Whether he’s grooving onstage or laying down his latest batch of sensuous and funky tracks in the studio, there’s no better adjective to describe the effect Paul Taylor has on the hearts and hips of urban jazz fans worldwide than the name of his fifth Peak Records album, Burnin’.
Pushing his personal artistic envelope like never before, Taylor follows the spectacular success of his 2007 disc Ladies’ Choice—the saxman’s first ever #1 (and #1 debut) on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart—with a decidedly retro set that features him breaking creative barriers like never before. While tapping into an explosive array of old school soul influences, he stretches beyond his usual soprano and alto comfort zone and plays the lead melody on nine of the ten tracks on the tenor sax for the very first time.
Burnin’ marks the popular saxman’s remarkable fourth project featuring tracks produced by veteran R&B/jazz producers Barry Eastmond (Al Jarreau, Peabo Bryson, Jonathan Butler, Anita Baker) and Rex Rideout (Richard Elliot, Gerald Albright, Boney James, Najee). While the overall flow is as warm, familiar and seductive as the title of the happy, summer flavored opening track “Back In The Day,” Taylor is also making the most powerful and robust musical statements of his career.
“The focus on the tenor happened by very happy accident,” Taylor says. “When it comes time to write and record a new album, I always trust my gut instincts and knew I wanted to work with Barry and Rex again. I also thought it would be cool to bring my tenor along with my soprano and alto to the sessions with Barry at his East Bay Studios in New York which kicked off the project. I got to his studio and opened up my cases and saw that the soprano was damaged. It got banged up during the flight somehow. It made sense to use both alto and tenor to start writing, but Barry and I really started liking the way the lower tones of the tenor sounded.
“The cool thing about Barry is that like me, he doesn’t come in with preconceived notions,” adds the saxman. “If I pick up one horn and we start writing on it, we expound on that. It turns out that one of his strengths in jazz is producing the tenor, and so we just kept rolling with it. It’s got a gutsier sound and as things turned out, lent itself to the retro 70s soul sounds that naturally emerged from our writing and recording sessions. I always think back to that Junior Walker ‘Shotgun’ blast and I guess this was just my time to go in this direction. Later, when I got together with Rex in L.A. to do our writing and recording, the album’s direction was clear and we also focused on the tenor and, to use one of our song titles, a ‘Revival’ of those classic soul sounds.”
The clever Eastmond to Rideout to Eastmond track-to-track flow on Burnin’ essentially echoes the way Taylor has switched off on his previous collaborations with the producers, which include 2003’s Steppin’ Out and 2005’s Nightlife. Casual listeners might be having such a blast swaying and grooving that they may not notice the switch off. Another reason for this is the consistency of Taylor’s rhythm section under both producers. All the tracks feature Darrell Crooks on guitar and Michael White on drums; Melvin Lee Davis plays bass on seven tracks, while Ronnie Garrett handles it on three others.
If the cool, jangling guitar, laid back retro grooves and Taylor’s simmering tenor don’t conjure images of life “Back In The Day,” singer Billy Cliff’s playful vocals about singing our favorite songs during the summertime just might do the trick. Taylor then fires up a few more blasts from the past with the thumping, blues-and gospel driven “Revival” and the R&B party jam “Groove Shack,” which brings to mind Ramsey Lewis’ “The In Crowd” and Marvin Gaye’s “Got To Give It Up.” After the lone alto sax tune, the lush and sexy “Remember The Love,” the saxman gets down to snazzy- funky business on the infectious title track “Burnin’,” which mixes a scorching horn textured hook, percussive tenor soloing, shimmering synth elements and an irrepressible rolling groove.
The good feelings continue into the night as Taylor takes us into the “Side Pocket,” where he struts his cool tenor melody and gets caught up in a hypnotic swirl with soaring synth atmospheres that scream and whisper: 70s! On the similarly vibrant and uptempo “It’s Like That,” Eastmond creates a Stevie Wonder-like “croaking” clavinet sound behind a potent sax hook, then conjures up a wistful synth Rhodes harmony beneath some of Taylor’s sensuous and slow burning Gato Barbieri like playing. On the festive “Juke Joint,” Eastmond creates a jump jivin’ piano jam foundation and spirited organ harmonies that inspire Taylor to let loose on a true blues jazz jam session. After the set’s lone cover, a fired up, slamming funk/thumping blues twist on War’s “Me And Baby Brother,” Taylor closes the set on a high energy note with “So Fine,” which balances the pepped up groove with trademark sweet swaying cool.
