ProgressoR / Uzbekistan Progressive Rock Pages


Robin Taylor - 2008 - "Isle of Black"

(42:10, Transsubstans Records)


Prolusion. Danish composer, producer and multi-instrumentalist Robin TAYLOR is one of the most prolific artists on the progressive rock scene today, and with “Isle of Black” he has issued three albums so far in 2008, the other releases being with the bands Taylor's Universe and Art Cinema. With a total discography adding up to 30 albums or thereabouts, one might wonder how long this fine artist will be able to sustain the creativity and quality that has been of such a highly consistent quality on his releases up to and including this release.

1.  Confession 6:10
2.  Johannesburg 6:07
3.  Swingers 4:01
4.  Isle of Black 4:55
5.  Mind Archeology 9:15
6.  Izmit 11:05


Robin Taylor – guitars, bass; keyboards; percussion
Rasmus Grosell – drums, percussion
Karsten Vogel – saxophones 
Louise Nipper – voice           

Analysis. Whenever I start listening to an album where Robin Taylor has been involved, I expect two things: Firstly I expect a particular sound he has established as his own, and secondly I expect to be surprised by the musical direction explored. (That is, the expected and the unexpected :-) Some elements are always present of course, but the overall style tends to be different from album to album on what I've heard so far of Taylor's various releases. The sound is there on this album as well; a warm, round atmosphere where the instruments have few harsh edges or sounds to them, and instead come across as accessible and pleasant in timbre, creating a welcoming mood and atmosphere. And still every instrument used can be heard crystal clear; the avid concentrated listener is rewarded by being able to discover all manner of minor details in the compositions. Anyone familiar with Taylor's discography will also get the usual surprise when listening through this CD. Not because there's a partially or completely new musical style explored here, but because of the number of musical styles investigated as well as the elements present on each composition that still makes these vastly different tunes come across as parts of a whole. Disharmony and dissonance are keywords in describing this release: not because these are elements dominating the compositions from start to finish, rather they are central elements in parts of each song, and it seems that Taylor on this release explores ways to utilize these elements as effects in different kinds of musical styles. The opening track Confession starts out with a couple of minutes of fragmented voices and instruments, suddenly evolving into an organ driven hard rocking song in a vein similar to Deep Purple or Uriah Heep, then mellowing out at the end and incorporating the fragmented, dissonance-tinged elements opening the piece. Johannesburg is more of an atmospheric song, with a mostly organ-dominated composition with a big soundscape presented, and here, the disharmonic elements are included a couple of minutes into the tune with a segment where the guitar is used to add this particular aspect to the track. Swingers, after a slightly weird opening, turns into a good old-fashioned jazz tune, with a 2-minute long segment in the middle given over to improvisational disharmonic playing before ending on a more melodic note. Title track Isle of Black is a groovy piece with organ as a dominating instrument and heavy prog as the basic style explored, dissolving into a fragmented dissonance-tinged song towards the end. After some initial probing with organ and guitar, Mind Archeology evolves into a composition where the sax is given a free role, while the other instruments are mostly used to create a foundation for the improvisations. In addition, this particular composition goes back and forth between mellow segments and more full-fledged rock-based parts. Final track Izmit is introduced as a bonus track on the record cover and, indeed, this is a fitting description for this composition. There are some elements with dissonance courtesy of the guitar in this song, but most of this tune is on the mellow side with a minimalist approach, thus taking on a somewhat different musical exploration than the previous tracks on this release. As usual the moods and melodies are intriguing and fascinating; some more than others, but none of them comes across as tiresome or boring. The main weakness of this CD will probably be a somewhat limited appeal, due to the eclectic nature of the album overall.

Conclusion. “Isle of Black” is another fine release from Robin Taylor. Fans of experimental rock in general and Robin Taylor's works in particular should find this album very interesting.

OMB: November 4, 2008

Robin Taylor - 2008 - "Isle of Black"


Analysis. ”Isle of Black”, Robin Taylor’s eleventh solo album, features the same additional three musicians who appeared on its predecessor “Deutsche Schule”, but is in many ways inferior to it. Already after the first listening to this disc it becomes clear that only Taylor plays on all six of the tracks presented (Izmit being performed by him all alone) and that most of the basic material was recorded by him along with drummer Rasmus Grosel and was later overdubbed by the multi-instrumentalist’s own parts as well as those by Karsten Vogel and Louise Nipper, who only participated in four and two compositions, respectively, but whose contributions are almost always noteworthy. What really comes as a surprise, however, is the recording’s stylistic inconsistency. The first half of the opening piece, Confession (6:10), and everything on its track-list counterpart, Izmit (11:05), consists of near-completely stark, as if frozen, generated synthesizer drones accompanied by drum-like beats which are terribly monotonous also, with more than merely occasional, quasi-momentary, invasions of guitar and sax, and no melodic elements at all. And if in the former case that falsely-peaceful sonic milieu (kind of roaring silence or emptiness) is at least slightly offset by Louise speaking and – from time to time – crooning something, the almost complete dead-levelness of the last track may drive some listeners mad, especially if someone would force them to listen to it with headphones for a couple of hours running. Unlike Greg Segal’s, as well as Robin’s own, previous experiments with ‘noise design’, this one is completely beyond me. The second half of the disc opener has a full-bodied sound suggesting vintage symphonic Art-and-Hard Rock, with excellent, distinct bass, organ, guitar and drum lines. Johannesburg in Robin’s vision appears to be a sort of flat city, as the piece flows like a plain river, with (organ) reverse streams here and there, yet without any bends or turns, let alone rapids and – once again – it is for the most part only Louise Nipper’s expressive vocalizations that lend this music some weight in terms of diversity. Swingers is, aptly enough, swingy Jazz Rock and is indeed quite animated, as well as conventional and straight, with plenty of unison leads and only occasional free jazz outbursts – mainly on the part of Karsten Vogel. The title piece is good: made up of symphonic, jazz-fusion and doom-metal textures, and performed with a certain groovyness, it would have been quite in place on the Art Cinema recording, though on the other hand there are also Flamenco-stylized acoustic guitar solos and no vocals. Unlike a couple of the latest Taylor’s Universe releases, Karsten really shines on this “Isle of Black”, appearing to be the standout player on Mind Archeology (9:15, the second longest track here), where he displays a very wide range of styles and techniques on his saxophone, free-and-frantic improvisations included. In contrast to the traditional swingy piece, here the musicians never fall into the trap of a closed, schematic, three-chord circuit with unison ‘jamming’ over it. The playing embraces the whole gamut of jazz-rock and related directions, combining those with classically minimalist (think specifically multi-layered or better read the review of Terry Riley’s “In C”) sonic constructions as well as touching doom-metal ones along the way. This is a true full-band effort, a brilliant composition instantly bringing me back to classic Universal as well as Free Universal creations.

Conclusion. Obviously, this recording is a mixed bag where excellent compositions adjoin mediocrities (even a wise man stumbles). Those who are still unacquainted with Robin Taylor’s ‘purely solo’ work should start with “Deutsche Schule” (“German School”) and move backwards, avoiding “X Position Vol. 2” and “Edge of Darkness”.

VM: November 4, 2008

Related Links:

Robin Taylor
Transsubstans Records


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