Boney James / Rick Braun

Shake It Up

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From Bob James & David Sanborn's Grammy-winning Double Vision to George Benson & Earl Klugh's Collaboration, Warner Brothers has released some of the greatest dual projects in smooth jazz. Rick Braun's signing to the label this year has paved the way for the label's best tandem project yet, pairing the trumpet star's jazzy sensibilities with the ultra-funk dynamics of R&B saxman Boney James. Rather than simply a clever name, the album title reflects the way the two bounce off of and drive each other to reach artistic heights beyond their typical solo endeavors. The two horns dance over a shuffle beat and simmering blues keyboard textures on the opening track "RSVP," first soaring in perfect unison then breaking for back-and-forth conversations between James' lower smoky tone and Braun's higher pitched crackling. Their musical chatter builds slowly, culminating in a powerful end chorus. Similarly celebratory are two versions (one vocal) of the jubilant '60s horn hit "Grazin' in the Grass," which features the two swaying as one over jumpy retro guitar and keyboard parts then blasting off into percussive improvisations. While it's easy to visualize the energy James and Braun might generate with those tunes live, the disc's gentler moments are equally remarkable, most notably the silky "More Than You Know" (where Braun introduces a tender thought and waits for James to complete it) and a smoky, gently grooving cover of Horace Silver's "Song for My Father." The latter features a subdued Braun's muted trumpet melody as James' breathy tenor rides underneath as a support system. The listeners have heard Braun do the intimate jazz improv before, but James' inventive reflections here are quite the revelation. "The Stars Above" allows for an even more intimate candlelight chat between two musicians who seem to read each other's thoughts instinctively. Other highlights are "Central Avenue" and the percussive title track, which is sheer live-in-the-studio festivity time. James and Braun both came of age in the '70s and the chunky wah-wah guitar elements dart throughout, most emphatically on "Chain Reaction," which chugs along at a feverish retro-soul pitch. Shake It Up is not only the smooth jazz event of the year, but so far the genre's greatest recording. Hopefully, it won't be just a one time side project for either.

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