Boney James

Pure

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Some who have followed Boney James' incredible trajectory in smooth jazz land -- which includes four gold albums and a Grammy nomination for his previous disc, Ride -- might think it's a risk for the popular saxman to take all the production reins himself. He's always been an outstanding, soulful player, but producer Paul Brown's cool, R&B-driven vibe helped make stars out of him and numerous of his peers. James shows tremendous confidence in that chair here, keeping his trademark seductive vibe going with a sweet and sassy mix of easygoing ballads, catchy R&B vocals, and more creative stretching exercises. As producer, his crowning achievement here is the simmering, brassy blues texturing of the vocal/sax tune "Thinkin' 'Bout Me," which is what might have resulted years ago had Sly Stone included Junior Walker as part of his family. As composer, that piece and the midtempo easy funk jam "Stone Groove" are the catchiest, with both allowing for just enough sax solo time amidst the horn textures. As a bonus, "Stone Grooves" includes a touch of class via a frisky Joe Sample piano solo that, alas, doesn't last long enough. James knows his market and knows that man does not live by great sax alone. He has a great time encouraging some developing R&B vocal talents who are sure to make more noise on their own, from Bilal to his new labelmate Debbie Nova and Dwele. The Nova tune "Appreciate" is such a crisply produced pop confection that James should consider helming more strictly vocal projects. For those who don't think the busy production here lives up to the title of the disc, there's the title cut itself -- simple, soulful, and dreamy as the genre gets.

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