"The Guitar Channel" Review of Nocturnal-Rich Murray

Review: Chris Taylor - Nocturnal
Guitarist Chris Taylor has been around the block a few times. A veteran of the music business for over 30 years, the New York native has written, recorded, and/or performed with artists such as Grover Washington Jr., Lionel Hampton, Randy Brecker and many others. Fusion guitar fans may be familiar with his work with guitarists Ed DeGenaro (Dog House, Less Is Seldom More) and John Czajkowski (West ZooOpolis). Now Taylor has struck out on his own with Nocturnal (Abstract Logix); a stunningly original debut that pushes the boundaries of modern jazz and fusion.

From a harmony perspective, Nocturnal is a jazz record at its core, yet Taylor dresses it heavily with electronica and industrial influences that wash the listener in a cornucopia of sounds and samples. While the use of these textures in jazz fusion is not unprecedented - the music of Uncle Moe’s Space Ranch and Alex Machacek comes to mind - Taylor’s thoroughly integrated application of these ideas in a jazz context feels very new. As a result, the whole album hits you as a bold, fresh statement, especially when you consider this is Taylor’s first recording as a leader.

Though Nocturnal is clearly Taylor’s brainchild, he hardly goes it alone here as he is joined by a remarkable lineup of top-shelf musicians including drummers Dave Weckl, Gary Novak, Joel Rosenblatt, Kirk Covington and Tracey Kroll, bassists Ric Fierabracci, Gary Hease and Kevin Freeby, keyboardists George Whitty, John Findlay and Scott Kinsey, saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, and guitarist John Czajkowski. One look at these names should tell you that despite any preconceived notions you may have about terms like “electronica" or “samples," this is still a players album. It also happens to be one of the most creative records to hit the modern jazz scene in some time.

Taylor’s playing style is quite unique. His solos are peppered with exploratory lines that flow from a strong jazz vocabulary with a heavy ‘outside’ skew, yet he plays with a light attack that forgoes the flash and shred often heard from contemporary fusion guitarists. Imagine a player with the harmonic sense of Allan Holdsworth and the touch of Allen Hinds and you’ll start to get the idea. From the tonal side of things, Taylor generally goes with “stratty" sounds with just enough gain to add some punch without getting too crunchy - the perfect tone to match his dynamic, legato style.

Nocturnal’s opening track “Voices in My Head" gives a strong indication of what’s in store for the rest of the disc. Tavaglione’s prominent sax work and Taylor’s swinging solo create an obvious jazz mood, yet samples and backwards effects are sprinkled throughout the mix to create a sonic landscape that’s as unexpected as it is cutting edge. This “cinematic jazz" approach is utilized throughout the album, though on some tracks, such as the beautiful, eastern-tinged “Nocturnal," and the hauntingly evocative “Recluse," Taylor leans more heavily in the “soundscape" direction to create pieces that are more like aural paintings than traditional songs.

Taylor has cited Weather Report as an influence, and “Ear To The Rail" is clearly an homage to that groundbreaking band, and their torch bearers Tribal Tech. The song’s groove and vocal accents strongly reflect the music of Weather Report founding member Joe Zawinul, while Taylor’s solo on this tune is dripping with Scott Henderson-esque blues phrases. Another standout track is “You Know What I’m Saying?" - a great piece of fast modern jazz, again augmented with samples and sound effects to tweak the ear. Taylor takes one of his best solos on the album here, as he strings together one great outside line after another. Tavaglione and keyboardist Scott Kinsey also make great contributions on this piece.

The most straight-laced song on Nocturnal is likely “Green Divided By Blue." Save for the intro, the sonic effects are held to a minimum on this track in which everyone involved turns in a killer performance. Ric Fierabracci’s stellar fretless playing is a major factor in the overall mood of the song, as is Tavaglione’s great tenor work.

Whereas “Green Divided By Blue" largely eschews the genre bending production devices employed throughout the rest of the album, the next track is practically defined by them. “All Of Us" is a radical mash-up of jazz and electronica that starts off like a spaghetti western-themed rave. George Bush sound bites mingle with driving beats and copious amounts of sampled percussion in a head-spinning industrial techno onslaught, before the song morphs into a slow, simmering blues-inflected groove. Fierabracci really shines on this tune, especially with his licks in the intro. Despite all of that, it’s Taylor’s guitar work that truly defines the song. His understated phrases are the perfect ingredient over the track’s busy production, and the classic vibe effect he employs is the coolest guitar tone on the album.

Some of Taylor’s best playing on Nocturnal can be found on “Bela" - a fantastic tune that features some creepy Bela Lugosi spoken-word samples. Taylor’s solo on this track is arguably his jazziest on the whole record. He not only pours out tons of great lines (some of which reflect a John Scofield influence), but also demonstrates a deft use of volume swells - a technique he employs regularly throughout the disc. Whitty’s keyboard solo on this song is also one the great treats of this album.

“Here To There" is a chimey piece full of arpeggiated guitar parts and swirling backwards sounds that begs the use of headphones to get the full effect. Tavaglione’s use of a harmonica patch for his EWI is a perfect fit here. The deep growling “Odd Hours" closes the album in strong fashion with a Jeff Beck-like low register melody, and killer playing from Tavaglione and drummer Kirk Covington. Things get nasty late in the tune when John Czajkowski comes in with some uber-heavy power chords played on baritone guitar.

With Nocturnal, Taylor, the long time sideman, clearly establishes himself not only as an artist in his own right, but as a highly original voice in modern jazz. Had he not incorporated samples, or any other post-production atmospheric elements, this would still stand as a fine debut full of creativity and depth. By so thoroughly and seamlessly weaving these “non-jazz" textures into his music, however, Taylor brings a fresh vision to the genre that is exciting and innovative. Nocturnal is a captivating release that is hopefully the first of many to come from this fine guitarist and composer. Highly recommended.