Aug 29, 2018
The amazingly versatile Bob James has taken on – and succeeded admirably with – most of the jazz genres of the past fifty years. During that time, James recorded has free jazz (Bold Conceptions), arranged for and accompanied Sarah Vaughn, and then was a key participant in the jazz-soul fusion that was CTI Records. As a writer, producer, arranger, and finally, recording artist, he made a major contribution to the label’s funky sound. His recordings of “Nautilus” and his version of “Take Me to the Mardi Gras” are among the most sampled recordings in the hip-hop canon.
He scored the TV series “Taxi”, and had a hit with its theme song, “Angela”. With pals David Sanborn and Earl Klugh, he has made some of the best-selling and most honored jazz-pop albums ever. His smooth jazz super group Fourplay seems to get better as it ages.
Now in his seventies, James has gone back to the stylings from the very beginning of his career and released Espresso, a piano trio album. Bob took the band he has toured with for the past year or so – veteran drummer Billy Kilson and bass wunderkind Michael Palazzo – into a California studio, The result is an album composed mainly of James originals, along with two well-thought out covers.
No one will confuse this trio with Bill Evans and his sidemen, but then that’s not where they are going. Whether it’s the Ramsey Lewis inspired “Topside”, the bluesy “Bulgogi” or the wink-and-a-smile nod to his past on “Submarine”, this is thoroughly engaging and often exciting music. Best of all is the complex and musically evolving “Mojito Ride”, where each member of the group takes his turn in driving the harmonies into different and engaging places.
Podcast 636 is my conversation with Bob James as we talk about the Espresso album, the challenges of the piano trio format and in interpreting this music on stage. Musical selections include “Mojito Ride”, “Topside”, “Submarine” and “Mr. Magic.”