Ian Patterson review of Nocturnal for "All About Jazz"
Necessity, they say, is the mother of invention, and for guitarist Chris Taylor—whose financial dire straits forced him to abandon Berklee and return to gigging after three semesters— this has proven to be an undeniable truth. That was thirty years ago, and Taylor's never looked back, gigging in every imaginable situation, and exploiting his natural bent as a composer to produce music for TV shows, commercials and films. Taylor's debut as leader has more than a hint of his cinematic, music-for-screen background in his compositions, and also draws from jazz fusion and electronica, though without overt reference, for the most part.
A heavyweight cast of musicians, notably keyboardist Scott Kinsey, drummers Gary Novak, Kirk Covington and Dave Weckl, and soprano saxophonist Steve Tavaglione bring their energy and considerable chops to bear, though always in service of Taylor's compositional design. As a musician, Taylor sits most comfortably in such notable company, and his opening guitar break on the through-composed "Voices in My Head" is a model of economic, persuasive language; throughout Nocturnal Taylor's lead work is as gutsy as his accompaniment is deft. Tavaglione follows Taylor's suit over bassist Ric Fierabracci walking bass, the guitarist's feathery chords, and Novak's continuously inventive drumming. Pianist George Whitty's crystal clear tumbling lines spur Novak on. From Taylor and his cohorts there is virtuosity aplenty, though nicely bite-sized, and never straying into self-indulgence.
Electronic drums, courtesy of Tracey Kroll, provide forward momentum on "Ear to the Rail." Keyboardist John Findlay and Taylor both leave scorch marks on this bubbling tune, which bridges the territory between Weather Report and Tribal Tech. On this number and the trimmer trio setting of the title track—a seductive mood piece which features Taylor on both acoustic and veena-like slide guitar—programmed vocals of an Indo-Tibetan flavor add ambience. Taylor and Tavaglione engage in high speed unison lines on "You Know What I'm Saying," a rhythmically engaging number fired by Novak, where Taylor the guitarist shines. Tavaglione and Kinsey trade in typically effusive manner, building tension through their disciplined give-and-take, with neither abandoning the dialogue in search of bragging rights.
The elegant quintet piece "Green Divided by Blue" highlights Taylor's compositional nuances and melodic sensibility with its compelling narrative, with the guitarist, Whitty and Fierabracci unfolding short but enticing statements that carry the tune. The potent Taylor/Fierabracci duet, "All of Us," is like a hybrid of guitarist Bill Frisell's darker-hued country blues and bassist/producer Bill Laswell's alchemy, with its sotto voce tabla and electronic undercurrents. Subtly unfolding contrast are key to the music on Nocturnal. There's a no-frills approach to the jazz fusion "Bela," with Whitty impressing on keyboards. The meditative "Recluse," is followed by the gently grooving blues "Here to There," with Tavaglione's EWI singing like a harmonica. "Odd Hours"—the longest track—is an evocative epic, heady and brooding.
An impressive recording debut, Nocturnal highlights Taylor's ability to weigh exciting improvisation and artistic flair within shifting compositional terrain. Beautifully produced, this polished offering is the result of thirty years honing a craft.