Paul Taylor has long been unmistakably amongst the cream of the crop when it comes to discussions regarding contemporary jazz saxophonists, of which there is no shortage. He possesses a most distinctive and easily recognizable sound; with his tone and timbre persistently pleasing his devoted followers for a protracted period of time. His first-rate offerings coming before 2009 had primarily concentrated on his lush and sensual soprano and alto sax play, with a smattering of EWI (electronic wind instrument) mixed in.
On his 2009 release, Burnin’, Taylor forever proved that he was equally adept at casting his magical seductive spell with the tenor sax. Taylor proficiently utilized the tenor on almost every single track. Burnin’ forwarded the momentum he had maintained on Ladies Choice, his previous chart topping CD on Peak Records that featured the vocals of some very talented ladies. On Burnin’ Paul Taylor captured some retro soul grooves and updated them with contemporary touches, and in the process created an intensely rewarding recording.
On this release Paul Taylor again had teamed with two of the top and most talented producers in the music industry; namely Barry Eastmond and Rex Rideout. This wise move ensured that his previously gained pinnacle of success was sustained, if not in fact furthered. This brilliant duo remain steadfast in their efforts to help inspire Taylor to effectively tap into his heart and soul and deliver what his fans have come to demand and expect. That fulfilled expectation rests in the creation of musical compositions of the highest quality imaginable. Put simply; together they make great songs with exceptionally memorable melodies.
This was Taylor’s eight solo album, not including his 2002 greatest hits compilation. While everything Taylor chooses to release is of high quality, nothing, in my opinion, has the overall excellence that he showcased on this recording.
The year 2011 found Paul Taylor releasing Prime Time, changing record labels (e-One), and shifting to multiple producers including his old friend Dino Esposito from his early solo days, Taylor in turn, claimed executive producer credit, along with Andi Howard. On his 2014 release titled Tenacity he called on Esposito for sole production and it was a very excellent release. His most current release titled Countdown came in 2016, again with Esposito as sole producer, and had special guest guitarist Peter White on board.
Getting around to the album tracks, the opening cut, “Back in the Day” is just one example of a song with a most memorable melody. Its sunshiny feel-good vibe gets the CD off to a soaring start. The exuberant vocal lent by Billy Cliff adeptly augments the joyous theme. The upbeat rhythm, bright bass guitar of Melvin Lee Davis, and the hum-along character qualifies this one as a perfect “summer song.”
The second tune, a mid-tempo song entitled “Revival” has a retro-funk feel and a flavoring background vocal by Stephanie Parker. A marching bass line courtesy of Ronnie Garrett is integrated into the mix. Plus, some added brass depth is achieved with the assistance of trumpet from Ron King and sax from Gary Meek. But, the center spotlight remains squarely on the masterful spirited tenor sax of Paul Taylor.
The character feel of Junior Walker’s classic “Shotgun” is present in “Groove Shack.” The fixed beat of drummer Michael White provides a solid platform for Paul to lay his soulful sonic sax brickwork on top off, as he builds the wall higher and higher. It is highly infectious, peppered with organ and bass guitar flourishes, and Taylor’s robust roaring tenor work is sensational. Hand claps and background revelers give this one a party feel that is as contagious as the common cold.
Past beautiful, sultry and romantic efforts of Paul Taylor on alto saxophone are recalled in “Remember the Love.” He gorgeously imparts this slow dance tune, smoldering with passion, as he mines the depths of his emotion. Guitarist Darrell Crooks, who was so vital on a couple tracks on Ladies Choice, adds to the silky atmosphere as does the contributions of veteran keyboardist Rex Rideout. Crooks mirrors Taylor’s lead and ends the song with some nice sweetly searing tones. A simply beautiful effort on a song imbued with all the subtle nuances that mean everything to his loyal listeners.
The title track, “Burnin’,” garnered a lot of radio airplay and reached number one; and rightly so. The rhythm section of bassist Melvin Lee Davis and drummer Michael White are scorching hot. Paul Taylor adds to the flames with sweltering saxophone passages filled with hooks galore. Wah-wah effect guitar from Crooks and feisty keyboards from Eastmond throw even more fuel onto the blazing bonfire.
On “Side Pocket,” the contemporary jazz groove is canyon deep, and the entire group glimmers impressively. Gary Meek joins in on flute and Ronnie Garrett shines on bass guitar. Rideout on keyboards and synth is cool as a cucumber. Listening to this song never gets stale.
Next comes “It’s Like That,” another true ensemble piece with every member of the band brightly interjecting contributions. This gem combines a retro-soul funk vibe with a slight Latin caress to provide a winning formula. Paul’s creamy multi-tracked horn just oozes melodicism so effortlessly and blends powerfully with Eastmond’s clavinet.
“Juke Joint” has enormously high-spirited ’70s flavor, and if it doesn’t get your head boppin’ along in rhythm then you better check your pulse. You can envision the smiles on the faces of the band as they play this one. Similar to a couple other songs included on this collection is the way background vocalists add to the catchiness and help put the melody inside your head to stay.
The only non-original composition on the disc is a forceful remake of ’70s funk band War’s soulful “Me and Baby Brother.” This one invites favorable comparisons to sax great Maceo Parker, as the affecting spirit is thick, sassy, and tangy.
Taylor ends Burnin’ strongly with another scrumptious song featuring his signature satiny smooth sound, as he plays both alto and tenor sax. The opulent song was co-authored by Taylor and Barry Eastmond. It’s appropriately titled “So Fine,” and is absolutely lip-smacking gorgeous.
In the liner notes, Taylor is gracious with his many thank you mentions. Of special note is his one to wife Laronda: “All the love in the world would not be enough…….”
If you’re keeping score, the final tally is six songs written by Taylor with Barry Eastmond, and three written by Taylor and Rex Rideout. Whatever the score, the true winner is the listener, with all ten songs being truly top-notch excellent efforts.
I confess to being a longtime enthusiast of Paul Taylor and his artistry; in my assessment Burnin’ remains his strongest, and most importantly, his most consistent work of his career. With his past recordings ranking as some of the greatest in the genre, and his more current ones being chart-toppers, that statement speaks volumes. This project may even be considered a watershed CD, what with Taylor’s emergence here as a tenor sax heavyweight. This recording clearly and definitely contains all the necessary elements to quality it as an “essential” one for any contemporary jazz lover’s collection. Most importantly, it has marvelously withstood the test of time.
Randall Parrish is a Senior Editor at Vivascene, with extensive publishing credits at various jazz and blues sites. He is also an avid guitar player whose musical knowledge of jazz, blues and roots music is widely respected. He can be reached by email here: RandallParrish@vivascene.com