British soul-jazz organist James Taylor has crossed easily between stylistic definitions throughout his career, from the hard-charging garage rock of the Prisoners to his pioneering acid jazz work of the '90s. As the title suggests, Picking Up Where We Left Off finds Taylor returning to a straight soul-jazz setup with a classic Hammond quartet lineup akin to the James Taylor Quartet but featuring new collaborators in guitarist Nigel Price, bassist Andy McKinney, and drummer Neil Robinson. Fresh blood aside, this is entirely familiar territory for Taylor, mixing funky, Jimmy Smith-inspired organ lines with shuffling beats and funk-influenced guitar. The closest thing to a departure is the ballad "Never in My Wildest Dreams," a lovely showcase for an extended George Benson-like solo by Price.
As more ensembles perform and record Steve Reich's Music for 18 Musicians, its status as a minimalist masterpiece is increasingly affirmed. Ensemble Signal's 2015 release on Harmonia Mundi is one of several amazing performances that have matched Reich's original ECM New Series recording in technical brilliance and expressivity, and it has even earned the composer's approval for being, "…fast moving, spot on, and emotionally charged." Under the direction of Brad Lubman, Ensemble Signal maintains a relentlessly steady pulse and articulates the interlocking patterns with absolute precision, though the shifting tone colors are perhaps a little clearer in this performance than in other recordings. The microphone placement is not so close that individual instruments stand out, but there is enough separation of parts to allow some sense of direction and the orientation of the smaller sub-groups of pianos, xylophones, marimbas, strings, clarinets, and voices. This is a mesmerizing performance that will transfix listeners, and the music is so compelling that it will linger on well after the CD stops. Highly recommended.