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Fred Taylor Trio transports straight-ahead jazz live to Cecil’s

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Fred Taylor Trio “Live at Cecil’s, Vol. 1” album [2009, Fred Taylor Music]

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Cecil’s is the home of jazz in N.J. Owned by the drumming great Cecil Brooks III and his wife, Adreena, Cecil’s is the place where musicians hang out, trade ideas, blow lots of great music and build strong and lasting friendships. We in the trio are very proud to have performed there.

The opening song off the Fred Taylor Trio’s Live At Cecil’s (Vol. 1) album is Sonny Rollins’ “Sonnymoon For Two,” clocking in at seven minutes, 20 seconds. It’s full-on, unapologetically, leisurely straight-ahead, post-bop jazz by three well-armed working musicians, including one respected veteran.

Spokane, WA native Fred Taylor made the trio’s first live album — a two-disc CD/DVD set — in West Orange, N.J.’s Cecil’s Jazz Club and Restaurant, on January 23, 2009. There’s a second live album coming out this month with a young, hot Italian, electric bassist named Francesco Beccaro.

“Cecil’s is the home of jazz in N.J. Owned by the drumming great Cecil Brooks III and his wife, Adreena,” Taylor explained. “Cecil’s is the place where musicians hang out, trade ideas, blow lots of great music and build strong and lasting friendships. We in the trio are very proud to have performed there.”

This is Taylor’s live album, but the performances by Bob Ackerman (woodwinds), Rick Crane (double bass), and Taylor on drums are equally distributed. Taylor could easily take over every solo, but he seems to enjoy the remarkable interpretive values of his colleagues too much. Much of the time, he’s content to sit back and hold the groove in place.

In “Sonnymoon For Two,” Taylor acts as a member of the audience, observing Crane go a capella, and then Ackerman speaking in sax-tongues, only stepping in with a few soft brush strokes — as much to add texture, as to keep moving the tune forward.

In many ways, Ackerman drives the featured covers and original compositions (four of them are his) on the 10-track live album, while Taylor and Crane provide an airy distillation of his various reeds and that smooth, supple saxophone.

The covers “Moon And Sand” and Cole Porter’s “What Is This Thing Called Love?” feature one of Crane’s best solos, tripping gently over the notes, roughing it in others, letting the spaces fill in between his chords as if they’ve always belonged. Ackerman steps away a few feet in the DVD to let his colleague go to town, returning to bring the whole piece back home with a barely perceptible nod.

With the progression of each song in the live performance, Taylor stretches farther out creatively in his drum solos, taking longer, and taking larger and larger chunks of his kit. His solo on “What Is This Thing Called Love?” really shows a deft hand, and a curious wandering into different stylistic territory, as if dipping his toes in the water before walking away.

Fred Taylor wrote “Bela’s Bounce,” which glimpses his fun side. Whether the Mukilteo, WA-based drummer takes on ballads or fast-moving charges, he’s both grounded for the musicians taking the leading role and playfully sharp in his own solos. This song perfectly gets Taylor’s strong but supportive personality, and gives Crane and Ackerman a lot of volume and breadth with which to layer. When Crane goes off on his informed tangent, letting every other tangy note reverberate, Taylor’s right underneath, stroking the lower levels in a nicely rippling groundswell. His drum solo, a punchy, infectious start, is much too short.

“LTD’s Ballad” is a meandering little four minutes and 57 seconds of Ackerman on clarinet. It’s way too much clarinet. At one point toward the end, it’s hard to tell if he’s intentionally producing a stray squeak or two for effect, or if it’s a mistake. But either way, it’s jarring, because the song doesn’t really go very far live. The recorded version in the trio’s 2008 album, Circling, sounds better.

Taylor’s first instrument was piano, which he learned at the age of five in classical music. By 10, he found his calling on the drums. And by 14, he was gigging professionally in his hometown. It wasn’t too long before he gigged all over the U.S. and Western Canada, vibing off an extensive play list of songs and styles, including funk, rock, Top 40, orchestral, and country, which the Cecil’s audience hears throughout this live album.

Taylor and Ackerman forged a strong and supportive bond after meeting in 2005 on the East Coast. The meeting led to a steady gig at Cecil’s Jazz Club (the place closed down in February, 2012) in West Orange, N.J. for the Tuesday night open jam. Ackerman, an expert in sax/flute technology, was a regular at the jazz club. Taylor, studying at the Drummer’s Collective in New York City at the time, enjoyed playing with Ackerman so much, they formed a trio with bassist Crane in New Jersey, playing and recording from 2008 to 2010.

“Cecil Brooks III asked us to perform in his club, where we made the live CD on January 23, 2009,” Taylor added.

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