Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Weldon Irvine - 1972 - Liberated Brother

Weldon Irvine 
Liberated Brother

01. Liberated Brother 6:25
02. Here's Where I Came In 6:35
03. Blues Wel-Don 8:25
04. Mr. Clean 5:25
05. Gloria 4:00
06. Homey 4:30
07. Juggah Buggah 4:35
08. Sister Sanctified 3:15

Bass [Fender] – Roland Wilson
Drums – Chipper Lyles, Napoleon Revels (tracks: B1)
Electric Piano [Rmi Electrified] – Weldon Irvine
Flugelhorn – Preston Williams
Guitar [Electric] – Tommy Smith
Melodica – Weldon Irvine (tracks: B3)
Percussion – Chipper Lyles (tracks: B1), Napoleon Revels
Piano – Weldon Irvine
Synthesizer [Moog] – Weldon Irvine (tracks: B4, B5)

Recorded and re-mixed at Sound Ideas Studio, New York, N.Y.

Keyboardist Weldon Irvine looms large in the pantheon of jazz-funk, profoundly influencing the subsequent generations of hip-hop artists for whom he served as collaborator and mentor. Born in Hampton, VA, on October 27, 1943, Irvine was raised by his grandparents in the wake of his parents' divorce, and while his grandmother played standup bass in a series of regional classical ensembles, her husband served as dean of the men's college at Hampton Institute. Irvine began playing piano as a teen, and while he later majored in literature at Hampton, music remained his first love, especially after discovering jazz. Upon settling in New York City in 1965, he was recruited into Kenny Dorham and Joe Henderson's big band, a year later signing on with Nina Simone as the legendary singer's organist, bandleader, arranger, and road manager. The two also wrote songs together, and after seeing a performance of playwright Lorraine Hansberry's To Be Young, Gifted and Black, Simone instructed Irvine to compose lyrics for a song of the same title. After two weeks of writer's block, the words came to him in a flash of inspiration, and the finished song would later merit cover versions by performers including Aretha Franklin, Stevie Wonder, and Donny Hathaway on its way to becoming the best known of his approximately 500 published compositions.

After splitting from Simone, Irvine formed his own 17-piece group that at different times included the likes of Billy Cobham, Randy Brecker, Bennie Maupin, and Don Blackman; in 1973, the Nodlew label issued his first headlining session, Liberated Brother, followed a year later by Time Capsule. Over the course of these records the keyboardist truly hit his stride, honing not only his singular yet skilled fusion of jazz, funk, soul, blues, and gospel -- a direct antecedent of what would later be known as acid jazz -- but also the social consciousness and impassioned spiritually that further defined his career. In addition to subsequent LPs like 1975's Spirit Man and the next year's Sinbad, Irvine also began writing musicals for the stage, and in 1977 New York's Billie Holiday Theatre produced his Young, Gifted and Broke, which proved both a commercial and critical smash that won a series of awards during its eight-month run. The Billie Holiday Theatre also mounted more than 20 of Irvine's other musicals, most notable among them The Vampire and the Dentist, The Will, and Keep It Real.

But while Irvine focused on his stage projects, his recording career fell by the wayside, and following 1979's Sisters he did not headline a new LP for another 15 years. In that time his work was rediscovered and praised by a growing number of politically minded young rappers, especially Boogie Down Productions, A Tribe Called Quest, and Leaders of the New School, all of whom sampled his vintage recordings. Unlike many artists of his generation, Irvine embraced these upstarts in turn, in 1994 recording the hip-hop-inspired Music Is the Key for the indie label Luv'N'Haight. Three years later he cut Spoken Melodies, even rapping himself under the name Master Wel, and that same year lent keyboard and string arrangements to Mos Def's Black on Both Sides; he even gave piano lessons to rappers Q-Tip and Common. In 1999 Irvine called on Mos Def, Talib Kweli, and Q-Tip for The Price of Freedom, a searing indictment of police brutality inspired by the death of Amadou Diallo, a defenseless African immigrant murdered in a hail of gunfire by New York City cops. On April 9, 2002, Irvine committed suicide outside a New York City office complex -- he was just 58 years old.

