PAUL TAYLOR - Burnin' (Peak Records)

Paul TaylorExpanding upon the sensuous and romantic smooth jazz vibe that has made him one of the genre’s most dynamic saxophonists, Paul Taylor made his fourth Peak Records release in 2007 a true Ladies’ Choice, creating his most soulful instrumental tracks ever and keeping company with four of today’s most acclaimed female R&B vocalists—Regina Belle, La Toya London, Terry Dexter and Lauren Evans. Along those lines, keeping that steamy momentum going there’s no better adjective to describe the effect Paul Taylor has on the hearts and hips of thousands of urban jazz fans than the name of his latest disc, Burnin’

The dynamic saxman, one of the most popular and innovative genre performers over the past 15 years, scored a couple of exciting firsts with his 2007 release Ladies’ Choice. The set was his first to hit #1 on the Billboard Contemporary Jazz Chart, debuting in the top spot before settling into a lengthy stay in the Top 10. While the title track 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.  On Burnin’, Taylor taps into an explosive array of old school soul influences on tracks produced by his longtime behind the boards cohorts, 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 cheerful, summer flavored opening track “Back In The Day,” the versatile saxman pushes his personal artistic envelope like never before, playing the lead melody of nine of the ten tracks on tenor sax for the first time ever. 

As seductive and silky as Taylor has always been on soprano and alto, burnin’ finds him making the most powerful and robust musical statements of his career. Funny thing is, he didn’t start out to make a tenor-heavy project. He brought all three horns to New York to start his sessions with Eastmond. When he opened his soprano case, he saw that his instrument was damaged and began to use the others to write. Both Taylor and Eastmond liked the way the lower tones of the tenor sounded—and the rest is cool urban jazz history!  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. 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.” Later, the saxman gets down to 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 positive vibes carry on into the night as Taylor takes us into the “Side Pocket,” where he gets caught up in a hypnotic swirl with soaring synth atmospheres that scream: 70s!  On the 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.” 

This summer, Taylor and his fellow saxophonists Marion Meadows and Michael Lington, have done some dates as part of an exciting new live urban jazz tour called Gentlemen of The Night. The title may sound urbane, cool and elegant, but make no mistake—when Taylor takes the spotlight, whether he’s smoldering or jamming, he’s always keeping things Burnin’! Check out his latest CD – it’s an exciting departure.


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- Jonathan Widran