Essential New Music: Chris Schlarb & Chad Taylor’s “Time No Changes”

Monoliths can blot out the sun, but they can also give you something to shoot for. The monolith that looms over any guitar/drums partnership is the mind-melding union of folk guitarist Sandy Bull and jazz drummer Billy Higgins, who set the standard for such duos nearly 60 years ago. Chris Schlarb and Chad Taylor walk with full knowledge into the shadow of Bull and Higgins, and they sensibly don’t even try to pretend that they’re coming up with something totally new. But since their chops are strong, their collective sense of restraint even stronger and their aim true, they hit the bullseye on Time No Changes.

While neither Schlarb (who plays six- and 12-string guitars and some subliminal keyboards) nor Taylor (who contributes drum kit and kalimba) has made a record like this before, they’re both musical veterans. Schlarb plays in Psychic Temple and runs Big Ego Studios, where this session transpired one day in December 2019. Taylor is best known as a jazz drummer who’s done splendid work with Rob Mazurek, Brandon Lewis and Marc Ribot, though he’s also played on his share of more song-oriented efforts, including some sessions for the last Psychic Temple record.

But on Time No Changes, they sound like they knew what kind of music they wanted to make together. Schlarb alternates between big, ringing chord sequences and patiently unfurling single-note melodies. In either mode, he projects a sense of open space. Taylor’s playing is complementarily uncluttered, which provides plenty of opportunity to savor the contrasting colors that he draws from his kit. His swinging grooves also keep the music in motion, carrying the listener through a perfectly proportioned sonic trip.

—Bill Meyer