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  • Jonathan Widran

CURTIS TAYLOR, Taylor Made

From the iconic Blue Note cover design aesthetic to some of the most transcendent, richly nuanced yet wildly percussive trumpeting you’re bound to hear in 2024, Curtis Taylor’s aptly titled full length debut Taylor Made has the makings of an instant jazz classic. With apologies to pop singer Lizzo, it’s about damn time! The versatile horn player – now a jazz lecturer and big band director at the University of Iowa - has worked with everyone from Patrice Rushen to Billy Childs, yet as a sideman will always perhaps be best known for his inimitable work on Gregory Porter’s first two albums, including the breakthrough Liquid Spirit.


Anchored by his graceful and imaginative reworking of “Hashtag Theme” – recorded before in two different versions on his earlier Eps – featuring a gorgeous solo by pianist Theron Brown, Taylor emerges on this seven track journey as a monster player who can blow like a scorching, percussive whirlwind (as he does on the frenetic, heavy bopper “Heightened Awareness”) but finds an equally engaging home playing slower, gentler melodies like he does on “For Her” (a lush, waltz-like homage to a dancer he once had a relationship with) and the moody, introspective “Indomitable,” which includes one of tenor saxophonist Marcus Elliot’s most intensely emotional solos.


On a personal level, Taylor’s two most compelling pieces are the two inspired by beloved family members. Riffing off the title of Wynton Marsalis’ “Delfeayo’s Dilemma,” the infectious, mood swinging opener “Kham’s Dilemma” is a tribute to his young son who was born in 2018. The song begins in the lyrical sway zone, like a child just awakening from a nap, before picking up steam quickly, as if he is now at play and whose energy is hard to harness. It’s marked by brilliant, melodically rich back to back solos by Taylor and Elliot.


The charm-filled, happy go lucky “After the Rain,” the majority of which he wrote during a visit to his mother’s house,” is a hooky and joyful hop skip and jump from the get-go, featuring the sweet, cheerful side of Taylor’s multi-faceted musical personality. Theron Brown’s chipper piano solo carries us through the storm, so to speak – a manifestation of the real life compositional challenge Taylor faced when he couldn’t come up with the bridge right away. The perfect segment hit up once the rain had stopped, resulting in the title and the sunny overall vibe.

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