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To The Edge – Mark Taylor and the Big Band

Mark Taylor and the Big Band
Mark Taylor and the BigBand

By JACK COOPER (Guest Review)

Writer and arranger Mark Taylor has a long and illustrious career with his associations to the Stan Kenton Orchestra and as longtime staff arranger for the The Army Band (Pershing’s Own) in Washington D.C. Though his professional output has covered everything from small instrumental groups, to string ensembles and special performances for national T.V. shows, he has always come back to writing for 17 piece big band. The latter relationship in the U.S. capital has allowed Taylor close contact with the finest jazz players in Washington D.C. and the special armed services big bands therein. Taylor is widely published and well-respected amongst his composing and arranging peers dating back to his time at North Texas State University. His newest release (third with his own group), “To The Edge,” is a very polished big band recording. Many things catch the ear; the band is tight, energetic and extremely musical. The level of Taylor’s writing and the playing is at a very high level, as good as one would hear with first call studio musicians in Los Angeles, Nashville, New York, London, Berlin…or Washington D.C.

“Samba Ti Kaye” is one of Taylor’s originals and does a fine job introducing this latest recording and the band. Alto player Andy Alexrod shows us some great playing reminiscent of the legendary Sonny Criss while Graham Breedlove delivers a gorgeous flugelhorn solo. The shout chorus of the chart is typical of Taylor; it does superb job showing off the band.

Taylor’s interpretation of “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” is swinging and gazes at this Elton John signature tune from a totally different angle. Ted Baker (tenor sax) and Jay Gibble (trombone) deliver fine solos. The biggest challenge Taylor had to face here was creating effective solo chord changes for these players; he completes the task with great expertise. Todd Harrison’s “a la Basie ‘Cute’” soloing is a very nice addition Taylor has allowed for inside the arrangement.

‘Blue Monk’ is a wonderful treatment of Monk’s original material first grooving in a Ragin’ Cajun style giving way to straight ahead blues the likes of which Clark Terry would be proud. Great solos from Matt Neiss and Graham Breedlove and lots of meat on the bone for Todd Harrison’s drums…and the band eats it up!

The ballad “Love Matters the Most” is gorgeous, John DeSalme is featured on tenor sax. Taylor’s use of mutes and woodwinds is one of his signatures and everything is musically well-balanced. What catches the ear on the chart is it’s not overwritten; another MT signature, very tasteful writing. One imagines Taylor’s feature as a precisely cut diamond in a beautiful setting for a ring; everything is in balance and so pleasing to the ear.

Marty Neu’s wonderful alto sax playing is the focus throughout Taylor’s interpretation of Jerome Kern’s classic “All the Things You Are.” An additional bass solo is inserted by Paul Henry to break up the action a bit; nothing gets lost in the momentum of the chart. Though this chart is very reminiscent of classic alto features from the Kenton orchestra for players such as Gabe Baltazer, John Park, or Quinn Davis, Mark Taylor embeds his arranging signature in this one with some very smart, swinging writing.

Wayne Shorter’s “Children of the Night” is given a ‘fast ball down the middle’ treatment by Taylor. The tune is allowed to do what it does best and certainly Mark is fully aware of the hard-bop tradition and language honored here. Grant Langford (tenor) and Craig Fraedrich (trumpet) do a fine job on the solos and Todd Harrison sounds great on the drum chair: he supports the band while displaying some fine solo fills.

Singer Delores King Williams is featured on Taylor’s velvety rendering of “My Funny Valentine.” The only critical thought one might have of Mark’s choices (for the CD) is to have a couple of more vocal charts on the recording. He is one of the finest vocal arrangers in the profession and it would have been nice to hear more. Tom Williams (flugelhorn) delivers a fine solo on the ballad.

“To the Edge” (title track) is a wonderful combination of Taylor’s hard driving, inverting and re-inverting of the augmented and diminished scales. By no means pedantic, a very melodic way of going about it, as Taylor so often does. What a great tune and the orchestration is fantastic. Typical of Taylor…this swings hard and the band gets lots of material to dig into.

Over the years we have heard numerous charts of John Coltrane’s “Giant Steps” to include the most prominent done for the Woody Herman big band in the 1970s. Easily one of the strongest of the batch, Taylor’s chart does a fine job of keeping the focus in the center of the target. The tune already has a signature harmonic and melodic pattern we expect. Taylor adeptly integrates material from Coltrane’s famous solo lines into the sax soli, but making it his own. Jim McFalls (trombone) and Ted Baker nail the challenging chord changes and Todd Harrison gives some great featured drumming to bring it home.

One of the first charts many jazz bands got to know Taylor by is “Love Beams” from his time in college at North Texas State University (noted as a favorite tune of his wife Evie). This is truly the best recording of the chart to date (which there are several) and does a very nice job of updating his writing , showing how timeless the music is. Longtime D.C. musician Jim Roberts is featured on acoustic guitar and does a fine job on the solo chair.

Another of Wayne Shorter’s tunes is interpreted by Taylor: “One By One.” Again the band sounds great and Mark’s writing is clear while honoring the tradition of Shorter’s hard-bop era tune. Marty Neu (alto sax) and Craig Fraedrich get some solo space and Taylor’s writing is appropriately idiomatic to one of Shorter’s most well-known tunes.

“Another Great Day” is the fifth of Taylor’s originals from the CD. With Andy Axelrod on the alto sax solo this is funk chart is somewhat reminiscent of writing for the 1970’s Kenton and Ferguson big bands. Nothing fancy, all about the groove and the band does a fine job of interpreting Taylor’s hard hitting composition.

The closer for this session is his original “Bone Talk.” A simple but perfect trombone plunger romp that sounds like Joe Williams or Jimmy Rushing are going to come in any minute with “Everyday I Have the Blues.” Matt Neiss, Jay Gibble and Jen Krupa play greasy blues solos that don’t disappoint and make for some fun listening. Again with Taylor’s wonderful, full band soli writing, the group has a nice handle to grab onto and drive the chart to the end.

The whole album has a nice variety of writing from Mark Taylor and it is hard to imagine the music could have been played any better.  A very enjoyable listen for fans of big band jazz; highly recommended.

Can be purchased from Cdbaby.com


Jack Cooper
– Berlin Jazz Orchestra composer/arranger in residence (currently), former staff arranger for the U.S.M.A. Jazz Knights, Director of Jazz Studies – the University of Memphis

Samba Ti Kaye 5:17

Goodbye Yellow Brick Road 5:23

Blue Monk 6:27

Love Matters the Most 5:47

All the Things You Are 4:33

Children of the Night 6:12

My Funny Valentine 5:49

To the Edge 8:21

Giant Steps 4:38

Love Beams 4:19

One By One 4:19

Another Great Day 4:29

Bone Talk 5:09

Personnel: Marty Nau, Andy Axelrad, Tedd Baker, Grant Langford, John DeSalme, Dave Brown: saxophones/woodwinds; Brian MacDonald, Liels whitaker, chris Walker, Craig Fraedrich, Graham Breedlove: trumpets/flugelhorns; Matt Neiss, Jim McFalls, Jay Gibble, Jen Krupa, Jeff Cortazzo: trombones; Tony Nalker; piano; Jim Roberts: guitar; Paul Henry: bass; Todd Harrison: drums; Special guests: Delores King Williams: vocals; Tom Williams: flugelhorn.