Billy Taylor's position as one of the most respected figures in jazz is hard to dispute. With a long list of musical and academic achievements, as well as his high visibility on CBS' "Sunday Morning" show, he may be one of the best-known jazz musicians in the country.
Taylor's opening night set at Catalina Bar & Grill, however, raised the question of whether the pianist's peripatetic schedule has begun to blur his musical focus. The words that kept coming to mind throughout a mixed bag of standards and blues were controlled , slick , smooth and mannered .
Taylor has never been a particularly passionate player, but the emotional energy of his solos was even more diminished than usual. It was not until he reached a closing set of variations on "All The Things You Are" that his precise, scale-based playing began to generate any real heat.
Earlier numbers aroused interest primarily for their often novel interpretations. " 'A' Train," for example, was driven through a long tunnel full of eerie harmonies before it emerged into a loose, pleasant swing. The first chorus of "Body and Soul" received a virtuosic, left-hand-only reading that would have been more effective had Taylor had fewer problems with his digital articulation.