Click here to [close]

Sunday, September 16, 2018

Chad Taylor - Myths and Morals (eyes&ears Records, 2018) ****

By Eric McDowell

Better than perhaps any other instrument, the drums embody tension—not the physical tension necessary for the production of sound but the push and pull between extremes: rhythm and melody, fragmentation and unity, ancient tradition and the cutting edge. And in this context, few drummers are better prepared to balance—and exploit—these tensions than Chad Taylor, whose talents have supported a catalogue of collaborators too long and wide-ranging to summarize here.

In a recent interview , Taylor discusses the title of his debut solo album, a reference to Joseph Campbell’s observation that “a myth is what we call someone else’s religion,” even though morals are more or less universal. “Instead of focusing on what unites us,” Taylor says, “we focus on what is different.” But the issue doesn’t quite accommodate a simple either/or: it’s about understanding how each myth shapes and is shaped by its believers and, at the same time, how they fit together (or reduce down) into a single, beautifully complex whole.

Call it polyphony—or better yet, polyrhythm. On Myths and Morals, these techniques are as much a matter of Taylor’s limb independence as they are his aesthetic approach, which gathers together heavy grooves, free improvisation, mbira melodicism, and electronic manipulation. To say these elements are in simultaneous suspension requires viewing the album as a whole; moment to moment, Taylor’s focus more often than not is on exploring individual details.

This exploration starts with the cymbal, as “Abtu and Anet” makes clear. The album opener showcases Taylor’s cymbal work from a number of angles—bombastic crashes, slinky patterns, and—for most of the track—spare articulations that draw out myriad shades of resonance and decay. “Carnation” and “Arcadia” take this work further with the help of the bow, the latter track croaking and wheezing to life before handing things over to another piece of metal percussion key to Taylor’s sound on Myths and Morals—the mbira. With the benefit of years of study, Taylor’s command of the complex thumb piano manifests in a range of sounds, from the tonal depths of “Arcadia” to the dessicated etchings of “Gum Tree.”

“The Fall of Babel,” halfway through the album, marks a transition from metals to skins as it moves gradually from delicate cymbal play to a no less nuanced tour of the kit—to a two-foot Latin ostinato over which Taylor pounds his well-tuned toms. Similarly, “Phoenix” shows the drummer building and dissolving an irresistible groove, oscillating between firm footing and uncertainty.

Where it all arguably comes together is the album’s centerpiece, “Island of the Blessed.” Starting with a mesmerizing mbira pattern and developing into a breakneck odd-meter workout, the nine-minute track highlights one other element of Taylor’s sound, electronic manipulation. Here we see Taylor’s ability not only to conceive a richly layered soundscape but also to go outside the boundaries of what we traditionally think of as percussion to bridge the gap between his varied musical inclinations. As the piece develops, giving Myths and Morals its center of gravity, boundaries between rhythm and noise, the organic and the synthetic, one Taylor and another dissolve into a single seamless whole.


MJG said...

Thanks for such an insightful review. Having lived with this album for a while, I'll happily second the sentiments therein. Taylor is, and has been for a long time now, a guarantor of quality on any recording, I find. So to hear him solo is a special treat

ears&eyes Records said...

Eric, thank you so much for these insightful and kind words. I was super excited to release this gem and even more excited that the energy continues on through reviewers like yourself. Cheers! -Matthew

Martin Schray said...

Very well done, Eric. One of the best recent reviews here.

J Hardy Carroll said...

Excellent review. Thoughtful and insightful. Chad is a marvelous musician, deeply inspirational to anyone who plays improvisational music. He brings lift and energy to his many projects, tempering his brave rhythmic explorations with solid references to Elvin, DeJohnette, Philly Joe and newer explorers like Brian Blade and Mark Giuliana. I am a fan of music that demands careful listening, provided the musicians bring it to the table. Chad always delivers.