Sunday 12 May 2013

Taylor's Universe - Worn Out

Robin Taylor is a "composer, multi-instrumentalist, sound manipulator, arranger, producer and record label owner, born 1956 in Copenhagen, Denmark", as it says on his website.

He has been releasing music since 1991, and this is the 12th album bearing the name of his band, Taylor's Universe. In that time he has also released many albums under his own name and as Taylor's Free Universe, an improv extension of the group we are scrutinising here.

In fact it was chancing upon a "review" of one of the Taylor's Free Universe albums over on DPRP that made me search out this guy. The review was short, but not sweet at all; here it is, verbatim:

"Noise, not music, by Pierre Tassone (processed violin, percussion); Kim Menzer (clarinet, trombone, “strange flute”); Robin Taylor (guitars, loops, “manipulations”); Peter Friis Nielsen (bass guitar); and Lars Juul (drums, “objects”)

Conclusion 1 out of 10

That's what happens when you let something strange loose on a conventionally minded soul, the poor dear! Unfortunately I could not find a copy of Family Shot, the 2004 album of "noise, not music" referred to above, but I have tracked down the latest release by the more structured Taylor's Universe, and a treat it is, too.

Taylor's Universe play a mix of grandiose symphonic rock rooted in jazz fusion, but that doesn't really do their warm and involving soundscape justice. Prog Archives filing them under "RIO/Avant prog" is even further off the mark, as the samples below will prove:

The driving brass section in Munich threatens to boogie, but in an off-kilter fashion, and the arrangement here as on all the other songs shows that Robin Taylor has a fine compositional ear. Lamentations on medieval scales opens Imaginary Church which prays at an altar of eastern mystery, the drummer nailing the insistent beat throughout.

Relying on tight ensemble playing, there is no extended noodling on this record and the album is all the better for it. A dramatic tension pulls at the listener from the start of Cruelty In Words, a rising mantra changing tack with short but fiery guitar breaks in the turnaround, presumably from Jon Hemmersam, sending the song back down the stairs it has just ascended; another clever and engaging arrangement. The way the guitar and sax fire off one another towards the end of this song is a joy to behold.

Denmark is one of the few European countries apart from the UK to commit significant troop numbers to that misguided and ultimately pointless war in Afghanistan, and Jens In Afghanistan with its military drum and chatter intro is Robin's musical contribution to the debate. Whether this is a tribute or a criticism of his Government's actions in the name of its people is not immediately obvious to this outsider, as the feelings are impressionistic, including the chatter in the first part of the piece, followed by TV audience applause. Definitely the strangest number on the record, and the closest to "avant" with its free-jazz sax squalling over a funky backbeat.

Closing the album is another military themed title, Sergeant Pepperoni. Jon's guitar breaks again fire off Karsten Vogel's emotionally wrought sax blowing, the star of this particular song. An air of restrained power and some lovely lyrical playing from the two soloists, with the band behind holding it together, it breaks down to some free-form space jazz in the middle before building to a rushing climax on the back of an altered version of the opening theme.

A thoroughly confident album that refuses to be neatly pigeonholed, Worn Out is anything but, and is a must for any lover of true progressive music, with a jazz leaning. A fine companion to one of the albums of the year, Soft Machine Legacy's brilliant Burden Of Proof. Yes, it's that good!


1. Floating Rats (8:00)
2. Munich (10:24)
3. Imaginary Church (4:24)
4. Cruelty In Words (5:24)
5. Jens In Afghanistan (6:23)
6. Sergeant Pepperoni (8:38)

Total running time - 43:32

Line up:

Robin Taylor - guitar, bass, keyboards, percussion & allsorts
Jakob Mygind - soprano & tenor sax
Karsten Vogel - soprano & alto sax
Jon Hemmersam - guitar solos
Klaus Thrane - drums
Louise Nipper - voices on Munich

Robin Taylor's website 

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