by Jonathan Widran
In the first few bars of the title track to his new Peak Records/eOne album, Countdown, contemporary urban jazz’ hit saxman Paul Taylor, ever the engaging showman, invites his legion of fans into the experience by counting off 5…4…3…2…1. He launches into his incredible third decade as a solo artist with a set that’s fuses his trademark jazzy/funk/soul vibe with prominent elements of synthy dance pop/EDM, trancelike neo-soul, electronica, folksy lite rock, reggaeton, even a touch of blues.
The album’s colorful fusion of grooves and styles was created by the saxophonist and his longtime collaborator, co-writer and producer Dino Esposito. The two share a dynamic several decade long history that began when they played in the same band while attending the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Esposito’s collaboration as a co-writer, producer and sonic co-architect began with Paul’s 1995 debut On the Horn and continued with Pleasure Seeker (1997), Undercover (2000), Hypnotic (2001), Nightlife (2005), Prime Time (2011) and Tenacity (2014).
Countdown’s first single, “Arrival” is a spot on reflection of their multi-faceted freewheeling approach to stylistic fusion. The two also cite Paul’s soprano led track “Told Ya So” as another prime example. “It’s dancehall reggae the way artists like Drake and Rihanna do it,” Taylor says. “It’s cool to apply that contemporary pop current to my R&B/jazz sound.” Another track that Taylor feels steps away from the usual urban jazz hitting the charts these days is “Crossroads,” Complementing these tracks are two infectious, in the pocket tunes which reveal Taylor’s mastery of melody and easy flowing funk grooves – achieved here via seductive clapping percussion. The first is the opening track “Countdown,” which introduces the sizzling horn texture dynamic that drives many of the emotional high points throughout the set. Taylor says, “This one starts in a dreamy place, as if you’re anticipating something big, and then it breaks through with beats and ambience, creating emotional power but in a subdued mystical way.” The second is “Polaris,” one of the jazzier tunes on the album, a gentle soprano ballad featuring the subtle acoustic guitar graces of Peter White (providing harmonies and a transcendent solo).
Other key tracks include the EDM jam “Club 702,” a high energy tribute to the many successful DJs in Taylor’s adopted hometown of Las Vegas (whose area code is 702); the spirited midtempo electronic funk piece “Knocking At Your Door,” featuring Taylor’s backing vocals seductively repeating the title; and a whimsical “Roundup” of a lot of different styles, including the folksy, jangling guitar of Brian Monroney and touches of progressive EDM grooves and jazzy energy. One of the highlights of Taylor’s Tenacity album was his cover of The Weeknd’s “Wicked Games.” Setting a precedent by re-inventing a tune by the same artist on consecutive albums, Taylor extends his love for the Canadian alt-R&B singer to his fresh and atmospheric, deep soul-jazz take on the #1 pop hit “The Hills.”
“Getting the go-ahead for a new album is always the greatest news because we can toss around ideas and come up with fresh new ways to color around the edges of my core melodic horn vibe, staying true to my stylistic integrity,” says Taylor. “Our goal is always to do something we haven’t tried before, and we have fun experimenting and being adventurous. On Countdown, we achieve that by trying new EDMish kind of mashups, trying to make two or three different styles mesh.”
Esposito agrees he and Taylor are so in tune and trust each other so implicitly that if the saxman shoots him an eight or 16 bar idea or vice versa, the other can pick it up and develop it exactly the way the other envisioned. “Paul has never been afraid to step out of the box of the sound urban jazz artists usually conform to, and I’m always pushing that envelope as well,” he says. “Paul’s always hearing amazing new sounds and he’s open to all the music I’ve been immersed in like chill, hip-hop, EDM, electric soul and pop alternative. We’re always thinking, what can we bring to the table, what can we explore and how can we fuse different touches of all we love without going too far out of the genre’s mainstream”
Though Taylor has been a groundbreaking force among the sax elite in the genre since his hit 1995 debut On The Horn, his 2014 #1 hit “Supernova” continued the exhilarating upswing he has been enjoying since he started his second decade as an artist with Ladies’ Choice (2007) – his first ever #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Albums Chart. “Burnin’,” the title track from his 2009 album, hit #1 on the airplay charts, and “Push To Start” from Prime Time (2011), hit the pole position on the Smooth Jazz Songs chart. Prime Time further lived up to its colorful name by reaching the Top Ten on the Billboard Jazz Albums chart.
The Denver native has been mesmerizing thousands of fans, headlining hundreds of shows and being part of exciting all-star tours – most recently doing dates with Peter White and Euge Groove in a lineup affectionately dubbed “Peter, Paul and Euge.” Before that he was part of the blockbuster summer tours Gentlemen of the Night (with Marion Meadows and Warren Hill) and Sax and the City (with Meadows and Vincent Ingala). Over the years, he has also hit the road with The Rippingtons and the acclaimed “Groovin’ For Grover” tour.
In December 2012, the longtime basketball enthusiast achieved another longtime dream, performing the National Anthem in Madison Square Garden at a New York Knicks game; their coach Mike Woodson is a longtime fan. Taylor is now also an official endorsee of Vigilante mouthpieces and tenor and alto for Cannonball Musical Instruments.
After over ten albums of non-stop hit making, thousands of charismatic performances worldwide and years of setting new standards for the sonic possibilities of contemporary urban jazz, Paul Taylor’s still got his antenna up – ready to pounce on, absorb and be inspired by every vibe he hears that’s fresh, hip and edgy. Now, with Countdown, he’s blasting off into the next phase of his career, excited about the road ahead!