Billed as the world’s first jazz-funk mass Rochester Mass is due for release on Cherry Red on the 4th December and is essentially a catholic mass with the backdrop of The James Taylor Quartet.

Talor says of this concept “Putting aside the spiritual aspect and just looking at the music, which is influenced massively by the French impressionist movement, which is very jazzy and soulful, I’ve been getting into the sound of cathedral choirs, with two sets of sopranos and an alto. I wanted to blend that as a sound resource with the JTQ”The-James-Taylor-Quartet-and-The-Rochester-Cathedral-Choir-The-Rochester-Mass-sleeve-artwork

This fascination with choral music stems from visiting his nearby Rochester Cathedral during the deterioration, and eventual death, of his Father through Alzheimer’s… Taylor says “…the music entered my soul”.

So here you have the Kyrie the Benedictus, the Sanctus and the Gloria each beginning with a classical intro developing into a more jazzy and funky second part. It sounds an odd juxtaposition of styles but it kinda works really well. With this kind of concept there’s always the possibility that the finished product can come across as sounding all pretentious and “clever” but not really working…but this does work really well indeed.

The band is the usual JTQ crew of Taylor on Hammond organ, Pat Illingworth on drums, Mark Cox taking guitar duties and Andrew McKinney on bass. However, for this project the quartet is expanded to an Octet with Nick Smart on flugelhorn, Gareth Lockrane on flute, Rob Townsend playing sax and bass clarinet and Ralph Wylde on orchestral percussion…and of course the Rochester Cathedral Choir. The album was recorded at Angel Studio 1 on July 6th 2015 in an incredible six hours…but you would never guess this!

Regular readers will know I’m not a classical music person, but I do like a bit of jazz funk and this collision of two very disparate worlds really should sound bloody awful in my book, but you know what, it works brilliantly and all power to Taylor for having the guts and foresight to recognise the possibilities of this potentially unholy alliance.

The release date is a clever one and I imagine this will be in the stockings of many this Christmas. It maintains a spiritual feeling but grooves along brilliantly too. I thoroughly expected to hate this, but it’s actually very good indeed. Recommended.

Stuart Smith

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