Review: Otis Taylor, Definition of a Circle
Otis Taylor’s “Definition of a Circle” was recently named the Blues Album of the Year in Downbeat’s Critics Poll. I don’t know if that’s a good thing or not because when I was reading Downbeat regularly (which was a long time ago) their critics were often pretty out of it when it came to music outside the jazz idiom. Whatever the case may be with the current version of Downbeat, “Definition of a Circle” is a mostly interesting album that is pointedly unlike the kinds of music that are typically marketed as blues.
Taylor sings, writes, and plays guitar, banjo and piano. He doesn’t use the standard blues progressions instead writing single-chord, modal compositions that rely more on pulse than time signature and give his music a hypnotic quality that is somewhat similar to that of Junior Kimbrough and the purely blues recordings of R.L. Burnside. When it works, it works very well drawing you in and capturing you with a cyclical, rolling momentum. “Definition of a Circle” is an apt title.
With music like this tunes can often end up sounding so much alike that they become indistinguishable. Taylor avoids this problem by adding different elements and spacing them thoughout the album, making especially fine use of some of the musicians he plays with. Bass player Cassie Taylor provides a haunting vocal accompaniment on “They Wore Blue” and sings pitch perfect choruses to go with Taylor’s verses on “A Few Feet Away”. The latter also features Ron Miles on cornet whose contributions to several songs on the album are exquisitly and seamlessly added to the mix. Gary Moore turns in blistering lead guitar work on “Something in Your Back Pocket” and especially “Love and Hesitation”. One of the most surprising tunes on the album is “Long Long Life” which features Hiromi Uehara on piano along with Miles’ cornet. It sound a lot like the type of modal free jazz that was coming out of the NYC loft scene in the 1980s which sounds all wrong for a blues record but fits perfectly with its circular propulsion and pulse driven rhythm. Not everything works so well. “My Name is General Jackson” is so maudlin I had a hard time getting through it time and again when listening to the album for review. Also the added elements on some songs leave the more typical numbers sounding somewhat similar by the end of the CD.
“Definition of a Circle” has more than it’s share of good, interesting and inventive music and will likely appeal to listeners who like the essence of the blues without being tied to the standard song structures of the form.
No comments yet.