Martin Taylor prefers subtlety over flash
Martin Taylor likes the excitement of performing in duos because he never knows where the music will go—and there's no room for mistakes. The 52-year-old jazz artist, hailed by the Times as "the finest British guitarist of his generation", thrives on the challenge of focusing intensely on a partner's playing while at the same time improvising with fluency and imagination.
In the course of his long career Taylor has worked in tandem with luminaries like Stephane Grappelli, Joe Pass, and Chet Atkins. Most recently he's paired up with a musician from a very different background, English folk guitarist and fellow fingerpicker Martin Simpson. The Two Martins, as they style themselves, seem an unlikely combination, yet they've found much mutual ground.
"The most important common thread is the blues," says Taylor, reached at a hotel in Tucson, Arizona. "Also, we're similar in how we approach the guitar—we're both quite meticulous about the way we play and the sound we get from our instruments. We've been doing concerts together for two years or so, and it's very inspiring. When you play with a musician that you empathize closely with, you really get a kind of telepathy going."
The Two Martins' material is a mixed bag of traditional folk, blues, funk, and jazz, including a number of original works by Taylor. "For the most part, these aren't the kind of standard jazz compositions I normally write, with lots of harmonies and chord changes. We tend to do things that have more of a groove, on which Martin plays slide."
Taylor, who began learning jazz guitar at the age of four, is a masterly solo performer, but he doesn't flaunt his skills in flashy displays. His picking is crisp and light, his tone rich and warm, his chording subtle and inventive. "The musicians who really inspired me in the ways I wanted to take the guitar forward—treating it as a complete instrument, rich in harmonic possibilities—were for the most part pianists, people like Art Tatum and Bill Evans."
Paradoxically, the appeal of the duo format has led Taylor down an intriguing new path as a studio musician on his current release Double Standards. As the title indicates, it's an album of vintage jazz pieces such as Duke Ellington's brightly syncopated "Drop Me Off in Harlem" and George Gershwin's languid "Someone to Watch Over Me", played as overdubbed duets with himself.
"I thought of working with another guitarist but I had definite ideas about how I wanted the sound—like one big guitar. The only way to do it was for me to play both parts. I really enjoyed the creative process and decided quite early that I'd make the album the first of a series.”¦It comes across as a laid-back, relaxed recording but that's deceptive. I'm not doing it to impress anyone, so it pleases me that those technicalities are well-disguised by the music."
Martin Taylor joins Martin Simpson at the Capilano College Performing Arts Theatre on Sunday (November 2).