BOB JAMES: The Very Best Of … (Label: Salvo)

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BOB JAMES: The Very Best Of ...

Over the years there’s been a fair number of Bob James retrospective collections, but this brand new double-CD, 26 tracker is right up there with the best. There are a number of reasons for this. Chief one is that the collection is the first (we think) to be put together with Bob’s full co-operation and assistance. Indeed he supplies a lot of personal photos and memorabilia to enhance the already excellent accompanying booklet. In that booklet he also offers some insightful comments about his career and specific tracks. The second reason why we commend the set to you is that it’s been compiled and annotated by our very own Charles Waring. The man’s been around jazz musicians and jazz writing for more years than he’d care to remember and he’s used that experience to pick the plum James’ cuts and to put together an insightful essay into the importance of James in the evolution of what is now (sadly) termed ‘smooth jazz’. Indeed when Bob James began his musical odyssey, the term ‘smooth jazz’ was yet to be conceived by the marketeers. Indeed, when the prolific arranger/producer/piano man decided to make records himself in 1974 what he produced was dubbed ‘fusion’ and from that period this album includes the evergreens – ‘Nautilus’, ‘Feel Like Makin’ Love’, ‘Night On Bald Mountain’, ‘Westchester Lady’ and the defining ‘Tappan Zee’. Since those halcyon days of the seventies musical categories might have changed but James’ dedication to his art has remained constant. Though, clearly, there’s an evolutionary thread running through everything here, in all the cuts you can hear strong melodies, fluid playing and a clarity that many have strived to emulate‚Ķ with little success it must be said. Apart for the aforementioned tracks, other highlights include a live version of ‘Touchdown’, ‘Shamboozie’, ‘The Steamin’ Feeling’ and, of course ‘Angela (Theme From Taxi)’ – one cut that really does define the atmosphere of New York City and James’ love affair with the Big Apple finds, here, more manifestations in the sublime ‘Sparkling New York’ and ‘New York Mellow’. The album also contains three of James’ key collaborations – ‘The Afterglow’ with Earl Klugh, ‘Kickin Back’ with Kirk Whalum and the ever-lovely ‘Maputo’ with David Sanborn. (Has Marcus Miller ever conceived a better bass line?). The most recent cut on offer is 2007’s ‘Celebration’. Featuring Chinese musicians, it is markedly different to, say, ‘Nautilus’, but – to labour my main point – it truly does, like ‘Nautilus’, deliver the essence of Bob James’ craft. To conclude then, an unmissable collection – using one of Bob’s own tune titles (included here of course), it’s a ‘Thoroughbred’.
(BB) 5/5