While looking back 25 years at his Restless recording, it’s a great time to see what the legendary Bob James is doing this year. A look at his website shows him touring in support of last year’s Expresso recording. Expresso was the first Bob James solo recording in over a decade. It’s a trio record with bassist Michael Palazzolo and drummer Billy Kilson.
“I wanted to do this as part of a trio — piano, bass and drums, With Fourplay and in other larger settings, I loved that I could solo and then kind of disappear into the setting to accompany other soloists. To play in a trio requires a different level of commitment, with the piano being much more prominent. You need perhaps a greater degree of optimism and bravery. That was how I felt when I first got into music. Espresso is my attempt to recapture that.”
While there are several notable things about the release, fans of the earlier days of contemporary jazz will enjoy James’ sequel to his classic track “Nautilus.” Called “Submarine,” the connection to the original is immediately noticeable. Grover Washington, Jr.’s “Mister Magic” is also covered.
Here’s a review I wrote of the Restless release by contemporary jazz legend Bob James in spring 1994. The album was released Feb. 8 of that year.
The review holds up, but after 25 years the track I listen to most is “Under Me” with its driving dance beat, sweet Luther Vandross vocal and Michael Brecker playing.
After two albums with Fourplay, a reunion with Earl Klugh, and working on George Benson’s Love Remembers release, Bob James still has found time to put out a solo album. His new Restless is the first solo release since Grand Piano Canyon over four years ago. The title is reflective of how James is feeling. “I’ve been more than ever restless to explore new musical adventures and to interact with talented musicians who present new challenges,” James says.
James does run the gamut with ten songs of varying styles. The title track sounds like something from the Double Vision collaboration between him and David Sanborn in the mid-80’s. The saxophonist, newcomer Andy Snitzer, sounds almost identical to Sanborn. James also features two special vocals. One is a duet with his daughter, Hilary, entitled “Storm Warning.” James says the song is the “most deeply personal aspect of this album for me.” It is also a sneak preview of a project that the father-daughter team is releasing later this year. The other vocal, the upbeat “Under Me,” is possibly the most sensual song James has ever done. The vocals are handled by Luther Vandross, Lisa Fischer, and Hilary James. An other style featured more than once on Restless is straightforward jazz. “Back To Bali,” and “Into The Light” both feature Ron Carter on bass and James in a jazz mood. “Serenissima” features James accompanied only by Fareed Haque on guitar.
Restless was produced by Michael Colina, no stranger to the contemporary jazz scene. Colina brings out the best in James with the different styles. Saxophonist Michael Brecker plays on several cuts and Fourplay’s Nathan East and Harvey Mason both put in appearances. But it is definitely a Bob James record, with James composing nearly all of the tracks on the album.
In 1986, two contemporary jazz legends united on one of the genre’s best collaborative recordings. Bob James and David Sanborn set the bar high with Double Vision and I will guess that each artist has been asked many times when they would get together again. I asked Bob James that question after a Fourplay concert about 15 years ago and he said whenever David wanted to do it. That time appears to be now.
This May, on the resuscitated Okeh jazz label, David Sanborn and Bob James bring us a new collaboration. It doesn’t have a title yet but it will be more of an acoustic jazz project. That beats my guess on Twitter that it would be a sequel to Double Vision but I’m even more excited about it now.
No word on a tour yet but they do have a date on June 28 at the Keswick Theatre.