Otis Taylor Queen’s Hall

The biggest blues name at Edinburgh Jazz Festival this year, Otis Taylor played to a large and enthusiastic audience at the Queen’s Hall, but I’m afraid that I – along with some others I spoke to after the gig – was left with a feeling of a missed opportunity.

I was a little puzzled when by way of introduction we were asked “Are you ready to party?” given that what exposure I’d had to Taylor’s music led me to expect a more studied and thoughtful approach to the blues. As it happened, neither the compere or I were on the button, but perhaps he got closer than I did.

An antique dealer based in Denver, Colorado, Taylor was coaxed back into music by one of his customers, fellow Denver resident and bass guitar legend Kenny Passarelli of Elton John and Hall & Oates fame. The “one album” he promised his wife he would make has been followed by a dozen more, all different and all helping to build an impressive repertoire.

Which is where the missed opportunity comes in. Backed by guitar, bass, drums who were workmanlike but hardly outstanding, and Annie Harris on fiddle, Taylor comes across as a man with a great voice and immense charm, but the evening rarely strayed from the one level. There were highlights, notably “Blue Rain in Africa” from his latest album My World is Gone, “10 Million Slaves” and “Hey Joe”. For a man with Scottish ancestry, he missed a trick by not mentioning the reputed Edinburgh genesis of the latter.

His foray up to the balcony while playing harmonica proved a bright start to the second set, and by the end of the night most of the crowd were on their feet, so I guess you can’t argue with that. The presentation didn’t quite gell; 4 static males to one side of the stage while Ms Harris performed something between dance and mime on the other side was a curious combination.

I was really looking forward to this gig, too…but hey, you can’t win them all.

Jim Welsh