With just his piano, his tunes, and several duet partners on Dancing on the Water, Bob James's deftness with a hook is unmistakable. His smooth-jazz group Fourplay could easily buff up "Hum Drum" and "Bogie's Boogie" into bona fide hits. On the duets with pianists Joe Sample and Keiko Matsui, James submerges his style to go inside the musical worlds of his partners. He probably wrote "Altair & Vega" and "Duo Oto Subito" for the Japanese dynamo, as it is sometimes difficult to tell on these Asian-flavored tunes where Matsui ends and James begins. Even if Sample and James weren't set on each side of the mix, it's easy to tell who's who, because Sample's rhythmic playing and solo style are unique and dominating. James does his best soloing on the duets with bassist supreme Dave Holland, including a great reading of "Last Night When We Were Young."
14 favorites compiled by Bob James from the Tappan Zee years. Making this collection even more special are Bob's own liner notes giving his personal insights into each of the recordings. The master of smooth jazz delivers his first audiophile release and AUDIO FIDELITY has it. Some of his favorites in the collection are Angela, Westchester Lady, Rush Hour, and Spunky.
Bob James H was released in 1980 on his Tappan Zee imprint during his great run that began with Touchdown in 1978. Its immediate predecessor is the One on One duet album with Earl Klugh. James recorded it in the same way he'd been making records since joining CTI in the early 1970s: with a large, all-star studio group paired with a couple of top-flight soloists. The former group included trumpeter Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, and Eddie Daniels; the latter features Grover Washington, Jr., Hiram Bullock, Airto Moreira, and Buddy Williams. Of course, hovering over everything is James' trademark piano, full of lovely if rote grooves and fills. The music revolves around breezy, easy themes and colorations, where the new contemporary (later, "smooth") jazz met lithe cinematic-style orchestral themes with some neat and tidy funk overtones. "Brighton by the Sea," with a tough soprano solo by Washington is a great example. Airto's hand percussion plays counterpoint to Williams drums, Gary King's deep, fretless, funk bassline holds the groove and Grover moves right into it, and then soars above it.
This CD holds a very special place in the heart of every true Bob James fan. This may be due in no small part to its sentimental value in relation to nostalgia. HEADS has an overtly sexual quality to it, as may be seen through it's titles (and the number five itself). Musically, it has much to offer. The title song features the interesting sound of the Oberheim polyphonic synth's "tinkle bells". The tour-de-force of the CD is his uptempo version of "We're All Alone", featuring pianist Richard Tee. Bob rides the disco wave in on his version of Peter Frampton's "I'm In You". Both this and the original version of "Nightcrawler" feature saxophonist David Sanborn. Grover Washington, Jr. adds his special touch on "You Are So Beautiful". HEADS closes with an adaptation of Baroque composer Henry Purcell's "One Loving Night", something which can only be skillfully done by arrangers such as Bob James and Don Sebesky. With HEADS, you win!
Bob James' most enduring recording is perhaps one of his least adventurous. Full of simple laid-back melodies, light, airy grooves, and quiet backdrops, it's a smooth jazz "masterpiece." It's an enduring part of his catalog and was the launch pad for many movie and television projects, and for a string of hit recordings for the Warner label in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. In effect, it insured his financial security for the future. The set is notable for its heavyweight cast including David Sanborn, Ron Carter, Idris Muhammad, Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Hubert Laws, and Earl Klugh. It also netted the monster hit "Angela (Theme from Taxi)," which continued to get airplay on smooth jazz stations into the 21st century. James is a highly developed pianist, arranger, and composer, and while the music here is as safe as milk, it nonetheless spoke to millions.
BJ 4 starts off promising with a flugelhorn solo from the great Art Farmer, but the music soon sinks into pure commercialism. Bob James' keyboards are always prominent, as are the rather mechanical rhythms churned out by bassist Gary King, drummer Steve Gadd, and percussionist Ralph MacDonald. Although there are some catchy moments, the six selections (which all clock in between almost five and almost seven minutes) never seem to travel anywhere. Farmer, flutist Hubert Laws and guitarist Eric Gale have short solos that are primarily used as props and for contrast before James takes back complete control. The occasional strings and woodwinds make the light funk music here seem a bit Muzaky, so this is one to skip.
By Three, Bob James – the pianist, composer, and arranger – was deep into jazz-funk. The five tracks here reflect his obsession with hard, danceable grooves that take as much from the soul-jazz book as they do his years with CTI. Using many of the same session players he bonded with at his former label – including Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken, Hubert Laws, Will Lee, and Harvey Mason – and a large host of stellar horn players (among them Lew Soloff and Jon Faddis), James offers five selections of simple but fun jazz-pop.