Bob James was putting the "smooth" into "jazz" long before it was an official format, and as an elder statesman, the keyboardist continues to be one of the most consistent slow groove crowd-pleasers around. But some of the most inspired moments of his career have come from key collaborations with peers from his generation like David Sanborn and Earl Klugh. While never straying far from the melodic, pleasant sort of cool he's best known for, on Playin' Hooky, James duets on various tunes with some of the new kids on the charts, from classical guitarist Fareed Haque to trumpeter Rick Braun and the increasingly ubiquitous saxman Boney James (no relation).
Though Jimmy Raney recorded under his own name as early as 1953, this 1956 set is regarded as his arrival as a leader. Raney is as fine an arranger as he is a guitarist. These eight tracks with Bob Brookmeyer on trombone (another fine arranger in a soloist's role) shine with the ease and fluidity of the best of the cool sessions recorded at the dawn of hard bop. One of the finest examples of the interplay between Raney and Brookmeyer occurs at the beginning of the album's second track, "How Long Has This Been Going On?," where the pair engage in a brief contrapuntal dialogue before Brookmeyer solos on the melody and Raney gently fills the space behind him by whispering his chords and fills through the trombonist's phrasing, before taking his own solo and slipping an inverted harmonic pattern on the tune's lyric line. ..
Released for the first time on this 1999 Challenge CD, this live set features the unusual duo of guitarist Jim Hall and valve trombonist Bob Brookmeyer, two-thirds of the 1957 Jimmy Giuffre Three. Although there are occasions when one of the musicians accompanies the other one, much of the time Hall and Brookmeyer function as equals, improvising together on a set of standards plus an ad-lib blues called "Sweet Basil." Their ability to improvise while thinking of the whole picture and their knack for spontaneously harmonizing really come in handy during this intriguing and frequently exciting outing. Among the selections reborn in the playing of Hall and Brookmeyer are John Lewis' "Skating in Central Park," "Body and Soul," "Darn That Dream," and "St. Thomas." A successful effort that should not have taken 20 years to release.
This keyboardist was putting the "smooth" into "jazz" long before there was a format by that name. Since the mid-70s, Bob James has been one of instrumental music's most consistent purveyors of tunes that hover in the gray area between lighthearted pop and more sophisticated jazz textures. James' approach here is a little like his contribution to the supergroup Fourplay rather than dominate, he's content to jam and be one of the guys. Though his solos stand out, it's almost as if he's a hired gun on a project featuring the best and brightest of this second generation of smooth jazzers. He's farmed out the production tasks to some top studio guys (including musician/artists Paul Brown, Chuck Loeb, Michael Colina, and David McMurray. On the lively, shuffling "Take Me There," he bounces around joyously over Loeb's crisp guitar lines and Kim Waters' smart mix of soprano and alto saxes.
Keyboardist Bob James and acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh struck gold with this session, recently reissued on CD. The formula hasn't changed much in succeeding years. Both Klugh and James are capable musicians; they demonstrated on this collection of light, innocuous melodies and occasionally interesting backbeats a high degree of professionalism. Klugh is a first-rate guitarist whose solos are concise and nicely delivered, but frequently sound thin. James' piano and electric keyboard playing is a puzzling combination of flawlessness and lifelessness.