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Chris Taylor: Never Make Your Move Too Soon

Ian Patterson By

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It's taken 30 years, but you can't rush something if it's not there. Chris Taylor's debut recording as leader, Nocturnal (Abstract Logix, 2011), is the result of the direction his composing has led him these last two or three years, but it could be seen in a wider context as the accumulated experience of three decades working as a guitar playing sideman, composer and producer. The material is undoubtedly strong, and reveals a compositional maturity that usually only comes with age and experience. The music hints at Taylor's myriad influences, from keyboardist/composer Joe Zawinul to electronica, and from jazz and abstract art to—perhaps improbably—Count Dracula himself, Bela Lugosi. The contours of the music are many, and fascinating to contemplate unfolding.

The journey to Nocturnal has been a long one. Having dropped out of Berklee after three semesters with the wolf at the door, Taylor started gigging, and found himself playing in every conceivable setup imaginable, from pop and rock, to jazz and R&B. But, as Taylor confesses, "my love was always jazz." Came a day, however, when the more lucrative pop session work began to dry up: "When you get to a certain age in pop music they're not interested in you as a sideman any more," explains Taylor. "Once you get to be in your mid-30s they say they want young guys on stage. It was time to head in another direction."

Composing music for TV, commercials and films provided that new direction, but there was a voice waiting for the right moment to make itself heard. Thirty years after leaving Berklee, Taylor found he had something to say. With an enviable cast of musicians including keyboardist Scott Kinsey, drummers Gary Novak, Joel Rosenblatt and Kirk Covington, and multi-reed player Steve Tavaglione, Nocturnal is an impressive debut which heralds the arrival, after several decades preparation, of a vibrant new voice on the creative music scene.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on a very fine debut recording; you must be pleased with the way it's turned out?

Chris Taylor I'm at the point where I can't really hear it yet. After going through the whole mixing and mastering phase I think I need about a year of not listening to it before I can really hear it.

AAJ: After so many years working as a sideman you've stepped out as a leader in your own right with Nocturnal; how did this transformation come about?

CT: I don't think there was a single reason. I've been writing and recording jazz music for at least three decades and, several times over the last 30 years, I've started solo projects, but I think, like most musicians, I'm a pretty tough critic about my own work and I also felt I didn't think of myself as a leader for a long time. I was content in my sideman role and composing for and producing other people. But the music I've been writing over the last five years had a reaction from musicians I really respect and they said, "You should really release this. You're really doing something interesting." That helped push me in that direction. Also, as I've gotten older I've got a lot less guitar-centric, for lack of a better word. I'm more concerned being a musician than a guitarist. When you're young you're all wrapped up in trying to play as well as you can and as you get older you're more concerned with the art of the music itself. I see myself more as a musician now than as a guitarist.

AAJ: Had this music been brewing in you for a long time?

CT: I've been writing this way for the last five years, though Nocturnal probably represents the last two or three years. I have a great deal of influences; I have really diverse listening habits and that kind of creeps in. I just let it come out. I stayed away from conventional song forms for the most part. A lot of the music is through-composed and I wanted the record to have a cinematic quality to it, which a lot of my favorite discs have. In other words, I can listen to them from start to finish and they have a feel to them. That's what I was going for.

AAJ: Nocturnal certainly has a flow to it which makes for uninterrupted listening from beginning to end; would you be against releasing individual songs as MP3 downloads?

CT: That's already out there; you can't avoid that. I'm definitely a product of the vinyl generation. You'd buy a record, you'd look at the art work, you'd read all the credits. It's a habit. I still buy CDs and I enjoy music that way. To be realistic, I know that the younger generation buys a song. Probably they'll just download the record for free and keep what they want [laughs].

AAJ: How did you come to release Nocturnal on Abstract Logix? You must be delighted to be on such a funky label?

CT: That was my first choice. The connection there was [keyboardist] Scott Kinsey who's on the label, and who also plays on the record. He spoke to [label head] Souvik Dutta and told him he should check out my record. I spoke to him and he said: "How do you want to do this?" I thought, "Okay, this sounds like the right label to me." It just happened. It was amazing. I think in this day and age that being on a label is so important. One of the great things about technology is that anyone can do a record these days. Anyone who owns a guitar and a computer can put out a record. But the problem is that everyone who does own a guitar and a computer is putting out a record. I think it's great that a lot of people who never would have had the opportunity to make music will now make great music, but there's also a lot to wade through. So, to get a little more notice you need to be with a label these days.

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