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Martin Taylor - Artistry Print E-mail
Tuesday, 05 April 2005
Image As anyone who has listened to at least a handful of SACD discs can tell you, all SACDs are not created equal. In fact, contrary to popular belief, the SACD logo does not guarantee a quality recording or dramatically improved audio experience over their 16-bit CD counterparts. (Neither does the DVD-Audio logo, for that matter).

However, there are those SACDs that stand above the fray and prove that this format, however feebly marketed and implemented, does have merit and should remain a viable entity, hopefully to one day make the transition into the mainstream whereby a consumer simply buys a CD that just happens to be an SACD (or DVD-A). The subject of this review is just such a recording.

Upon receiving the Martin Taylor SACD Artistry, I was fully prepared to hate it. Oh, I had a feeling it would sound good, but I just knew it wasn’t really my style of music. In fact, as I write this, it’s playing in the background and I do feel a slight tug at my eyelids, but the sheer quality of the recording compels me to keep it playing and makes me appreciate the music and the artist more than I would, say, if I was flipping through radio stations and landed on Coast 103 Light FM.
Martin Taylor is a self-taught and extremely accomplished guitarist with a career spanning over 30 years. He began playing at the age of four when his father gave him a small acoustic guitar as a present. His official website is chock full of awards and accolades he’s received, among them honors from the Queen herself. Either this guy thinks a whole hell of a lot of himself, or he’s pretty damn good. Fortunately for him, the latter is true.

Artistry was originally released in 1992 on Linn Records and has been re-mastered by Linn for SACD. Linn Records is a division of the highly acclaimed audio/video component manufacturer Linn Products. Based in Glasgow, Scotland, Linn has been manufacturing some of the world’s finest audio gear since 1972. Linn Records was born out of their pure love for music and their frustration with the poor audio quality of many vinyl records. So they did what any enterprising young company would do and decided to press their own records. Since then, Linn Records has evolved into a much respected independent label with over 150 recordings – mostly by classical, jazz and British and/or Scottish artists. Needless to say I don’t think you’ll be seeing the next Britney Spears album put out by Linn Records. (Then again, if she keeps going the way she’s going, we may never see another Britney Spears album, period.)

Somewhat surprisingly, this jazz solo SACD is produced by none other than Steve Howe of YES fame. Who would have thought that one day Howe would program the “adult contemporary” station into his radio tuner? Not me. Alas, his face is plastered on the inside of the liner notes and Martin thanks him profusely for his “talent” and “vegetarian cuisine.” The liner notes go on further to explain that Taylor’s not satisfied to play just any old guitar and doesn’t, in fact, play either a Martin or Taylor guitar, but rather a customized Yamaha AEX “Martin Taylor” Stereo guitar. As is evident on this SACD, this customized guitar is truly special and gives the illusion one is hearing two guitars playing at once in perfect harmony. This effect is so convincing to me, at least, that I scour the liner notes looking for another guitarist credit, but no such credit exists. It’s all Taylor.

As with many of today’s “jazz” artists, Taylor mainly sticks to his interpretations of the standards, but infuses some contemporary whimsy into songs such as The Beatles’ “Here There and Everywhere” and “Day Tripper.” His timing and patience on “Here There and Everywhere” is inspiring, while his speed and control on “Day Tripper” are nothing short of amazing. Let me tell you, this guy can play the guitar. Makes me wonder if he might not do the world of music a better service by throwing on an AC/DC t-shirt, strapping on a Fender and touring with Metallica. (I’m kidding, of course. Please don’t write in.)

As I said before, this is not really my kind of music, but I know talent when I hear it and this guy is incredible, as is his instrument. Who knew a guitar had than much range? Bass notes have so much weight to them and the dynamic range on the top end can only be described as ethereal. Credit also the quality of the SACD mastering for this. Taylor’s guitar playing is so engaging that one simply doesn’t notice the absence of other instruments. Now, would this be something I would cruise down the road and listen to? No, not if I want to stay awake. But the quality of the SACD and Taylor’s talent are both undeniable, and for those, I’ll hang onto this disc and use it as a reference by which to judge the quality of the components in my system.

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