Bob James

H

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Bob James H was released in 1981 on his Tappan Zee imprint during his great run that began with Touchdown in 1978. Its immediate predecessor is the One on One duet album with Earl Klugh. James recorded it in the same way he'd been making records since joining CTI in the early 1970s: with a large, all-star studio group paired with a couple of top-flight soloists. The former group included trumpeter Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, and Eddie Daniels; the latter features Grover Washington, Jr., Hiram Bullock, Airto Moreira, and Buddy Williams. Of course, hovering over everything is James' trademark piano, full of lovely if rote grooves and fills. The music revolves around breezy, easy themes and colorations, where the new contemporary (later, "smooth") jazz met lithe cinematic-style orchestral themes with some neat and tidy funk overtones. "Brighton by the Sea," with a tough soprano solo by Washington is a great example. Airto's hand percussion plays counterpoint to Williams drums, Gary King's deep, fretless, funk bassline holds the groove and Grover moves right into it, and then soars above it. James' solo comes at it from the other side and doesn't hit the actual groove until later. Other notables are the Caribbean-kissed, Latin-flavored "Snowbird Fantasy," where the body of the tune swells to include the large horn section. The gorgeous "Shepherd's Song" follows it with James playing Rhodes and an Oberheim, to whisper in the balladic melody before his acoustic piano enters to articulate it fully. But what makes the tune are the strings and a truly lovely acoustic guitar solo by David Brown. The stone classic from this set though, is the synth driven "Walkman's Song." In solid 4/4 time, it's all dancefloor, albeit with some ambient head space: there's percolating bassline, James' layers of funky dancefloor keyboards, and his high register acoustic piano solo. The track is given added dimension by Bullock's tidy but utterly funky guitar fills, and played and sung solo (à la George Benson). This is all adorned with carefully arranged woodwinds and strings as the cherry on the sundae. H may be typical James from this period, but that doesn't mean the music isn't thoroughly enjoyable. Add to this that it holds up to repeated listening over three decades later, and you've got a stone-cold winner.

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