Chris Taylor’s Semicentennial Debut

February 2, 2012

After a short stint at Berklee in 1981, Chris Taylor returned to New York City and began gigging, taking whatever jobs he could get for a few years. “Then I started to do more studio work and writing and a lot of R&B stuff,” he says. “I worked with Billy Porter, Grover Washington Jr., Lionel Hampton, Stephanie Mills—I’ve been around the block.” Taylor was writing music the entire time, but it wasn’t until last year that he finally completed the album he’d been wanting to make—and he landed a deal with noted jazz fusion label Abstract Logix, proving that if you persevere, it is never too late to get your music out there. “I didn’t expect to get a deal as a relatively unknown 50 year-old guitarist,” says Taylor. “Being on a label with John McLaughlin, Wayne Krantz, Jimmy Herring, and Alex Machacek, however, is a little like joining the Yankees as the batboy [laughs].”

The music on Nocturnal hints at influences spanning a compositional landscape from the Zawinul Syndicate to Squarepusher to Bill Laswell’s Material, and features a heavyweight lineup that includes saxophonist Steve Tavaglione, bassist Ric Fierabracci, drummer Dave Weckl, and keyboardist Scott Kinsey. Taylor’s distinctive guitar work is angular, sweet, twangy, funky, and atmospheric in turns—and his melodic phrasing tends to be very horn-like. “I’ve made a conscious effort to do something different, and part of that has been listening to and trying to emulate horn players,” says Taylor. “The guitar players that I really love—Scofield, Holdsworth, Henderson— also take a similar approach.”

Taylor used several guitars on Nocturnal, including a ’67 Fender Strat, a ’66 Fender Tele, a Canton Custom, and a Martin D-18 acoustic. The electrics were played through a Marshall JMP-1 preamp into a Mesa/Boogie 2:Ninety power amp, and a 1x12 cab loaded with an EV12M. He lowers his sixth string to D, plays mostly with his fingers, and constantly manipulates the volume and tone controls on his Strats for additional color and nuance. Effects also occupy a prominent space on Taylor’s tonal palette, before and after tracking—as exemplified on “All of Us.”

“That track is a through-composed piece that begins as a sort of surf tango, with a five-against-four bass pattern,” he explains. “There are several guitar tracks: a looped and reversed part, a part filtered in various ways and distorted with a Fulltone Ocatafuzz, a ring-modulated part, and some additional atmospheric parts done with volume swells and long delays. Towards the end I play some bluesy stuff with my ’67 Strat into a Dunlop Uni-Vibe. To get reversed sounds I’ll manually swell the volume and cut the attack by muting the note as it peaks, sometimes starting a halfstep away and bending slowly to pitch. Or, I’ll use a Boomerang Phrase Sampler to set up reversed loops as pads in a track or live. And I also use the DAW itself to reverse a note or even part of one, just to add a little flavor. In all cases, to paraphrase Joe Meek, ‘If it sounds cool, it is cool.’”

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