In the first few bars of the title track to his new Peak Records/Entertainment One 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.”