes, that's it -- we're cop funk.''

Creation marks one of their funkiest albums (released in the UK as A Few Useful Tips About Living Underground). And the cop-spy theme is definitely alive and well, almost as a tribute to the funk and soul that typified so many cop shows of the seventies. From the first licks of the funkified "Theme From Starsky & Hutch" to the final track, the disk is blazing hot. "Theme From Starsky & Hutch" -- the band's anthem according to James -- was a #1 hit for JTQ on the UK club charts, and it didn't hurt to have James Brown's horn section of Maceo Parker, Pee Wee Ellis and Fred Wesley along for the ride. "Man of Mystery" and "Road Rage" are funky, barn-burning originals, and the soulful spin they give the "Theme from Dirty Harry" lends new meaning to covering movie soundtracks. And "Summer Fantasy" is the perfect swingin' bachelor pad background music for swilling gin & tonics at your next soiree. The album is a natural next-step from sixties organ jazz, to seventies funkified organs and horns.

As time goes by the band moves more and more into straight ahead jazz territory. It's all still soulful, it's all still cool with a sixties vibe, but its jazzier and more akin to a smokey lounge than even their earliest recordings. Case in point is last year's Live at the Jazz Cafe recording which features this song, "Picking up where we left off" which is a blistering bit of hammond B3 magic. JTQ keep on keepin' on melding the best of jazz with with the best of soul in a way that makes us all proud to be aging mods.

JTQ continue to tour England and the continent giving what concert attendees call inspired and intense live performances where the band and audience jive to each others vibe and advancing the hammnond beat sound.

James Taylor Quartet -- Picking up where we left off

The James Taylor Quratet Theme