OTIS TAYLOR > Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs

He’s a blues artist who remains unconfined by the blues.

OTIS TAYLOR
Pentatonic Wars and Love Songs
(TELARC/CONCORD)
[Rating: 4 stars]

He’s a blues artist who remains unconfined by the blues. Taylor writes timeless tales of love lost and forbidden, and produces them with an orchestral flair that makes each a uniquely dimensional voyage into the heart of music itself. Whereas much we hear seems flat, all on one level, he creates intricately woven tapestries of acoustic guitar, jazz piano, African percussion, cornet, cello and more. It’s not music to listen to from a distance, but to fall into and get lost within. Organic soundscapes surround his earthy voice of the ages, punctuated by the poignant soprano singing of his daughter Cassie Taylor, who sometimes takes the lead, and sometimes haunts the edges of his sound paintings. In “Lost My Guitar,” Gary Moore’s electric guitar leads are viscerally overdriven but set off behind the meditations of Jason Moran’s acoustic piano. It’s a delicate amalgam of blues and jazz-like a midnight crossroads summit between Art Tatum and Muddy Waters and Miles Davis. Taylor tells stories of racial struggles, like “I’m Not Mysterious,” which follows an eight-year-old black boy who wants to walk an eight-year-old white girl home, and “Country Boy, Girl,” which bounds with a galloping banjo-piano groove-bluegrass passion wed with bebop pianistic abandon-ideally fueled by Fara Tolno’s odjembe drum polyrhythms. An intersection of country sunshine with urban shadows permeates this collection of dark mystery and deep exultation. Taylor’s creative bravado is well in evidence throughout-he’s an artist, not unlike Miles or Waits or Sun Ra-whose musical ambitions carry this work far beyond the realm of what’s been done before, into that sphere of singular vision and focus which is exceedingly rare these days, and speaks directly to our souls.

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