Though he has always struck a glorious balance between romance and playful funk, saxman Michael Paulo's music has always had one trademark focal point-passion. He first let us know what that was all about on his 1989 breakthrough One Passion, which was chosen by Jazziz Magazine as one of the most influential contemporary jazz albums in the genre's history. Now, coming full circle after a glorious decade of smooth jazz success and artistic growth, he titles his fifth recording (and third on Noteworthy, the label he co-owns) Midnight Passion to reflect upon all of the many influences, from jazz to soul to pop, which have contributed to evolution of his unique sound. But even as Paulo looks back, he's forging into the next century with optimism and vision.
The title of the opening track "Millenium Swing," which is an explosive, hip-hop twist on the familiar theme to the movie 2001, tells us all we need to know about Paulo's excitement regarding the onset of the new realm. "Looking back, I realize in the early days I was trying to prove myself by dominating every tune with the sax, by focusing on flashy chops…when really what it should always be about is crafting memorable melodies and producing great records," says the Hawaiian native. "This time, that's all I concentrated on, making good music that is fun, light and good, as if some of my best studio pals just dropped by one day and I gave them the best songs I had in me.
"Owning my own label, it's been easy to get my creativity bogged down in the business end of things," he adds. "But the one thing I kept getting back to was the reality that I make music for people to enjoy first and foremost. It's all about communicating and relating to people who appreciate what I do. Over the last ten years, I have also become very comfortable with being who I am, rather than trying to emulate the many great sax players who inspired me. Once this album started flowing out of me, everything came together very quickly. And in the end, everything on Midnight Passion boils down to the same things which have always made good contemporary jazz-great melodies you can latch onto, and grooves you want to tap your feet to. It's almost like a lesson in back to basics."
Paulo has always surrounded his three saxes with outstanding support from some of his best musician pals, and this time is no exception. Midnight Passion features keyboardists Brian Simpson, Steve Porcaro and Kimo Cornwell; guitarists Ray Fuller, Dean Parks and Mike O'Neill; bassist Freddie Washington (who co-produced several tracks with Paulo); drummers Harvey Mason and Land Richards; and percussionist Lenny Castro.
Midnight Passion gets off to a rousing start with Paulo's throbbing tweak of the legendary Johann Strauss 2001 piece (think apes and the rising sun from Stanley Kubrick's film). Trumpeter Michael "Patches" Stewart winds in and around Paulo's soprano over a swinging funk groove complete with brassy swells and Fender Rhodes. Paulo has always been a master at creating romantic moods that both inspire and seduce, and "Forever" finds his alto at its most expressive. With Cornwell's Fender Rhodes, a retro funk groove and a discofied synth string riff, "YT" is Paulo's lighthearted ode to the 70s "Soul Train" sound. The 70s vibe continues on the breezy, laid back tribute to Fourplay drummer Harvey Mason, "Mason's House," before Paulo takes his tenor "out" on the hypnotic, Gato Barbieri-like "Midnight Passion" (which typifies Paulo's sensuous trademark sound). Carl Anderson is known for his powerhouse vocals, but takes a more subtle approach to the folksy, heartbreaking ballad "Heart of Mine," which finds Paulo underscoring every tear on alto.
Paulo then switches off from punchy funk to sweet romance on the next tunes-the hip hop gem "For You Only," the graceful and lilting "As I Think of You," the slamming retro-funk jam "Struttin' With Mama Mae" (which features a melange of 70's wah wah guitar, 80s synth washes and 90s hip-hop grooves), and the sensuous ballad "Life is Beautiful." After the bouncy, anthem like ode to positive thinking that "You Gotta Believe in Yourself," written and co-produced by Guitarist David Williams , Midnight Passion wraps up where it began-with "Millenium Swing," only this time featuring a colorful rap section by Heat.
One of the most versatile and cosmopolitan saxophonists in pop, soul and contemporary jazz for nearly 20 years, Michael Paulo has added his distinct saxpertise to a virtual who's who of artists, including Al Jarreau (Paulo's longest term touring association), James Ingram, Kenny Loggins, Patti Austin, David Benoit and Johnny Mathis. Paulo grew up in a musical family (his father a pianist, his mother a singer, his siblings all playing instruments) and though he came upon the sax relatively late at age 15, he quickly became first horn player in his high school band and was playing professional gigs around the islands within a few years. Rather than accept a scholarship to North Texas State, he chose a more adventurous road by joining Hawaiian pop/rock band Kalapana, which had some success on the mainland but was most popular in Japan. After playing regularly and recording on all four of Kalapana's albums from 1975 through 1979, Paulo recorded a solo album for Japanese release on Trio records. In addition to exposing him to the Japanese jazz audience, Tats in the Rainbow gave him the opportunity to work with legendary pianist Herbie Hancock.