Bob James in 2019

Expresso from Bob James

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.

Restless by Bob James turns 25

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.

Bob James - Restless cover

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.

Top Names Assemble for Jazz for Japan Benefit Recording

Jazz for Japan benefit recordingJazz For Japan is a benefit album recorded in two days by 25 of the top jazz musicians in the world benefiting the earthquake and tsunami victims in Japan. The recordings took place last week in Los Angeles at Capitol Studios in Hollywood. Legendary and Grammy nominated performers include: Kenny G, Christian McBride, Marcus Miller, George Duke, Rickey Minor, Tom Scott, Billy Childs, Boney James, Lee Ritenour, Keiko Matsui, Bob James, and many others.

Larry Robinson, Jazz For Japan producer states; “This project came about after discussing the tragic aftermath of the earthquake and tsunami in Japan with my co-workers. I told them that many of the American jazz musicians tour Japan numerous times a year. It was at that moment the seeds of Jazz For Japan were born. Within five days we called all our jazz friends and put together this truly amazing line up of musicians to record at Hollywood’s famous Capitol Recording Studio who all donated their time.”

The album features jazz standards including “Maiden Voyage,” “Body & Soul,” “Watermelon Man,” “So What,” “Sophisticated Lady,” etc. along with a DVD release including interviews with the artists stating their support and sympathy for the Japanese people. “You, the Japanese people inspire us with your resilience. We are trying to send our strength with what we have – and that’s music,” states Steve Gadd (drummer, performing on “Maiden Voyage”, and “So What”).

Jazz For Japan is being produced by Avatar Records and is available now worldwide via iTunes with profits benefiting the International Red Cross in Japan.

Holiday Music Roundup Part 1: Vocalists

I began looking up the various jazz seasonal recordings when I first learned about the new Christmas recording from Bela Fleck & the Flecktones. I’ve gotten a good number and am breaking them into separate posts. Here are some of the singers who have new holiday recordings out this year.

Al Jarreau – Christmas. An all-new recording on Rhino. From the Rhino site: “Album highlights include Jarreau’s instantly classic takes on beloved tunes including “The Christmas Song,” “Winter Wonderland,” “White Christmas” and “Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.” Cherished Christmas traditions further come alive with his inspired versions of “Come All Ye Faithful,” “Carol Of The Bells,” “Hark The Herald Angels Sing” and “Gloria In Excelsis,” a sacred song used in the Roman Catholic Mass.”
Buy the CD / DRM-free MP3s at Amazon
Download it from iTunes

Singer Erin Bode has a new Christmas-themed release out titled It’s called A Cold December Night. The only information on it so far comes from the great St. Louis Jazz Notes, which says it’s due in November.

Bob James & Hilary James – Christmas Eyes. I don’t know anything about this other than it’s Bob and his daughter, singer Hilary James, in a Christmas recording produced by Kevin DiSimone (Hilary’s hubby). From the track list, it looks like a mix of familiar carols and original songs.
Buy the CD at Amazon

Harry Connick, Jr. has recorded a third holiday collection – What A Night! A Christmas Album
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I only know of one Tony Bennett holiday recording where he’s the headliner and that’s amazing considering his long career. A Swingin’ Christmas is new from Tony with Count Basie Big Band.
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Download it from iTunes

Jazz Videos on MTV

MTV is playing videos again! Online, at least at their newly launched mtvmusic.com. I checked it out and – whoa – there are over 100 videos in the jazz category. I wasn’t even expecting a jazz category. There are a lot of Kenny G and Norah Jones videos but also a number of 80s Warner Bros. videos from the likes of Al Jarreau, Bob James, David Sanborn, Michael Franks, George Benson, Quincy Jones, and Miles Davis. Seeing some of these again is kind of a kick. I bet you’ll find some surprises too.

Here’s George Benson and Earl Klugh – Dreamin’: