Born from the restless vision of guitarist-composer Marcus Taylor, Kashgar is a unique musical statement. Eleven closely crafted tracks weave together jazz sensibilities, a classic rock edge and an exciting range of world influences. Together they create an encompassing and innovative album. From dramatic Indian rhythmic passages that invoke the Mahavishnu Orchestra to fiery guitar-Hammond exchanges that would fit comfortably in the mainstream of progressive rock, Kashgar presents a refreshingly innovative take on the future of jazz-fusion.
Summarising its two-year journey from inception to realisation, Taylor describes the album as a quest to blend the vital musical influences that have shaped him over the past two decades. “The early Santana records were probably the most defining reference point, particularly the snarling rock of Santana III and the jazz mysticism of Caravanserai. There’s something about the interplay between the guitars, Hammond and percussion on those albums that provides an essential and distinctive quality I hoped to replicate”.
To handle the challenging keyboard parts, Taylor conscripted versatile collaborator Ben Bell into the project. Having just finished his own solo album – Patchwork Cacophony – Bell was free to imprint his distinctive sound onto the record. A resourceful performer who is equally athome playing growling rock Hammond lines or jazz-funk leads, the material on Kashgar pushed him to coax new sounds from his rig. These include an unworldly synth that brings the lively fusion track Do Ya Me Oh La Too? to its dramatic conclusion and a lead tone on Graveyard of Empire that was fondly christened ‘the demented oboe’.
Bubbling under Taylor’s searing guitars and Bell’s expressive keyboards is a tapestry of percussion that furthers the album’s unique character. “I always liked the idea of being a secret percussionist hiding at the far edge of the mix,” jokes Taylor about playing many of the lines himself, “but I began to take this aspect way more seriously over the past year”. Tracks such as The Jackal, Two for Pujara and Graveyard of Empire are the clearest evidence of this intent with dense layers of percussion that underpin the melodic force of the guitars and keys. Notably, the instruments that Taylor employed are not necessarily common ones. A Turkish jingle-darbuka, a Brazilian pandeiro and an Indian naal stand out among the relatively more standard congas, shakers and electronic drums. Pressed on this eclecticism Taylor has a quick response, “Trilok Gurtu is to blame. He monopolised my mp3 player for about eight months straight and I can’t seem to shake him. His range is astounding and beautifully distinctive”.
In a further nod to the foundational Santana influence, most tracks see percussion jostling playfully with a standard drumset. British session drummer MattSnowden sets down the groove for eight of the eleven tracks, with American Jeff Willett taking up the final duties on Lahore Tikka House. The latter tune is particularly notable for its distinctive mix of Indian rhythmic lines with a jazz-rock feel. As the solo section builds, the lead guitar and Hammond embark on a characteristic call and response passage over a compulsive 5/4 groove. “I wrote that tune after a visit to Toronto’s little India to buy a hand drum,” laughs Taylor. “South Asian influences inspired much of this album, so it seemed fitting to name a song after one of Toronto’s best curry houses”.
A welcome side effect this keen interest in South Asian music, Lahore Tikka House is one of three tracks that contain ‘konakol’ or Indian spoken rhythmic parts. “It’s definitely a technique that has helped me greatly as a composer although I’m still really working on my delivery”. Notably, it’s keyboard player Bell who joins in with the punchiest konakol lines at the crescendo of the opening track The Jackal, seemingly goading Taylor into unleashing a whirlwind solo on the guitar to round off the tune.
“That’s a pretty good statement about how the album played out and how life works in general,” smiles Taylor. “The music unfolded out of my vision, but it quickly took on its own momentum, tore up each and every plan I had, and became entirely and irrevocably dependent upon the contributions of others. The very last sounds on the album are Ben playing a gong he brought back from Vietnam. And that’s just perfect, it’s the way it should be!”