 Weldon Irvine's debut as a leader remains one of the most fiercely idiosyncratic electric jazz outings of the early '70s. Innovative not only for its moody, nuanced jazz-funk sensibility, Liberated Brother also translates the uncommonly strong passion of Irvine's political and philosophical views into its grooves, creating music of rare sincerity and ambition. While the record's first-half features longer, more meditative songs, like the Latin-inspired title tune and "Blues Wel-Don," the second side of Liberated Brother commands the most attention. With sterling contributions from guitarist Tommy Smith, bassist Roland Wilson, and drummer Napoleon Revels-Bey, cuts like "Mr. Clean" and "Sister Sanctified" (later sampled by Boogie Down Productions for the rap classic "My Philosophy") achieve a deeply funky consciousness forged from elements of jazz, soul, and psychedelia; "Juggah Buggah" even features Irvine on Moog synthesizer, further expanding the LP's cosmic reach.

Reuben Wilson - 1973 - The Cisco Kid

Reuben Wilson 
The Cisco Kid

01. The Cisco Kid 5:19
02. The Last Tango In Paris 3:55
03. Superfly 4:53
04. We've Only Just Begun 4:03
05. Snaps 7:17
06. Groove Grease 6:45
07. The Look Of Love 5:15

Bass – Bob Cranshaw
Congas – Ray Amando
Drums – Mickey Roker
Guitar – Melvin Sparks
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Trombone – Garnett Brown

Reuben Wilson's second Groove Merchant session, The Cisco Kid, pairs the organist with a murderer's-row support unit including guitarist Melvin Sparks, trombonist Garnett Brown, bassist Bob Cranshaw, drummer Mickey Roker, and percussionist Ray Armando. Given the talent involved, it's regrettable that the album adheres to such a pedestrian formula, reimagining the same pop and soul covers as virtually every other jazz-funk session issued at the time. Besides the title cut, a reworking of War's Latin soul monster, the material includes readings of "Superfly," "The Look of Love," and "We've Only Just Begun" -- the energy and intensity nevertheless ratchet up several notches for the Wilson originals "Snaps" and "Groove Grease," elevating the entire endeavor in the process.

Reuben Wilson - 1972 - The Sweet Life

Reuben Wilson 
The Sweet Life

01. Inner City Blues 4:45
02. Creampuff 5:30
03. Sugar 6:09
04. I'll Take You There 6:25
05. The Sweet Life 6:11
06. Never Can Say Goodbye 4:15

Bass – Mickey Bass
Drums – Thomas Derrick
Guitar – Lloyd Davis
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Tenor Saxophone – Ramon Morris
Trumpet – Bill Hardman

After a series of sugary soul-jazz dates for Blue Note, Reuben Wilson resurfaced on Groove Merchant with The Sweet Life. The title notwithstanding, the session is his darkest and hardest-edged to date, complete with a physicality missing from previous efforts. Credit tenor saxophonist Ramon Morris, trumpeter Bill Hardman, guitarist Lloyd Davis, bassist Mickey Bass, and drummer Thomas Derrick, whose skin-tight grooves sand away the polished contours of Wilson's organ solos to reveal their diamond-sharp corners. The material, while predictable (i.e., standbys like "Inner City Blues" and "Never Can Say Goodbye"), is nevertheless well suited to the set's righteous funk sound.

Reuben Wilson - 1971 - A Groovy Situation

Reuben Wilson
A Groovy Situation

01. While The World Lies Waiting 5:10
02. Sweet Tooth 6:50
03. If You Let Me Make Love To You Then Why Can't I Touch You 6:15
04. A Groovy Situation 7:40
05. Happy Together 5:30
06. Signed, Sealed, Delivered, I'm Yours 5:30

Alto Saxophone – Earl Turbinton
Drums – Harold White
Guitar – Eddie Diehl
Organ – Reuben Wilson

Recorded on September 18 & 25, 1970

Much like its predecessor, Blue Mode, A Groovy Situation finds organist Reuben Wilson turning in a funky collection of R&B and pop covers. Supported by guitarist Eddie Diehl, alto saxophonist Earl Turbinton, and drummer Harold White, Wilson runs through familiar soul hits like ("If You Let Me Make Love to You) Then Why Can't I Touch You," "A Groovy Situation," and "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours," plus the Turtles hit "Happy Together." With songs like this, there's no question that Wilson is going for a wide audience, and while these smooth, funky grooves will do nothing for jazz purists, it's an entertaining record, and some of the grooves are quite hot indeed.

