In the 19 years since Paul Taylor first got On The Horn with his hit debut album, he’s enjoyed an extraordinary journey in the contemporary urban jazz world. The key to the charismatic saxophonist’s success? Beyond those instantly identifiable sax tones, infectious melodies, cutting edge production, and dynamic live performances, it’s one thing: Tenacity–the perfect title for his latest recording on Peak Records (and 10th overall).
From the start of his recording career, Taylor has created his ever cool deeply soulful and rhythmic trip-hop influenced sound by working with some of urban jazz and R&B’s top producers, including Rex Rideout, Barry J. Eastmond and The Heavyweights. But one of the most important architects of the saxman’s core flow has been Dino Esposito, who helped Taylor establish his vibe with On The Horn and Pleasure Seeker (1997), and has played a powerful role in the saxophonist’s evolution by helming tracks on his subsequent recordings Undercover (2000), his Peak Records debut Hypnotic (2001), Nightlife (2005) and Prime Time (2011).
Tenacity marks the first time ever that Taylor has recorded an entire project with a single producer – and his longtime friendship and incredible chemistry with Esposito made him the perfect choice for the varied rhythms and progressive sonics that the saxophonist wanted. “I’ve always had this special bond with Dino and it was really exciting to focus on doing an entire project with my great friend, rather than just a few tracks here and there like in the past,” says Taylor. “I’m always trying to grow as an artist, so there were ideas going all the time as we developed these tracks,” he adds. “I definitely have an established sound, so the key was having an open mind and being honest when we hit on a certain vibe, groove or lick I had done before – and taking the tune in another direction. “
Taylor has a long history of bringing his favorite urban jazz artists to the mix, and he continues that inspiring tradition by inviting keyboardist Jonathan Fritzen to add his lush piano harmonies to the whimsical, easy flowing soprano-driven opening track “Supernova” – which pairs Taylor’s horn with some snazzy “vocalese.” He textures four alto sax tracks behind a colorful lead melody to create the spirited optimism that rolls through the mid-tempo funk of the title track, then shifts from a balmy, tropical feeling to a more urban, trip-hop pocket on the rhythmically diverse “Awakening.” Taylor says, “This one is magical in that it has three distinct melodic parts.”“Spur of the Moment” isn’t just a clever title – it actually conveys the emotion of Taylor’s spontaneous alto lines and they burst forth and dance over a thick, edgy funk-rock groove and dynamic horn texturing. He named “Luxe,” featuring special guest Jeff Lorber on electric piano and guitar, for the luxurious ambiences surrounding his easy swaying soprano, while the tenor-led “Peace of Mind” taps into a coolly rhythmic Paul Hardcastle style as it moves towards a playful, clapping crunch-funk groove behind a swirl of sax and wordless vocals. Esposito turned Taylor onto the recent alternative R&B hit “Wicked Games” by Canadian artist The Weeknd, and he immediately loved it. The saxophonist’s version features a thoughtful alto melody over a hypnotic piano riff and gentle percussion, then a trippy distant “banging” sound; it also features whispery computer generated vocals.
Taylor envisions “Open Road” as the album’s perfect “road trip with a friend, with no traffic and the horizon straight ahead tune:” his alto romps easily over Esposito’s moody old school keyboard sounds, hypnotic grooves and bright brass flourishes. Promising “More To Come,” Taylor’s gentle soprano winds through a serpentine melody and a double time groove that creates a true club flavor a la the popular Swedish DJ/producer Avicii. Tenacity wraps with Taylor looking out over the “Empire” he’s created, forging a unique tension between his alto lead and backing spirited horn textures with Esposito’s dark and moody piano textures. “It’s a tune that makes you think about things,” says Taylor, “looking out at everything you’ve done and savoring the moment.”
Long a mainstay among the most popular and elite artists, Taylor has been on one of the most exhilarating upswings of his career over the past seven years, starting with Ladies’ Choice (2007), which marked his first ever #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz. “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.
Over the past few years, Taylor has also been part of two of the genre’s biggest summer tours, Gentlemen of the Night (with Marion Meadows and Warren Hill) and Sax and the City (with Meadows and Vincent Ingala). 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.
Though the Denver native has lived and worked primarily in Las Vegas since graduating as a music performance major from UNLV, the proximity of his adopted hometown to Los Angeles gave him many opportunities to vibe with R&B and contemporary jazz producers and artists, including Esposito, whom he first met in the late 80s. Taylor played one of Esposito’s sessions at Jeff Lorber’s home studio; a few years later, in 1994, the keyboardist remembered Taylor and asked him to play with him at the Catalina Island Jazz Trax Festival.
Another popular keyboard player, 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 co-produced On The Horn, which spawned the #1 radio hit “Till We Meet Again.” Taylor’s mix of funk and sensuality were a natural fit for the emerging urban jazz genre, and he soon became one of its core artists. 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—the year he released his third album Undercover–after Jeff Kashiwa left the group. He later toured as a featured performer with the all-star “Groovin’ For Grover” lineup (including Lorber, Richard Elliot and Gerald Albright) and performed and made his acting debut on the legendary ABC soap opera “One Life To Live.”
With the 20th anniversary of his recording debut coming up next year, Taylor remains a fresh and vital, forward thinking force in contemporary urban jazz. Talent and vision are a given, but sometimes those things fade. It’s his Tenacity that’s made the difference.