Paul Taylor

Prime Time

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Saxophonist Paul Taylor is primarily an instrumentalist, but ironically, the best tracks on his albums are usually the ones that feature vocalists -- and that holds true on Prime Time, which is mostly an instrumental smooth jazz album but features R&B singers on occasion. The vocal offerings include "Space" (which features singer Andrea Anderson-Olson) and "Can't Nobody," which features Jamie Jones of All-4-One fame; both are medium-tempo R&B of the urban contemporary variety. Taylor solos on both tunes, but the vocal performances make them the best tracks on this 2011 release. Unfortunately, the instrumentals on Prime Time aren't nearly as substantial, which isn't surprising given Taylor's history. Since the 1990s, the Denver native has been playing "safe sax" of the Kenny G/Dave Koz/Richard Elliot/George Howard variety; that approach has made him a favorite on smooth jazz stations, but for those who are interested in hearing more than just lightweight background music, that automatic-pilot approach gets old in a hurry. From "Moment of Truth" to "Laronda" to "Say No More," Prime Time is full of formulaic instrumentals that are more than happy to fade into the background. Prime Time also includes a note-for-note cover of the Kings of Leon's 2008 hit "Use Somebody," which Taylor performs as an instrumental. Some jazz purists would fault Taylor for embracing something by an alternative pop/rock group like Kings of Leon, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with Taylor recording "Use Somebody." The fact is that jazz instrumentalists have a long history of taking mainstream popular songs and using them as vehicles for personal expression. Regrettably, what Taylor does with "Use Somebody" sounds vacuous and superficial rather than personal, which is a shame because like so many people in smooth jazz, Taylor has the chops and the talent to offer more than just elevator music. But again, Prime Time has its moments -- and "Can't Nobody" and "Space" are easy to like even though Taylor, from a creative standpoint, sells himself short on the smooth jazz instrumentals that dominate this 41-minute CD.

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