Top positive review
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A genius in his finest hour
on 8 January 2008
Bob James is one of the greatest and most under-appreciated musicians of the 20th Century. Though he reputedly hates the term "smooth jazz", it is possibly the best way to sum him up to somebody who does not know who he is (sorry Bob).
James' music takes its cue from jazz and early funk, as well as showcasing his incredibly erudite abilities to take influence from all kinds of music. As a composer he is notable (some of his melodies have become signature '70s and '80s tunes), but what constantly overwhelms are his arrangements. The interplay between Bob's electric piano and his wind sections, his beautifully rich string arrangements, his funky rhythm sections... Put simply, the man made beautiful music. He also had a great team of musicians playing for him.
Unfortunately for Bob, much of his output appeared in the 80's and early 90's, so it has dated somewhat unflatteringly. Worry not though, because here you can buy the first four albums he recorded for CTI (between '74 & '76) together in one go.
Despite the misleading titles, these were not, in fact, Bob James' first albums. He debuted in 1962 with a straight jazz trio album called "Bold Conceptions" followed in 1965 by an avant-garde electronica set called "Explosions". Neither of these albums bear any resemblence to the music here, but are certainly worth checking out.
Besides anything else, this collection is fantastic value (given that these albums go for about £10 each on their own). Value or not, it is also an astonishing collection of music. As the title of this review points out, these were the finest albums Bob James ever put out. Sure, there are some fillers on here, and the somewhat dated use of certain synths will put some people off, but this is great stuff.
At best, Bob James is a musician's musician, and there is something new to be discovered every time you listen to each of these songs. At worst, this is catchy and driven music that is also capable of serving as gentle background music. I can't think of many musicians capable of that sort of versatility.
On another level, as someone who grew up largely on Hip Hop, I came to this music knowing only the classic breaks producers have been using for the past 25 years as the backbone to hip hop beats. The most famous of these is the rhythm section from James' take on Paul Simon's "Take Me To The Mardi Gras" which was spun by Run DMC back in 1986. In addition, his music has been sampled by Eric B & Rakim, Public Enemy, A Tribe Called Quest, De La Soul, EPDM, Ice T, NWA, Common Sense, Pete Rock, Main Source, Naughty by Nature, LL Cool J, Onyx, Group Home, DJ Shadow, People Under the Stairs and so many more.
If this collection impresses you, check out Bob's album "Heads", and his first collaberation with Earl Klugh, "One on One". If it doesn't impress you... go see a doctor, you have a serious problem.