Though the Danish multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor has made a name for himself as a prolific and innovative composer in the progressive rock and jazz-rock fusion realms, many may not be aware of his considerable abilities as a free improvising musician. His free-jazz alter-ego manifests itself most frequently in a musical aggregation he’s called Taylor’s Free Universe, a band comprised of musicians who tend also to be involved in his various prog and fusion efforts.
As one might expect, Taylor’s view of free improvised music is wry, humorous and not a little iconoclastic. Fans of the genre may well not even recognize this music as the product of free improvisation. Yet, the musical chemistry and spontaneity here is undeniable as Taylor and his associates lay down some of the most smoking Miles-influenced Agartha-style electric jams that I’ve heard in the past few years.
Speaking of iconoclastic, the self-released Two Pack is actually two separately packaged mini-CDs. The format, while charming, is a tad inconvenient. If you don’t have a spindle-type CD player, you’ll have to find one of those adapter thingies. But the music here is well worth the trouble.
The first CD contains three tracks, none of which appear to be freely improvised. Rather, they consist of Taylor’s characteristically well-paced, richly textured, multi-sectioned prog-fusion compositions. Even by Taylor’s high standards, all three pieces are outstanding, drawing on a tense, driving, dark energy that is somewhat reminiscent of the mid-90s double trio configuration of King Crimson, but with a different instrumental palette and more space for jamming and improvisation. Featured soloists include saxophonists Jacob Mygind and Carsten Sindvald, while Taylor takes on a more behind-the-scenes approach on these tracks.
The second CD is where the ‘free’ aspect of Taylor’s Free Universe really comes into play. Recorded in 2006 with former Secret Oyster reedman Karsten Vogel as a featured soloist, both tracks are lengthy electric jams that bristle with energy throughout. Clearly a product of the 21st century, this music successfully extends and expands the sorts of musical areas pioneered in the 1970s by Miles Davis (e.g., 'Jack Johnson,' 'Agartha,' 'Pangaea,' and 'Dark Magus'), Terje Rypdal, and Soft Machine (circa ‘4th’ and ‘5th’), without being imitative. Though clearly conceived as on-the-spot jams, both tracks have an admirable sort of clear-mindedness. The heavy duty rhythm section of Assi Roar and Rasmus Grosell lay down an admirably loose brand of metallic funk while Vogel wails Parker-isms and Coltrane-isms much like Sonny Fortune did on 'Agartha.' Taylor and violinist Pierre Tassone, both playing with highly distorted tones that make them nearly indistinguishable, take turns playing Pete Cosey's role, slashing and burning even as the tracks rumble to a close. It may sound like a mess from this description, but you won't likely hear a more focused and tight jam anywhere else this year.