Reportedly the band whose music coined the term acid jazz (when a British journalist struggled to describe it), the James Taylor Quartet has explored spy soundtrack, soul-jazz, and funk since the group's beginnings in the mid-'80s. Originally playing the Hammond B-3 organ in the U.K. mod revival band the Prisoners, James Taylor formed his own jazz quartet in 1985 and began playing music similar to the rare groove jazz-funk then in vogue around London. By the early '90s, that movement had spawned acid jazz and the James Taylor Quartet found itself at the forefront of a vibrant young club scene, even though Taylor was a decade-long veteran by that time.
The Prisoners had emerged from Kent in 1982, and released two albums, A Taste of Pink! and The Wisermiserdemelza, before Taylor quit in the mid-'80s (the group imploded after just one more studio album). Taylor quickly formed a quartet around ex-Prisoner Allan Crockford on bass, drummer Simon Howard, and James' own brother David on guitar. The James Taylor Quartet recorded for several small labels during 1985, but a 1986 session for Radio 1 DJ John Peel got the group signed to Re-Elect the President Records, which released a 1987 mini-LP of covers, Mission Impossible. After The Money Spyder appeared that same year, the James Taylor Quartet moved to Urban/Polydor for 1988's Wait a Minute. Not long after, however, Howard and Crockford left to play with another ex-Prisoner, Graham Day, in the Prime Movers. Now just a duo, James and David began recruiting studio musicians to fill in the instrumental gaps from album to album, later building the band up to a sextet (though the name stayed the same) with John Wilmott on saxophone and flute, bassist Gary Crockett, drummer Neil Robinson, and trumpeter Dominic Glover.
A contract with Acid Jazz Records resulted in increased American distribution through Hollywood Records, which reissued Mission Impossible and The Money Spyder as well as the group's 1995 album In the Hand of the Inevitable. The Penthouse Suite and (A Few Useful Tips About) Living Underground both followed in 2000. Bigger Picture was issued earlier the next year. Don't Mess with Mr. T appeared in 2007 from Dome Records, with Live at the Jazz Cafe arriving the next year from Real Self Records and Wait a Minute the year after that in 2009. The quartet honored its 25th anniversary with the release of The Template in 2011 on Chin Chin, highlighted by a wonderful version of Gil Scott-Heron’s “Home Is Where the Hatred Is.”
Though the quartet's live engagements remained plentiful, Taylor didn't record again for four more years. When he did it, it was an historical first. He and his band — drummer Pat Illingworth, guitarist Mark Cox, and bassist Andrew McKinney -– grafted their trademark jazz-funk sound with the Rochester Cathedral Choir, who sang from Latin texts. They cut the record live in the cathedral in a single day with an expanded roster of instrumentalists on flügelhorn, flute, saxophone, bass clarinet, and orchestral percussion. The Rochester Mass was released just before Christmas in 2015. ~ John Bush