The James Taylor Quartet has become such an institution that it's almost as though its eponymous leader's surname is double-barrelled. "Taylor-Quartet, James Taylor-Quartet. Licensed to thrill. Weapon of choice, the Hammond B3 organ." His brand of mainly instrumental funk and soul, rooted firmly in the 1960s and 1970s, preceded acid jazz and endures long after that movement was granted its brief place in the sun.
For the uninitiated, I should perhaps explain that this James Taylor has nothing to do with the fey-voiced refugee from 1970s singer-songwriting responsible for saccharine outrages such as "You've Got A Friend"; and that the quartet may number four, but just as often, as at the Jazz Café this week, may have many more members. In this case, the organ, bass, guitar and drums combo was joined at various points by sax, trumpet, two singers, and the ever excellent Snowboy on percussion.
As the rest of the band filed past the table where I was dining, Taylor had already set up the first groove. That's what an evening with JTQ is about – grooves. Some of the tunes aren't particularly memorable, but it doesn't matter because the band is a proper instrumental collective, bumping and grinding its way through boogaloo, gospel and funk jam sessions with the emphasis on tight riffs and extended solos.
In his long buttoned-up coat, the beefy, shaven-haired Taylor resembled a pastry chef, patting and slapping the dough on his keyboards at breakneck speed. At times he leant over the end, putting his whole weight into kneading the top register of the Hammond. At others he constructed delicate filigree trails, but with a brutality that made one fear that the pastry would never reach the oven, let alone the plate. There's nothing of the fairground in Taylor's organ playing. Instead, he reminds you that the B3 is an industrial beast of a machine, capable of blowtorch fireworks and the screeching of metal on metal.
The whole evening, and all his band, were superb, with outstanding versions of crowd-pleasers such as "Love The Life" and the theme from Starsky and Hutch. Their cover of "Light My Fire" was notable for the laidback, echoing wah-wah feel, and the positively Bassey-esque vocals ("fiy-ahh"). So entranced was one of my companions that a globule of mashed potato hitching a ride on his Frank Zappa moustache remained there for the whole tune, rising up and down as he masticated slowly in time to the beat.
It took three encores to satisfy the audience. In the first, "Green Onions", Taylor slid his hands one over the other on the keyboard, stirring up the waves and building a maelstrom to overturn yachts, capsize ferries, and throw dinghies as flotsam into the air. You could only watch and be thankful you were on dry land.
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