Bob James has never decided whether he's a jazz musician or an R&B musician. He doesn't have tohe can be both, simultaneously, playing funky, infectious tunes that are melodic and groove hard. Urban Flamingo
, his most recent effort, could be written off simply as "lifestyle music," or smooth jazz doomed to become background ambience at wine tastings and on weekend boat trips. But pay more attention to James' compositions and soloing and you'll find there is much more at work here.
Urban Flamingo features James with his Michigan-based quintet of bassist Al Turner, drummer Ron Otis, guitarist Perry Hughes and saxophonist David McMurray. The disc opens with "Choose Me," which has James jamming over the chord changes of a funky blues. While the primarily electric instrumentation and McMurray's often syrupy saxophone playing will undoubtedly turn off mainstream-minded listeners, they will appeal to those who are looking for a pop or R&B-oriented jazz sound.
Of the many guests present on the disc, highlights include the leader's daughter, Hilary James, who takes a pleasant vocal turn on "Lay Down with You," which she co-wrote; and bassist Nathan East (of James' Fourplay supergroup).
The hands-down highlight of the disc is "Niles Ahead, which harkens back to James' work from the 1970s. This acoustic tour de force allows James and his rhythm section the chance to really show off their jazz chops. It's a pity there isn't more of the same on Urban Flamingo. This piece leaves me hoping that James will consider an album of acoustic tunes in the near future.
Personnel: Bob James: piano, synth; Al Turner: bass; Billy Kilson: drums; Bridgette Bryant: vocals; David
McMurray: flute, alto saxophone, tenor saxophone; Earl Klugh: guitar; Hilary James:
keyboards & vocals; Jack Lee: Guitar; James Genus: bass; John Pondel: guitar; Kevin DiSimone:
keyboards & Vocals; Louis Pragasm: drums; Nathan East: bass; Perry Hughes: guitar; Ron
Otis: drums; Wayne Gerard: guitar.