“My philosophy as a woman and as a musician is to always do my best and to enjoy what I do – process and all – every day.”
Saxophonist/Singer/Songwriter Paula Atherton is proving herself to be quite the connoisseur of groove with her third CD, Enjoy the Ride. With its nine songs all recently composed specifically for the release, it is an exhilarating and focused set conceived to rock listeners’ worlds! New York-based Atherton moves from hard-driving instrumentals like “Turn it Up” and the JBs-esque “Catch Me If You Can” to the wistful soulful vocals “I Won’t Give Up” and “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind” – all in a CD that flies by in the blink of a playfully batted eyelash.
The loose concept for the music on this album is the full embrace and appreciation for our time here on Earth. “The title Enjoy the Ride is a euphemism for life, ” Atherton explains. “Everyone has goals but the real experience is the process of putting it together – that’s where a lot of joy is for me. Having an idea, going in the studio and watching a tune come to fruition …the multi-tracking, the finalizing… Then for your work to speak to someone – that’s magic!”
Enjoy the Ride opens with Atherton blowing her flute in salute to the legendary Herbie Mann with the fittingly titled “Herbie, ” a breezy boogaloo bumper loaded with surprising and amazing musical turns. “I always wanted to do a ‘flute-a-go-go’ tune, ” Paula shares. “You don’t hear anything like that except in an ‘Austin Powers’ movie! When I came up with the head, I was thinking of Herbie Mann’s ‘Memphis Underground.’”
Then there’s “Sassy Strut, ” sure to be a slammin’ showstopper contributed to the project by guitarist Nick Colionne who gets into some hot counterpoint throughout with Paula. Nick suggested this tune to Paula. She loved it, so he co-produced it and added his guitar to the mix. Paula also gets a little help from another high profile friend in trumpeter Cindy Bradley, a kindred sister in jazz who doubles on trumpet and trombone here. Paula and Cindy tear it up trading lines back and forth on the sizzling Latin Jazz montuno and congas feature “Rice and Beans.” “We’ve played together for years in various situations, ” Paula explains. “Back in December 2009 she was my guest for one of my ‘A Month of Tuesdays’ shows at Minton’s Playhouse (up in Harlem). More recently we played in the 10-piece all-female band Jazz in Pink at Berks Jazz festival (in Reading, Pennsylvania).”
One aspect that sets Paula Atherton apart from the pack is that she always offers at least one song on her CDs in vocal and instrumental versions which maximizes its connection possibilities. On Enjoy the Ride, that song is “Can’t Get You Out of My Mind, ” the album’s second single. “I wrote this song as a vocal but I also have an instrumental so it has a chance to be heard from as many people as possible. This song and “I Won’t Give Up” deal with innocent issues such as hopefulness and longing. There are threads of those emotions throughout this CD.”
Those feelings are poignantly and purposefully captured in the remaining two vocal songs of Enjoy the Ride. Paula continues, “‘Let it Be’ was inspired by watching the news and thinking about the hard times so many people are going through. I wanted to share a positive message. ‘Try it Again’ is also an uplifting message for those days we all have, when we feel we are at our wit’s end, and need some encouragement.”
Paula Atherton has loved music all her life and first became active in grade school in the chorus as well as picking up flute in fourth grade. After getting an alto sax in her teens, her attention turned to jazz. She gleaned much of her playing fluidity from studying the phrasing and techniques of everyone from singer Billie Holiday to saxophonist Lester Young. She studied with some notable teachers in the Lennie Tristano “school of players, ” and practiced countless hours a day, as she still does today. Ultimately her influences swing between a wide range of players including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Lee Konitz, Cannonball Adderley, Phil Woods, Michael Brecker, David Sanborn and Bob Mintzer.
Her focus shifted to more popular music once she began writing her own songs. “I wanted to explore and go more places musically, ” she states. “I wanted to have an identity all my own – a place that I could express myself that was very personal. The job of an improviser is to create. I truly started writing at 19 when I got my first alto. I was writing lyrics before that to jazz solos – but the first complete tune that I wrote was for flute I instinctively began to combine a lot of different styles of music – Latin, R&B, Pop and Jazz.”
Paula began playing with bands in all of these styles and eventually began leading one of her own – usually backed by a rhythm quartet but occasionally with percussion, a trumpet and background vocalists on the sweetest gigs. Paula’s actual first CD Let Me Inside Your Love, a compilation of several different kinds of things she’d been recording in her early years, was completed in 2001 but not promoted until 2004. She considers her second release, Groove with Me, to be her official first CD. The very first song she wrote for that album was the catchy funky groove “Whenever You Come Around.” “My bass player and friend Schuyler Deale produced that track, ” Paula remembers. “He said it felt like Sly & the Family Stone. He laid the groundwork for most of the album which gave me a fresh direction to go in.”
Every one of the 12 selections of Groove With Me was played somewhere be it on terrestrial radio, satellite radio, Pandora, Music Choice, etc. Two exceptionally popular numbers were “Block Party” (featuring special guest guitarist Chieli Minucci) and her version of the Ashford & Simpson classic “You’re All I Need to Get By” (featuring legendary original Tower of Power trumpeter Greg Adams).
The song that netted Paula the most attention at radio, however, was an emotional ballad titled “Send Down An Angel.” Ironically and with no promotion in this direction whatsoever, that song took on a life of its own with Christian audiences. It was nominated for several awards in that realm which led to Paula being invited to talk and perform on “The 700 Club.” Paula and “Angel” were also nominated for song, album and female vocalist of the year by AMG International (a Christian organization). In actuality, the song was about a dear friend of Paula’s and the way she chose to deal with and live her final days with cancer. “When I wrote ‘Send Down an Angel, ’ I was grappling with the concept of your life being your own. That was a powerful but personal decision my friend made and we all had to accept it. You can’t impose your wishes on someone else.”
Today Paula’s embrace of life is even more fortified as reflected in the music of Enjoy the Ride and beyond. Paula even dipped her toes in the waters of movie music creating a smoky score of sax and upright bass only for the 2004 actor’s life documentary “The Definition of Insanity.” She’s looking forward to touring Europe in the spring of 2013 and sharing her music with the world.
– A. Scott Galloway