The music of Danish born multi-instrumentalist Robin Taylor is at times eclectic, energetic, complex, and on occasion a chaotic cacophony of dissonant sound – but one thing it is not … predictable. Robin Taylor can’t be pigeonholed or constrained by any one specific genre. His compositions encompass such diverse styles as Zeuhl , Belgium Chamber Prog, Hard-Core Acid Jazz, Jazz/Fusion, Art/Rock, Canterbury , Symphonic Progressive, Filmscore, and even a touch of Krautrock. And that’s just the seven discs I previewed!
In the years between 1991 through 2006 Robin Taylor has produced an astounding 21 albums, plus a compilation of early work (“The Bandbix Tapes”) recorded between 1985 and 2000; dividing his time between solo projects, Taylor’s Universe, Taylor’s Free Universe, and Communio Musica.. Very impressive!
In the time span of a single album his compositions run the gamut from tightly structured progressive rock epics to improvisational acid jazz excursions and concrete blocks of mind numbing noise. I can’t think of any artist recording today who is capable of incorporating such diametrically opposed styles within a single piece of music - going from the complex yet beautiful intricacies of groups like Happy The Man, Genesis, or Gentle Giant then abruptly switching gears entering the harsh dissonant realm occupied by the likes of Univers Zero, Magma, Simon Steensland, or John Zorn.
This is music for the adventurous avant-garde listener - not recommended for closed minded individuals or the faint of heart. Oftentimes it’s just plain unpleasant, noisy and repetitive. Two such unpleasant experiences for me came in the form of the CDs “Samplicity” and “X Positive Vol.1”. I found the minimalist approach on “Samplicity” to be too mind-numbingly repetitive; while too much of “X Positive Vol. 1” is comprised of extended blocks of noise; quite similar to the equally annoying King Crimson live improv disc “ThrakAttack”.
I’ve never been a fan of noise masquerading as music. Nor can I understand the logic of repeating a five or six note phrase for five minutes or more. Imagine being seated on a plane next to someone on a Transatlantic flight – unable to leave your assigned seating – and all they do is repeat the same five word sentence throughout the trip. I wish musicians would consider this scenario before subjecting listeners to a disc of endless repetition.
Of the Robin Taylor discs I previewed, “Samplicity” and “X Positive Vol. 1” were the least appealing throughout, while his ‘Taylor Universe’ projects proved to be his most impressive and consistent works.
The self-titled ‘ Taylor ’s Universe’ is the perfect place to start. It’s a true microcosm of Robin Taylor’s Universe, displaying the wide range of ideas culled from jazz and prog/rock sub-genres. The track “Secret Wedding” is a gentle haunting piece featuring keyboards and trumpet more at home on a Vangelis or Mark Isham album.
“Meetings” embodies the aggressive nature of Taylor ’s compositions with a raucous Magma-like number featuring squawking saxophones, guitar feedback and a kinetic wall of rambunctious percussion - then an abrupt change finds our speakers pumping out a guitar chord progression reminiscent of the Yes tune “Owner Of A Lonely Heart”.
Now comes the Cream Of The Crop.
Of the seven albums previewed the one I highly recommend is “Oyster’s Apprentice”. It’s a flawless collection of tunes from beginning to end, and should appeal to fans of both symphonic prog and jazz fusion. I can’t say enough good things about “Oyster’s Apprentice”. I was completely taken aback by this one after listening to some of the more aggressive CDs in Taylor ’s discography.
“Oyster’s Apprentice” has an atmospheric filmscore quality about it. And although there is no back story written anywhere on the CD this has the feel of an epic instrumental concept album. It opens with an upbeat happy little tune “Ghost Reporters” which reminded me of the excellent album “In Time” by Kit Watkins and Coco Roussel. Actually the whole thing is reminiscent of Kit Watkins early solo albums – and a hint of early Camel. The sax work by longtime contributor Karsten Vogel really shines on this recording. Rather than bombard the disc with screeching ‘blow-your-brains-out’ sax riffs, Vogel creates beautifully crafted melodies that flow and enhance rather than attack and burrow into your gray matter.
Almost as impressive from Taylor ’s Universe is the CD “Experimental Health”.
On the tune “Elephant’s Kiss” he incorporates the jazz fusion of Brand X, the guitar crunching wall of sound employed by Robert Fripp and Crimson, and a bit of Police-style Reggae – all in the span of a 4:33 tune. Additional stand-out tunes on “Experimental Health” are “Milo’s Daughter”, “Kindergarten”, “Therapy”, and “Charly & Juliet” … all with a decidedly jazz/fusion flavor, once again bringing to mind Brand X or Klaus Doldinger’s group Passport. The CDs ends with the noisy throw-away track “Experimental Health” which fades in and out for 9:58 like some hidden track - refusing to go away. That track, along with “Base Camp”- another experiment gone awry - makes it hard for me to whole-heartedly recommend this album with the same enthusiasm as “Oyster’s Apprentice”.
From the overall tone of this review one can gather I’m not a big fan of RIO avant-garde music, so my review may be a tad more bias against his work than a reviewer more in tune with this particular style - but that having been said, I did find much to be impressed with. There are moments of sheer brilliance, power, passion and beauty intermingled among the unpleasant moments of impromptu noise, hypnotic repetition, and dissonant riffs that do little to enhance the listening experience.
The music of Robin Taylor presents a challenge for the discriminating listener – but one you might choose to accept if you ever hope to expand your musical boundaries.
And “Oyster’s Apprentice” is a true gem.
Reviewed by Joseph Shingler on August 12th, 2007