Reuben Wilson - 1971 - Set Us Free

Reuben Wilson 
Set Us Free

01. Set Us Free 5:08
02. We're In Love 3:27
03. Sho-Nuff Mellow 4:32
04. Mr. Big Stuff 4:37
05. Right On With This Mess 4:38
06. Mercy, Mercy, Me (The Ecology) 3:39
07. Tom's Thumb 5:30

Bass – Richard Davis
Congas – Ray Armando
Drums – Jimmy Johnson
Guitar, Sitar – David Spinozza
Harp – Gene Bianco
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Percussion – Gordon (Spec) Powell
Soprano Saxophone, Tenor Saxophone – Jerome Richardson
Vocals – Mildred Brown, Naomi Thomas, Rosalyn Brown

Set Us Free, Reuben Wilson's final album for Blue Note, was issued in 1971. Since that time it has become an immortal and much sought classic by beatheads for a single track: "We're in Love." DJ Premier sampled it liberally -- for its Hammond B-3 vamps, backing vocals, and decorative percussion -- for use on rapper Nas' smash "Memory Lane." Hip-hop fans suddenly had to hear more, and as a result not only is Wilson active again on the circuit, but there has also been terrific interest in his catalog. Not only did Blue Note's Michael Cuscuna reissue this all but forgotten nugget for the label's killer Rare Groove series (before August 2008 it had never been available on CD in America), but Chicago's Dusty Groove re-released 1975's funky Cadet burner Got to Get Your Own during the same month. Set Us Free stands almost completely outside the space inhabited by the rest of Wilson's Blue Note titles. Produced by the late George Butler, it's a wildly textured and seamless aural meld of gritty B-3 jams, smooth yet psychedelic soul, rock, pop, and funk. Wilson and Butler employed a killer band for this date that included reedman Jerome Richardson, bassist Richard Davis, guitarist David Spinozza (who also plays some electric sitar on the date), drummer Jimmy Johnson, conguero Ray Armando, percussionist Specs Powell, and Gene Bianco on harp; the entire proceeding was arranged by the great Wade Marcus.
Vocal arranger Jimmy Briggs was brought in to write charts for a female backing chorus on a funky Latinized blues version of "Mr. Big Stuff," the lush psych-soul babymaker "We're in Love," and Marvin Gaye's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy (The Ecology)." This isn't to say that there aren't slamming organ jams on the set; Marcus' "Right on with This Mess" makes that abundantly clear. That said, even on these back-to-basics numbers, Wilson's B-3 may be up front and slamming, but Richardson's sweet soprano saxophone (which, to be fair, wails in its solo), the warm guitar lines, and the congas add depth and dimension -- even while Johnson's drums are breaking all over the place. The title track, written by Eddie Harris, is smooth instrumental soul at its best -- Richardson's soprano and the hand drums are up front with Davis' slowly rolling bassline and the hand drums. But it cuts loose in places, with Wilson adding textural flourishes in his solo rather than soaring above the mix. The closest thing to the hard bopping blues Wilson's other recording showcased are sections of the closer, "Tom's Thumb," but even here, with its harp adornment, augmented major sevenths by Spinozza, and the shuffling one-two one-two of Johnson, this comes off as exotic -- especially with the wonderful percussion section laying in the cut as he breaks often and true. Wilson is the only one letting it rip. Yet somehow, this ambitious, lushly orchestrated album not only sounds current, but still ahead of its time. Highly recommended.

Reuben Wilson - 1970 - Blue Mode

Reuben Wilson 
Blue Mode

01. Bambu 8:03
02. Knock On Wood 6:09
03. Bus Ride 6:09
04. Orange Peel 6:36
05. Twenty-Five Miles 7:11
06. Blue Mode 7:26

Drums – Tommy Derrick
Guitar – Melvin Sparks
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Tenor Saxophone – John Manning

Recorded on December 12, 1969 at the Van Gelder Studio, Englewood Cliffs, New Jersey.

1969 was the grooviest year in a very groovy decade. The Beatles, on the verge of a breakup, urged everyone to get back and come together. The Temptations couldn't get next to you. And Sly Stone took everyone higher at Woodstock.

At that very moment, in the waning days of 1969, Reuben Wilson funked us up with a classic acid-jazz album called Blue Mode.

If you remember 1969, you already know what Blue Mode sounds like, even if you've never heard a lick of it. This is an album created by someone who was definitely listening to James Brown and Otis Redding, with side orders of Jimmy Smith and Jimmy McGriff.

More pop than jazz, more funk than bop, Blue Mode catches the Sly Stone vibe. Higher, indeed.

Granted, organ jazz is an acquired taste. Some never get it. Early Jimmy Smith sounds positively weird, if you're not already tuned to the vibe. Eventually, Smith got the blues bug and created classics with some fantastic guitarists and saxmen.

