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.
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.
After 25 years of collaboration, Bob James and Nathan East are set to release their debut duo album The New Cool in September on Yamaha Entertainment Group. The New Cool marks new territory for legendary jazz pianist Bob James and bassist Nathan East, who’ve spent decades playing together in contemporary jazz quartet Fourplay but never before as an official duo. “The more I played with Nathan over the course of many live performances and spanning more than 20 years, the more in sync we were whether or not we had the anchor of the drums,” says James. “Something special happens when we only have each other’s notes to play off of, when the music is totally exposed.” Recorded entirely in Nashville, Tennessee, the album is a collection of original material contributed by both James and East, along with a small selection of standards. The duo’s musicianship is laid bare in a soulful reimagining of Irving Berlin’s “How Deep is the Ocean,” while the pair is joined by strings and woodwinds for a surprising take on Willie Nelson’s classic country hit 'Crazy'.