Billy Taylor

Urban Griot

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The ageless Dr. Billy Taylor describes himself as an urban griot ("In African tradition, a historian, a master musician, an educator, a storyteller," according to the pianist in his informative liner notes) and proceeds to prove the point with his moving suite, which was commissioned by Dr. & Mrs. Clifford Wharton and later dedicated to their son, Clifford Wharton III, after his untimely death. With bassist Chip Jackson and drummer Winard Harper, Taylor's 11 pieces convey a variety of messages and moods. The medley "Local Color/Can You Dig It?" alternates between a funky strut and an infectious dance groove. Dr. Taylor invites the listener to briskly waltz along with "Reclamation." "Conversion" is a feature for Jackson's considerable chops, while Harper is the focus of "Like a Heartbeat," a piece that finds the percussion in an almost conversational role à la Max Roach. Phil Schaap, who wrote additional liner notes, implies the chord changes of "Sweet Georgia Brown" are the basis for "Invention/Looking for Another Theme," though Dr. Taylor seems to disagree. "A Duke-ish Blues" is a superb finale in tribute to Duke Ellington that hints at the maestro's style without losing sight of Taylor's own distinct sound. Dr. Taylor's moving narrative about losing a son, "Spoken," honors not only the Wharton's son but also his own late son; it serves as a fitting introduction to the heartfelt ballad "In Loving Memory." Jazz has been very fortunate to have Billy Taylor in its midst for so long; this recording should be one of the first acquired by this talented musician, composer, and educator who has shared his love of jazz in so many ways for so many decades.

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