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Martin Taylor : Freternity

Like another six-string burner, gypsy-guitar star Biréli Lagrène, British-born guitarist Martin Taylor has had a close association with the music of guitar-god Django Reinhardt throughout his career. Taylor not only played for 11 years with Reinhardt’s Hot Club of France partner, violinist Stephane Grappelli, he also formed Martin Taylor’s Spirit of Django in the ’90s, releasing two potent albums of modern gypsy jazz. This album is somewhat far afield from the Django association, presenting the guitarist in contemporary renditions of familiar jazz standards and originals that showcase his fluid, Benson-esque single-note facility on a warm-toned jazz box. Taylor is joined by a capable quartet featuring the outstanding trumpeter Guy Barker, who shines on a soothing rendition of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Skylark” and Taylor’s calypso-flavored title track.

Taylor’s true six-string genius has been, in the past, best showcased in an unaccompanied setting (as on 2000’s In Concert). He has two such opportunities here, turning in a brilliantly executed, Joe Pass-inspired solo rendition of “Stella by Starlight” and an extended unaccompanied intro to Clifford Brown’s “Joyspring,” which ultimately brings in the full quartet and features some bold high-note soloing from trumpeter Barker (and a painfully cheesy-sounding fake-piano synth solo by David Newton). Though Taylor’s playing is on a very high level throughout, a good half of the material here is marred by the cheddar factor of his contempo arrangements, including a slowed down “bluesy” rendition of Neal Hefti’s “The Odd Couple” and bland, smooth-jazz-like “Chez Fernand” and “You Know It’s True.” Special guest Alison Burns shows up for a charming turn on the jaunty Billy Strayhorn number “Kissing Bug.”

The album closes on an intimate note with an artful guitar-trumpet duet between Taylor and Barker on Hefti’s “Lil’ Darlin’.” The album could’ve used more of that and less of the blatant stabs at radio play.

Originally Published