John Taylor's new album, Angel of the Presence, has been garnering five-star reviews all round, and I am no exception to the ranks of critics who incline their heads at the name of the 63-year-old British pianist (although I've always been slightly bothered by his resemblance to the actor Bernard Cribbins). Appearing at the new Vortex in Dalston, however, Taylor's trio sounded at times like a band whose members have not grown sufficiently accustomed to each other, despite it being the same trio that made the recent CD.
This was particularly noticeable on the second number, a ballad with a Swedish title so unpronounceable that Taylor asked his Stockholm-born bassist, Palle Danielsson, to announce it. Taylor's playing was beautiful, Danielsson's bass strong and firm and, at least initially, Martin France's fills on drums were appropriate. (Later, his business became irritating.) But in the parts where there was a clear and evident pulse they were not together on the beat. If this was deliberate, it didn't sound like it.
Fortunately, there was no sign of this on a later ballad, "Between Moons". As wistful and affecting as a Jacques Brel song, this highly atmospheric number was performed unimpeachably, Taylor's solos containing plaintive, yearning phrases, and the leader placing a chord in the introduction of such startling loveliness that it took the breath away; men's souls are too fragile to hear such a chord too often.
It was on another number, "Everybody's Song But My Own", by Taylor's collaborator Kenny Wheeler, that the moment the audience was waiting for finally came. After stating the theme, the band moved up into an energetic waltz, which was later swung in straight three time, and the electricity really began to crackle.
Everyone can feel when a band lifts off, when it rises above the merely competent or even the very good, and that spirit of invention which fires jazz takes over a group of musicians. No longer three separate players, at that point they have become a separate entity; it is the mind of the trio that drives them then, not those of the individuals involved. This happened during Taylor's solo, and the roar that greeted its finish indicated that everyone there appreciated that magic had made its presence audible.
St Georges, Bristol (0845 402 4001), tonight; Leeds College of Music (0113-222 3400), tomorrow; Zefferellis, Ambleside (01539 433845), SaturdayReuse content