May 19, 2016 | « back

RUEREZZONICO.COM — La Grande Classe et la classe du maître / A Class Act and a Master Class

By: Philippe Rezzonico

A French song: Just that …after two hours and twenty minutes, James Taylor ended his evening at the Centre Bell on Friday with a French song. As though he needed to prove anything in addition to his absolute class act.

The evening was much more than a magnificent performance by this American artist. The legendary songs, the refined instrumentation, the historical perspective and the sense of humor made it into a master class.
The evening unfolded in near perfect acoustical conditions. From the very opening, with the double opening of “Wandering/Secret O’Life”, we could hear the clarity of sound of the guitars, the quality of warmth of the brass, and the roaring percussion which colored the musical offerings.

Have we ever had such a quality of sound at the Center Bell when it was organized in a theatrical configuration? If so, I wasn’t there. I was thinking that I had not heard a performance with such acoustical perfection since Paul Simon in 2006 in the Wilfried-Pelletier hall. Yes, we did have some guy and his blond girlfriend who bothered everyone in the section where I was sitting with their incessant conversation but a handful of us (particular thanks to my friend Andree) made them understand that they should shut up or get out – which they did. Good riddance.

Emeritus group

We’ve seen Taylor several times in the past decade and it has always been a pleasure. But it seemed like something more this time. Perhaps it came from the obvious pleasure that this artist had playing with his band of renowned musicians. Once again, I don’t think I’ve ever seen an artist introduce his musicians during the course of a performance and making a point of shaking hands with each one. That’s class.

One can understand if you playing with the drummers Steve Gadd (Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Eric Clapton), the percussionist Luis Conte (Al Di Meola, Pat Metheney), and the saxophonist Lou Marini, one of the original members of the Blues Brothers.
Marini even had the honor of a rendering of a guitar version of “Happy Birthday”
from Taylor for his 71s birthday. And of course you have the accompanying singers Andrea Zonn (and her violin), Kate Makowitz and Arnold McCuller, who steals the show with the “Shower the People” final.

During the first half, the conditions were ideal to savor the string of successes that marked the artistic journey of Taylor (Country Road, Copperline, Carolina in my Mind, Fire and Rain), songs that were arranged and performed with absolute mastery in spite of the fact that Taylor had a cold. We never would have known.

An added gift: Taylor talks during the performance. He speaks in French and, I’ll add, possesses a mastery of the French language to put certain “pure bred” to shame.

He spoke of the past in order to put several songs in their context. Of course we know the story of the Beatles and the fact that he was signed by the new Apple label in 1968. But it was fantastic to hear him tell the story of his meeting with Peter Asher (of Peter and Gordon), his “audition” for Paul McCartney and George Harrison and the fact that he worked in the same studio where the “White Album”
was recorded. He also spoke about Montreal where he was inspired to write the song “Snow Time” while at the Jazz Festival in 2008.

The screen, which was hardly used during the first half, was brought into action in the second part with “Angels of Fenway” where Taylor spoke of his beloved Red Sox team and the end of the curse of Babe Ruth after 86 years when Boston triumphed in the 2004 World Series. There were wonderful pictures of baseball from another era.

Universal smiles

On the other hand, the innumerable images of radiant smiling faces were contemporary ones during “Your Smiling Face” and the treasured “You’ve Got a Friend”.

The guy who called out for “Steamroller Baby” at the beginning of the show got his wish: a sharp and cutting version that contrasted with the rest of the performance. “Knock on Wood” gave the audience a chance to dance and “How Sweet it is (To Be Loved By You) brought the house down.

A perfect show? Not quite. Taylor occasionally performs songs of other artists and this can sometimes be a problem. His reading of “Promised Land” was strongly felt but how can we appreciate a Chuck Berry song and a Louisiana story without the frenetic rhythms which echo the journey across America? OK. But this wasn’t serious. But when you have trouble – real trouble – finding the melody in “Everyday (Buddy Holly) and “Up On the Roof (Drifters), perhaps the sumptuous arrangements are more than what’s needed.

That is only proof that perfection does not exist…but this remarkable show full of class and worthy of a master class came very close to it.

This article has been translated from the original french. Source: