Four gold albums, four GRAMMY nominations, two NAACP Image Award nominations, a Soul Train Music Award and a nomination, sales totaling more than 3 million records. Chart-topping saxophonist Boney James embodies the phrase "horn of plenty.”
"I'm always thinking about making music,” he says. "It's still my consuming passion.”
That passion reverberates throughout James' latest project, The Beat. The April 9 release marks his 14th album as well as his return to former label Concord Records. It's a penetrating fusion of R&B, jazz and Latin rhythms given voice by James' emotive saxophone and such guests as trumpet hitman Rick Braun, R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn and spoken word phenom The Floacist.
"There was no sense that this had to be a certain thing,” recalls James, who was between labels when he began recording the album. "I was recording for fun, experimenting with this hybrid R&B and Latin sound, two genres I love. So my playing on this album has a different energy. I think it's one of the best records I've ever done.”
Sergio Mendes' "Batucada (The Beat)” provided the initial inspiration for the genre mash-up. Re-imagining the Brazilian tune with a percolating funk backbeat, James reunites with longtime colleague Braun—a combustible teaming he describes as possessing a "certain edge that creates a really cool vibe.”
That natural, organic vibe courses throughout the rest of the 10-track album produced by James, who also wrote/co-wrote eight songs. Those tunes include lead single "Maker of Love,” a sexy flamethrower sparked by the soulful Raheem DeVaughn. A longtime fan of the R&B singer, James says their collaboration came to fruition after they began following each other on Twitter. "I sent him the track, and he came back with an incredible lyric and finished vocal that he'd done in one night,” recalls James.
Equally as mesmerizing is the seductive "The Midas (This Is Why)” featuring U.K. poet/musician The Floacist, best known as one-half of the Grammy-winning neo-soul duo Floetry. "I just wanted a spoken word thing,” says James of The Floacist's laid-back flow. "Between its R&B groove, the shekere and conga percussion plus her Euro coffeehouse feel, the track adds to the album's world music flavor.”
James opens the album with an illuminating take on Stevie Wonder's R&B/Latin mid-tempo classic "Don't You Worry ‘Bout a Thing.” From there, "The Beat” saunters into the easygoing groove of "Sunset Boulevard” then segues into the sophisticated bossa nova samba of "Mari's Song.” After kicking into high energy on the percussion-driven "Powerhouse,” the versatile musician downshifts effortlessly into first gear on the subtly elegant "Acalento (Lullaby).” Notes James, "I'm just trying to stretch a little here. There's no agenda. It's just music that came out of me.”