Seemingly from out of nowhere, New York-based guitarist-composer Chris Taylor has emerged after nearly 30 years on the scene with a brilliant, fully-realized first album as a leader. And though it’s been a long time in coming, Nocturnal may be the most auspicious debut of the year.
Reflecting the influences of such potent bands as Weather Report, Tribal Tech and the Zawinul Syndicate, as well as such guitaristic icons as John Scofield, Bill Frisell and Allan Holdsworth, Taylor’s compelling album also stakes out strikingly original territory. From cinematic offerings like “Voices in my Head,” the atmospheric “All of Us” and the dreamy soundscape “Recluse” to super-charged jams like “Ear to the Rail,” “Know What I’m Saying,” “Odd Hours” and the anthemic “Here to There,” Nocturnal resonates with audacious energy and ideas. Taylor is ably supported on his maiden voyage by a stellar crew featuring drummers Gary Novak, Dave Weckl, Joel Rosenblatt and Kirk Covington, keyboardists George Whitty and Scott Kinsey, bassists Ric Fierabracci and Gary Haase, and saxophonist Steve Tavaglione.
It was back in 1981 that Taylor left the Berklee College of Music after three semesters to begin his professional career, and he’s been gigging ever since. “Basically, I ran out of money,” says Taylor of his brief stint at Berklee. “The plan was to go gig for a while, make some money and then go back to Berklee. I ended up gigging for 20 years or so and never got back to school. And since then I’ve done every gig imaginable.”
Over the years, Taylor has played on innumerable sessions as a sideman and even contributed his own compositions on some recordings. But he had never taken the time to put his own album together, until now. “I never thought of myself as a leader,” says Taylor, “but I’ve been writing music forever, since before Berklee. Writing was something that I’ve always enjoyed. I like to do it more than playing guitar. I’m much happier composing, I think.”
The composer acknowledges his debut to such fusion juggernauts as Weather Report live or the Zawinul Syndicate or even Tribal Tech on his debut outing. “All of those bands always had a real powerful show, yet they were also still always listening for new sounds and exploring. That had a big impact on me. I saw a bunch of Weather Report shows back in the day as well as a bunch of Syndicate shows. I saw the Zawinul Syndicate when Scott Henderson was in the band, and they had just a super-powerful show. I caught them at the Bottom Line during The Immigrants tour back in ’97. I later saw Henderson with Tribal Tech. And seeing them all in concert really had a big effect on me.”
While tipping his hat to those powerful influences throughout Nocturnal, Taylor turns in some more personal statements on the stirring title track (imbued with his evocative slide guitar work), the evocative “Green Divided by Blue” (named for the composer’s fascination with the impressionist painter Rothko) and the provocative “Bela” (which incorporates some samples from a George W. Bush speech). “I like to tell the story through sound,” he says of those vivid pieces.
A triumph from start to finish, Nocturnal is an impressive introduction to this new 50-year-old face on the creative instrumental music scene.
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