Progressive rock has had somewhat of a resurgence over the past decade due in no small part to innovative, genre-busting artists such as the Danish multi-instrumentalist and composer Robin Taylor. Standing at the helm of no less than 3 different bands that play completely different styles of music - Taylor's Universe, Taylor's Free Universe (TFU), and Art Cinema - Taylor is as prolific as he is diverse. While TFU focuses on industrial-strength free improvisation and Art Cinema bridges the gap between radio-friendly AOR and jazzy progressive rock, Taylor's Universe plays a hard-to-pigeonhole brand of instrumental progressive rock that has elements of fusion and symphonic progressive rock, but goes well beyond the usual confines of either genre. Taylor's music is unmistakably cinematic, full of catchy melodies, thunderous orchestral-scale motifs, and rich, often unusual electronic textures. On Soundwall, as on the other Taylor's Universe recordings, there's also an underlying humor and quirkiness that never fails to charm.
Soundwall features the work of two outstanding soloists from two completely different musical worlds. Taylor's collaboration with saxophonist Karsten Vogel was first documented on Experimental Health - one of the very best, if not the best, prog-fusion recordings of the 1990s. Vogel is best known for his work with two of Denmark's most famous rock bands of the 60s and 70s: Burnin' Red Ivanhoe (which also featured avant-jazzers John Tchicai and Hugo Steinmetz) and Secret Oyster. Guitarist Michael Denner is quite well-known as one of the guitarists in a string of successful heavy metal bands from the 1980s to the present; Mercyful Fate, King Diamond, and Force of Evil. Vogel's saxophone work is eloquently and unremittingly part of the jazz world - traces of Dolphy, Parker and Coltrane are easily heard in his fleet, liquid solos. Similarly, Denner's metal guitar work on Soundwall is completely undiluted, though he has a jazzman's chops and fluidity. The fact that Taylor has created a musical world within which both artists can fully express themselves is no mean feat.
The Crimson-ish strut of 'Tag Attack' leads off Soundwall on a dark, turbulent note. Denner, Taylor, and Vogel all trade lightning-fast solos over the tune's clockwork 5/4 rhythm before the feel shifts to a sunny, mellow keyboard progression. The full-on heavy rock riffage of 'Step Aside' is subverted in all manner of ways; Taylor's glockenspiel part is priceless, and Vogel threatens to turn the whole thing into a free-jazz free-for-all with Denner nipping at his heels all the way. The first two-thirds of 'Totally Greek' is a pretty, keyboard-dominated piece with an incredibly catchy melody - the sort of thing that makes me wonder why Taylor isn't doing movie scores. The last third is a crunchy, heavy prog-fusion stomper in 6/8 with more wonderful guitar work. On 'Sandwich,' Vogel's soprano sax solo unfolds quite beautifully over Taylor's continually-shifting keyboard landscapes and Grosell's minimal, yet rather funky, drumming. The CD closes with the urgent, swirling 'Aspx,' which features an excellent and too-brief Denner guitar solo propelled by Taylor's graceful Hammond B-3 organ riff.
On Soundwall Robin Taylor continues to show us that fusion and progressive rock are not stylistic dead-ends. In Karsten Vogel's saxophone solos, we hear the spontaneity and warmth of jazz, in Denner's guitar work we hear the urgency and catharsis of heavy rock, while Taylor's themes, arrangements and instrumental work probe the unexpected musical interfaces between rock, electronic music, jazz, and classical in a consistently entertaining and appealing way. Though he clearly isn't interested in nostalgia, Taylor's music has all the vigor, creativity, and rich textures that we got hooked on during prog rock's salad days.