Review: The James Taylor Quartet to release ‘The Rochester Mass’

In perhaps the first ever collaboration of its type, Hammond organ legend James Taylor, with the help of his band – Pat Illingworth (drums), Mark Cox (guitar) and Andrew McKinney (bass) – has combined the group’s trademark jazz-funk sound with the Rochester Cathedral Choir to create a Catholic Mass with a difference, recorded live at his local cathedral in Rochester, Kent.

Commenting on the project in the press release, the renowned musician, who took Latin texts and added music, states, “Putting aside the spiritual aspect and just looking at the music, which is influenced massively by the French impressionist movement, which is very jazzy and soulful, I’ve been getting massively into the sound of cathedral choirs, with two sets of sopranos and an alto. I wanted to blend that as a sound resource with the JTQ.”

The ambitious project gets underway with “Sanctus Part 1,” a light, breezy tune that makes excellent use of the choir’s angelic voices, outlining what we can expect to hear over the next nine tracks. Joining the supremely talented – though often underrated – quartet in adding musical depth are Nick Smart (flugelhorn), Gareth Lockrane (flute), Rob Townsend (saxophone and bass clarinet) and Ralph Wylde (orchestral percussion).

“Sanctus Part 2” slows things down considerably, with the soaring vocals taking precedence and leading the piece into an almost dreamlike trance. The sparse “Agnus Dei Part 1” includes a heavenly flute solo, while “Agnus Dei Part 2” is decidedly more groovy. “Benedictus” offers another satisfyingly smooth tempo, but I found myself drifting off slightly during one or two of the later tracks. That said, the closing number “Kyrie Eleison” is quite exquisite.

This highly innovative release is a noble attempt at doing something new and it does succeed in being a rewarding and very interesting listen, even if the electrifying pace – set by the unique combination of jazz, funk and classical music – does falter a little at times.

The Rochester Mass will be released through Cherry Red Records on December 4.

For more information on JTQ, visit their official website.

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