James Taylor Quartet & The Rochester Cathedral Choir – The Rochester Mass

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The Rochester Mass by James Taylor Quartet & the Rochester Cathedral Choir is released on 4th December on Cherry Red Records
The Rochester Mass by James Taylor Quartet & the Rochester Cathedral Choir

where big business record labels attempt to quash risk and in the process smother originality and experimentation, thank the lord for the continuing strength of the real independent labels and re-emergence of Cherry Red Records.

Since humble beginnings saw four twenty-something young men getting together to relieve the boredom and jam some old 1960s theme tunes around the, not-so fashionable for the time Hammond organ, The James Taylor Quartet very soon found themselves recording a John Peel Session and releasing a debut mini album to critical acclaim.  Sixties theme tunes soon turned to Hammond organ jazz – which is nice! – the likes of Jimmy Smith & Jimmy McGriff; and with the release of  the Theme to Starsky & Hutch, JTQ found themselves up to their butterfly collared shirts in the Acid Jazz scene.

For over 25 years James Taylor has lead JTQ through several genres, many albums and more line-ups you can shake a stick at,  as he continues to be the only surviving member from the band’s original ‘Blow Up‘ session.  For their latest album, James Taylor has stumbled upon something different, interesting and as far as I am aware, very unique. In fact, all the elements I suggested the big business record labels will steer well away from.

Following successful concerts at London’s Festival Hall and Rochester Cathedral, where The James Taylor Quartet performed live with the forty-strong Rochester Cathedral Choir, The Rochester Mass was recorded in just one day and is released in full by Cherry Red Records on Friday 4th December.

The Rochester Mass is a coming together of JTQ’s distinguished style of British acid jazz funk and the beautiful choral singing of a 40-strong cathedral choir.  The album is comprised of 10 tracks and begins with Sanctus Pt 1.  The song is a perfect introduction to the album (especially for those unfortunate enough not to have witnessed the live performance) as it gently and subtly brings the Rochester Cathedral Choir into what otherwise appears to be another smooth JTQ funky Hammond organ tune.  Then Sanctus Pt 2 begins.  The Hammond organ is reminiscent of an early 1970s Deodata heavier funk take, on jazz funk.  With a flute, the song swirls around like leaves in an Autumn breeze; and the song is filled with young choral voices. The fusion is complete. The album is a linear ride – a concept album preaching to the unconverted from both sides of the fence.

With The Rochester Mass, James Taylor has taken a step into the unknown. Obviously, some of the JTQ diehard fans aren’t going to be as excited about this as they might be with another straightforward jazz funk album, but that is exactly why an album like this needs to be appreciated and credit given to James Taylor for attempting such a fusion of two completely different music genres.  Whether for personal satisfaction or not, the fact is this is not music for comfort zones.  Whether the album receives as much critical acclaim as the live concerts that took place earlier this year, it’s comforting to know that music will always be more interesting when it challenges, experiments and looks forward rather than to the past.

The Rochester Mass has James Taylor not sitting on the fence, but trying to burn the fence down; and who wants to sit on a burning fence!?

The Rochester Mass by James Taylor Quartet & the Rochester Cathedral Choir is released on 4th December on Cherry Red Records.

James Taylor Quartet perform The Rochester Mass @ Rochester Cathedral

In the 1987 four musicians from Medway began jamming together following the demise of local psych garage groups The Prisoners and The Daggermen. The began playing 1960s theme tunes and Hammond organ cover versions.  The James Taylor Quartet found instant appreciation, capped by a John Peel Session and an acclaimed debut album, Mission Impossible.  The band signed to Polydor and became part of the Acid Jazz scene.

Many years, albums, line-up changes and world tours later, James Taylor returned to his hometown of Rochester  last Friday night, to perform with the 40-strong Rochester Cathedral Choir.

The concert took place in the cathedral itself and was given in two parts. The first set was a performance of The Rochester Mass – a nine part piece – where the Rochester Cathedral Choir, made up of three parts: Boys Choristers, Girls Choristers and the Lay Clerks played with the James Taylor Quartet under the directorship of Scott Farrell, the cathedral’s director of music.

The Rochester Mass
Gloria part 1
Gloria part 2
Agnus Dei a capella duet intro
Agnes Dei Part 1
Flute Cadenza
Agnes Dei Part 2
Sanctus part 1
Sanctus part 2

The performance was truly amazing.  The cathedral acoustics and lavish setting was as perfect as the chemistry between choral music and jazz. The piece was very warmly received and left the audience mesmerised.

Following a short break, the James Taylor Quartet returned to play a set of acid jazz funk that had the majority of the audience dancing in the aisles, turning the church into an all-sigine all-dancing celebratory wedding-style party.  At one point James Taylor sprung from behind his Hammond organ into the audience inviting people to get to their feet, inviting them to hand clap in time with the beat.

The second set included live favourites such as JTQ Theme, Love Will Keep Us Together, and crowd-pleasing cover versions of Booker T & the MG’s Time Is Tight and Green Onions.

The concert was an overwhelming success, as was The Rochester Mass when given its premier at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in London earlier this year.  The Rochester Mass is due to be released this Autumn on Cherry Red Records.