It’s not often I get a chance to review an album by a bona fide musical legend. However you look at it, Taj Mahal definitely fits that bill. He’s been around for ever, he’s influenced whole generations of blues players, collaborated with a host of well-respected players (Ry Cooder to name but one) and followed his own vision for over sixty years. During this time he’s also picked up four Grammy awards. Over the years, he’s pulled in various influences from a huge range of musical styles to spice up his own work, but never quite on this scale.

‘Savoy’ is a project that’s been simmering for almost twenty years between Taj and long-time collaborator and producer John Simon until they finally booked studio time for the project in 2022. ‘Savoy’ is Taj’s tribute to the music that his parents listened to in the swing era of the thirties and forties when they met at The Savoy Ballroom in Harlem. Taj sets the scene in the spoken intro to ‘Stompin’ at The Savoy’ leading in to a hefty fourteen interpretations of swing standards. The arrangements are more in a lounge jazz rather than a barnstorming big band style with all the players turning in relaxed, easy and underplayed performances. Even the solos (and there are a few of those, it is a jazz album after all) are beautifully laconic.

‘Savoy’ is a labour of love for Taj Mahal evoking his earliest memories of music that filled his childhood and started his odyssey through blues and its many associated styles. It’s pure nostalgia, and why not? Anyone who navigates the music business successfully for over sixty years is entitled to look over their shoulder now and again, particularly when it’s done with such subtlety and sophistication. In the best tradition of reinterpretations of classics, Taj Mahal puts his own stamp on the covers. ‘Summertime’ is switched up from ballad tempo to a swinging shuffle, while the album’s closing song, ‘One for My Baby (and One More for the Road)’ stretches out the smoky three AM vibe to a languorous eight minutes. And ‘Baby It’s Cold Outside’ is exactly as you would expect with a guest appearance from Maria Muldaur.

All of the elements of thirties swing are baked in to ‘Savoy’; there are classic horn arrangements recreating the big band sound on a smaller, more mellow, scale; solos from across the instrumental range, including flute and harmonica and even a bit of scat singing from Taj. If you want an affectionate tribute to thirties jazz played by superb musicians, then look no further.

‘Savoy’ is out now on Stony Plain Records (SPCD1470/SPLP1470).

Here’s a clip of ‘Summertime’: