Review: By Light from Nelson Rangell

My initial impression after listening to By Light, the latest recording by multi-instrumentalist Nelson Rangell is one word: STRONG! Multiple listens since have only confirmed that.

By Light cover

His sound on alto sax and flute is as strong as it always has been, which is saying a lot. I’ve always considered him a powerhouse on sax and agile and nimble as anyone on piccolo.

His compositions are strong on By Light. I don’t have credits (a huge disappointment/disadvantage of digital music) so I don’t know if Nelson wrote all of them. There is a cover of “Human Nature.” Some highlights include the opening pure pop-jazz gem “Streamline” which is immediately followed up with one of my favorite tracks, the long burning “Tidal Wave.” In the same vein is “Old School,” which is also a classic pop-jazz piece that could have fit on his albums from 20 years ago.

He brings out strong emotion on the tender ballad “Letting Go.” Grab a box of tissues as you remember someone you’ve lost. There’s the soaring “Ali’s Moon” written for his wife.

I’m telling you – this guy practices every day and hasn’t lost a single step from the first album I fell in love with his sound (1993’s Truest Heart). By Light reminds me of why I started enjoying contemporary jazz in the first place. Thanks, Nelson Rangell.

To learn more about this recording, I recommend you check out the world premiere interview with Sandy Shore on SmoothJazz.com Global Radio. Nelson talks about the album’s title, which instrument he prefers, the tracks on By Light, and more.

The Benoit/Freeman topped the chart 25 years ago

The top ten contemporary jazz recordings from the week of Feb. 13, 1994!

The Benoit/Freeman Project
  1. David Benoit and Russ Freeman, The Benoit/Freeman Project
  2. Nelson Rangell, Yes Then Yes
  3. Tom Scott, Reed My Lips
  4. Richard Smith, From My Window
  5. Torcuato Mariano, Paradise Station
  6. Marcus Miller, The Sun Don’t Lie
  7. Yellowjackets, Run for Your Life
  8. Fourplay, Between the Sheets
  9. Gary Burton/Rebecca Parris, It’s Another Day
  10. Charles Michael Brotman, Pacific Rendezvous

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.

β€œI wanted to do this as part of a trio β€” 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.