At this point, with 15 albums under his belt, it's been established what Boney James does and does not do well. If you are in search of an adventurous artist who is constantly pushing the envelope and challenging himself and the listener by daring to deviate from expectation, keep looking: this is not the saxophonist you are looking for.
James is an extremely impressive master of the good groove. That is something he is at the top of his profession in his ability to get funky with it. For those familiar with and already hooked on James' faithful style of R&B and jazz, Futuresoul rewards your patience since The Beat (Concord, 2013) with multiple moments designed to make heads bob, fingers snap and feet dance.
The snappy opener, "Drumline" gets the party started goosed along by Jarius Mozee's scratchy guitar lines and Kennnan Ephriam's drum kit playing off of James' tenor sax soloing. Equally sweet to the ear is the Old School throwback, "Vinyl" which fondly recalls Grover Washington Jr. at his "Mister Magic" best.
There are only two vocal tracks but they're both way above average. Switching to alto sax on "Watchu' Gon' Do About It?," James gives newcomer Nikeita Crichlow a chance to shine as she contributes a smoky vocal to the tune she co-wrote with James and Mozee. It will be on "Repeat" in many a car stereo and so will "Either Way" featuring Stokley Williams from Eighties soul group Mint Condition.
Futuresoul is front-loaded with its best moments in its first five tracks. The second half sags a bit as "Hand In Hand," "Fortuneteller," "The Moment" and "Futuresoul" don't bring enough effort to make them much more than pleasanty forgettable filler.
The closer, "Far From Home" finds James going toe-to-toe with the understated grace of Marquis Hill's trumpet and more than holding his own. Add in Tim Carman's acoustic piano fills and Vinnie Colaiuta's drumming and James provides ample evidence he can play it straight when the mood strikes him.
Futuresoul is unlikely to convert the skeptic into a Boney James believer, but for the legions of listeners already initiated, this is a great way to kickoff the Summer of 2015.
Drumline; Vinyl; A Little Attitude; Watchu Gon' Do About It?; Either Way; Hand In Hand; Fortuneteller; The Moment; Futuresoul; Far From Home
Boney James: tenor, alto and soprano saxophone, keyboards, acoustic piano, drum programming; Craig Brockman: keyboards; Jarius Mozee: guitar, bass, drum programming; Kennan Ephriam: live drums, drum programming; Lenny Castro: percussion; Gerald McCauley: electric piano, synthesiser; Rob Bacon: guitar; Omari Williams: drums; Nutty P. Beats: drum programming, synth bass, synthesizers; Alex Al: bass; Nikeita Crichlow: background vocals; Stokley Williams: vocals; Darrell Smith: keyboards, keyboard bass; drum programming; Tim Carman: acoustic piano, B3 organ, acoustic piano fills; Phil Davis: keyboards; Dwayne "Smitty" Smith: bass; Dwele: keyboards, drum programming; Vinnie Colaiuta: drums