Most people have heard the music of Bob James
. He wrote "Angela," the theme song for the popular television comedy Taxi
. The show ran from 1978 to 1983, and reruns are ongoing. The
Bob James became one of the fathers and most successful purveyors of the smooth/fusion jazz sound, in recordings under his own name, with the group Foreplay and in teamings with saxophonist David Sanborn
. Once Upon A Time: The Lost 1965 New York Studio Sessions
takes us to Bob James back in the beginning, in a way we perhaps haven't heard him, before he hit the groove which took him into a lucrative and still vibrant career.
The first impression: the music sounds so un-Bob James-yno R & B funk moods, no lush and gorgeous backdrops, no high-polish production, no synthesizer sweetenings. Instead, the two sessions are two-thirds straight ahead piano trio jazznot too far from what pianist Bill Evans was doing at that timemixed with some unexpectedly far out avant-garde.
The first session, laid down in January '65, opens with Leroy Anderson's "Serenata," first recorded in 1949 by the Boston Pops Orchestra. James' take features the bright, light-stepping melody in front of the bounce and shuffle of bassist Larry Rockwell
and drummer Robert Pozar
. The disc's title tune, a James original, is painted with darker hues than those of the openerwistful and sad, with a shift into an anguished segment of angular piano searchings and arco bass that re-convenes into the engaging melody. Joe Zawinul
's "Lateef Minor 7th" begins in a mainstream mode, but shifts into clamorous, low-key disarray, with vocalizations which sound as if they issued from unsettled minds, before the tune finds its way back home. "Variation," another James-penned tune, begins in a stately manner that evolvesvia the off-kilter instrumental machinations of drummer Posner and bassist Rockwell, along with some more indecipherable vocalizationsinto straightforward weirdness, with the piano trying mightily to retain a mainstream mood.
The second session, from October 9, 1965, is straight through, straight ahead: Sonny Rollins
' "Airegin," the standard "Indian Summer," Miles Davis
' "Solar," "Long Forgotten Afternoon," composing attributed to "Unknown," all nicely rendered, with pizzazz.
The set, considered in its entirety, seems to say Bob James could have taken a number of different paths in his jazz journey: one on the sunny side of the street as a melodically bright, Ahmad Jamal
-style piano trio guy, or taking a wild ride along a zig zagging road to a Stockhausen-esque avant-garde approach, instead of following his muse to wonderful success in the creation and the shaping the fusion/smooth jazz sound.
And, it should be mentioned, the guy who recorded these two sessions was George Klabin, founder and co-president of Resonance Records, who was nineteen years old at the time, and continues to find great music from the past, from Eric Dolphy
, Bill Evans, Wes Montgomery
, Nat King Cole
to Bob James and more.
Serenata; Once Upon A Time; Lateef Minor 7th; Variations; Airegin; Indian Summer; Solar; Long Forgotten