A native of Denver, Taylor has lived and worked in the thriving musical environment of Las Vegas since graduating as a music performance major from UNLV. He began playing sax at age seven and discovered his true calling while playing in a local high school garage band called Mixed Company, which played Top 40, funk and Crusader-styled fusion. Aiming to build his resume beyond the many dues-paying Vegas lounge gigs that marked his early professional life, he commuted often to Los Angeles and hooked up in the late 80s with (his later producer) Dino Esposito.
Taylor did one of Esposito’s sessions at Jeff Lorber's home studio; a few years later, in 1994, the popular keyboardist remembered Taylor and asked him to play with him at the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival. Popular keyboardist Keiko Matsui and her producer/husband Kazu liked Taylor’s charismatic performance and soon offered him an audition with their band. He recorded and toured with the Matsuis for two years (appearing on Sapphire and Dream Walk), and Kazu Matsui eventually produced the saxman’s debut On The Horn, which spawned the #1 radio hit “Till We Meet Again.”
Taylor quickly found his own niche in the smooth jazz world, and his quick but well deserved popularity led Pleasure Seeker to the top of the radio charts. Although Taylor has since been one of the genre's most popular live attractions as a solo artist, he eagerly accepted Russ Freeman’s invitation to tour with The Rippingtons as a special guest artist in 2000. After making his Peak debut with 2001’s Hypnotic, Taylor’s career reached a fever pitch in 2004 when “Steppin’ Out,” the title track from his 2003 Top Ten Billboard Contemporary Jazz album, became Radio & Records’ third biggest genre airplay cut of the year. He also toured as a featured performer with the all-star “Groovin’ For Grover” lineup (including Jeff Lorber, Richard Elliot and Gerald Albright) and performed and made his acting debut on the legendary ABC soap opera One Life To Live. The incredible momentum continued with his 2005 release Nightlife, Taylor’s latest to hit the Top Five of Billboard’s Contemporary Jazz Chart.
While the title track of Ladies’ Choice was rising high on Radio & Records’ smooth jazz chart, “How Did You Know”, a song featuring R&B singer Regina Belle, crossed over to the Top 20 on the Urban AC chart. The album kept Taylor’s inimitable vibe rolling between his 2006 and 2008 performances across the U.S. as part of the popular Norman Brown’s Summer Storm tours led by his longtime friend and guitarist labelmate.
He’s hitting the road again this summer with fellow saxophonists Marion Meadows and Michael Lington, who collectively are launching an exciting new live urban jazz tour called Gentlemen of The Night. “I really love getting in the studio with Barry and Rex each time out and writing and recording,” he says. “It’s exciting when I can hold the CD in my hand and be proud of what we’ve created. It’s something I am so grateful for and never take for granted. But nothing tops the moment when I get a chance to connect with the audience. The energy between us is the whole experience. The music and melodies I play are a natural expression of who I am, and it’s always a privilege to bring the fans joy this way.”
And, of course, to keep them Burnin’!
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Had to give you some 'extra kudos' on your show last night. The band was tight and you sounded great. I said to you "I enjoyed seeing the smile in your eyes as you performed" never saw a sax player do that before, you really sensed that you were enjoying your work sincerely. I liked that. Your new CD is taking off and what a groove that is?? I'll continue to help from our end here in The Jazz Network. I want you to also invite your band members to join us here. Your drummer and bassist blew me away! Very cohesive groove. I look forward to more shows to come and great musical exchanges.
Jaijai, what a wonderful mission you've undertaken to create such a place for artistic minds to meet and share their hearts. A place to renew faded determinations, and revive lessened momentums. A place to display our wares and reconfirm to one another that we actually are on the right track.
I commend you, Jaijai, for caring so much that you created this castle of the heart for all of us. I want to share my praise for all of the new friends as well as old friends that I've met and will meet here in our castle. Here we can garnish the where-with-all, the strength, the conviction, and the selflessness through our symbiosis, to share our gift to the world with an unbiased agenda.
My mentor, Daisaku Ikeda says of art: "A beautiful flower delights and refreshes the hearts of all people equally, no matter what soil it grows in. That is the power of beauty. The same is true of great art. It is this spirit that the German poet Heinrich Heine sang of when he wrote that once the peapod bursts open, the sugar peas inside are for everyone to enjoy."
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