When the combustible five-man force of musical nature known as Turning Point took over the Phoenix club scene in the mid-90s, the desert city’s nights truly became as steamy its days. Establishing itself before packed houses at hotspots like The Famous Door and Beeloes, and later becoming regional sensations playing some 200 dates a year, the band grew to embody the freewheeling creative spirit of indie music making. Drawing on each member’s musical and cultural backgrounds, Turning Point forged an eclectic sound that mixed progressive jazz with rock, R&B and blues, with touches of Greek music and—paying homage to their home in the Southwest—Latin jazz. The title of Matador, Turning Point’s Native Language debut and sixth album overall, perfectly captures the band’s bold evolution into a true rock instrumental powerhouse.
"We’ve always strived to be diverse in everything we do, and Matador is the best example yet of this no holds barred approach," says guitarist Thano Sahnas. "We have an advantage over many bands who take time away from their live performances to make an album. Since we never stop performing, we’re able to try out every brand new song onstage to see what works best. We’ll hammer it out in the studio, and go out and play it that same night. Audiences will literally hear our songs for a year before we officially record them, and it’s fun to watch as they evolve. A bullfight is a fight to the death, and there’s definitely a double entendre in the title. We’re out there fighting every day, and we’re going to win. The struggles are hard, but the rewards are always great."
The four members of Turning Point — Thano Sahnas, his brother Demitri Sahnas (acoustic and fretless bass), keyboardist Steve Culp and drummer/percussionist John Herrera — faced a lot of flak in their early years for creating a genre practically unto themselves that defied conventional music industry wisdom that dictates a more streamlined commercial approach. This initial resistance inspired them to push the envelope even further, and the payoff with audiences throughout the Western U.S. has been phenomenal. Their music appeals across the board to fans of many of the top rock, R&B and smooth jazz artists they have opened for, from Michael McDonald to Little Feat, chill performer Praful, acid jazzers Down To the Bone and The Rippingtons.
Turning Point has received acclaim for all of its previous independent releases, yet the eleven tracks on Matador capture the band on the cusp of reaching its prime and creative potential, and the addition of saxophonist Dominic Amato as a featured player on this record has allowed Turning Point to stretch their musical boundaries even further.
The album’s first single is "Quisiera Ser," a crisp and funk-driven cover of a Latin Grammy winning song by Spanish superstar Alejandro Sanz, highlighted by Thano Sahnas’ snappy flamenco flair. The Latin influence is also in full effect on "Spain" and "Matador," both turbo charged flamenco rock adventures featuring a fiery horn section and wild, rolling grooves; in addition to featuring a soaring violin solo by guest star Charlie Bisharat, "Spain" also has a touch of the blues blended in via Culp’s energetic Rhodes-flavored keyboard solo. Moving in a more tropical direction, "Después De Mañana" is a joyful island dance number that beautifully combines Thano Sahnas’ lush acoustic strumming and Culp’s playful solos. The Sahnas’ brothers bring their rich Greek heritage to light on "Rhapsody For Priapus," an ode to the Greek god of virility that cools into a moody romantic mode.
Two of Matadors most heartfelt tracks were inspired by powerful events in the news—the anthemic electric guitar driven pop/rock anthem "Here Today Gone Tomorrow" by the Space Shuttle Columbia tragedy in 2003 and the multi-faceted seven and a half minute "Soldier’s Lullaby" by the war in Iraq. "The intent was to create a musical feeling of what a soldier might be feeling in his soul heading out to battle while wishing he was home able to sing his baby to sleep" says Thano Sahnas. "Imagining entry onto the battlefield itself the tune becomes more aggressive with time signature changes throughout to create a subliminal tension. It’s compositionally unique."
"Compositionally Unique" is an apt description for Matador's other tracks" the expansive soulful romantic ballad "Turn Down The Night" and the lively retro-soul and blues tinged "Suburban Safari."
Each member of Turning Point brings unique personal musical influences to the band’s sound. The Sahnas brothers grew up playing in Phoenix rock bands at the same time they played traditional Greek folk music; they recently released two side projects (From Mykonos to Madrid and Odyssey) on Moondo Records in association with Native Language. John Herrera played in variety bands in his native New Mexico covering the gamut from country and rock to R&B and Mexican music. Yuma Arizona native Steve Culp had a similar border town musical background and went on to receive a Master’s Degree from the University of Miami Music School. Growing up in Detroit Dominic Amato couldn’t help but develop an affinity for all things R&B.
"The reason we’re successful is that we are committed to having fun no matter what" says John Herrera. "We’re more like brothers and family than anything else and a mutural love and respect for each other and what we do keeps us together creatively and on a more personal level. Although we never came at this with a true mission statement each of us has always understood what this band is about playing the music we love to play in an open artistic forum that gives each member a chance to contribute. More than on any previous album we feel that Matador truly shows our acquired strengths. We’ve always had a good time but now our playing is much stronger and we do it with more conviction."