This is something different—a mashup of Chicken Shack blues and pop-funk Booker T and the MG's. The quartet—Wilson on organ, John Manning on tenor, Melvin Sparks on guitar and Tommy Derrick—swing like crazy. The album is part of Blue Note's Rare Grooves series, which gives you some idea where it fits in the label's storied history.

This band would have fit in perfectly at Woodstock, maybe right before Santana.

Every song features a catchy riff and playful solos. The album includes a pair of Motown/Stax covers (Eddie Floyd's "Knock on Wood" and Edwin Starr's "Twenty-Five Miles") and a few hard-edged, wailing sax solos that definitely borrow from Sonny Rollins, Joe Henderson and John Coltrane. We don't hear Sparks' guitar enough, but when we do, it's rockin.'

Blue Mode is classic Blue Note on its last legs. In the '50s, Blue Note was home to the best hard bop of all time. In the '60s, it birthed soul-jazz. And as the '60s slid into the '70s, just before the old Blue Note died, it was a swirling nest of acid jazz.

If you like your jazz with funk verging on rock, Reuben Wilson and Blue Mode are for you. They are certifiably groovy.

Reuben Wilson - 1969 - Love Bug

Reuben Wilson 
Love Bug

01. Hot Rod 6:27
02. I'm Gonna Make You Love Me 5:35
03. I Say A Little Prayer 8:07
04. Love Bug 7:40
05. Stormy 5:40
06. Back Out 8:10

Drums – Leo Morris
Guitar – Grant Green
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Tenor Saxophone – George Coleman
Trumpet – Lee Morgan

Recorded 3/21/69

Love Bug was an attempt to establish Reuben Wilson as an organist with either the vision of Larry Young or the fiery style of John Patton, and while it comes up short on both accounts, it nevertheless remains quite enjoyable. Working with an impressive backing band of guitarist Grant Green, trumpeter Lee Morgan, tenor saxophonist George Coleman, and drummer Idris Muhammad, Wilson leads his band through a number of soul-jazz workouts, none of which ever really catch fire. Instead of working tight, funky grooves, the quintet tends to spiral off into vaguely experimental territory, which loses sight of the spirit of the song. Still, Green has a number of shining moments, as does Morgan and Coleman -- in fact, they tend to overshadow Wilson, who nevertheless turns in a fine performance. Nevertheless, there are flashes on Love Bug, particularly on "Hot Rod" and the bonus track "Hold on, I'm Comin'," that demonstrate the organist coming into his own.

Reuben Wilson - 1982 - On Broadway

Reuben Wilson 
On Broadway

01. On Broadway 8:10
02. Baby I Love You 5:28
03. Ain't That Peculiar 6:42
04. Ronnie's Bonnie 9:48
05. Poinciana 9:10

Drums – Tommy Derrick
Guitar – Malcolm Riddick
Organ – Reuben Wilson
Tenor Saxophone – Trevor Lawrence

Reuben Wilson was one of many soul-jazz organists to emerge in the late '60s, but he was one of only a handful of new organists from that era to be signed to Blue Note. By that point in the label's history, most of their artists were concentrating on accessible soul-jazz, and while he occasionally strayed outside of the conventions of the genre, Wilson more or less followed their rule. Between 1968 and 1971, he recorded five sessions for the label. None of his records received much acknowledgment at the time, but they were later rediscovered by a new generation of soul-jazz fans, becoming collector's items within acid jazz and soul-jazz revivalist circles.

Wilson began performing professionally in 1962. A native of Mounds, OK, he moved to Pasadena, CA, as a child, where he attended school with such future jazz musicians as Bobby Hutcherson and Herb Lewis. As a teenager, Wilson began to teach himself to play piano, but his attention was diverted by boxing. When he was 17, he moved to Los Angeles and married a nightclub singer, through whom he met a number of professional musicians. Associating with musicians conviced Wilson to return to music. Instead of pursuing the piano, he decided to take up the organ, and it wasn't long before he became a regular at the Caribbean club, where he played with drummer Eddie Williams, guitarist George Freeman, and, eventually, Clifford Scott. He played the L.A. circuit for several years before deciding to try his luck in Las Vegas. That venture proved unsuccessful, so he moved back to L.A., where he struck up a friendship with Richard "Groove" Holmes, an organist who would greatly influence his own style.

In December 1966, Wilson relocated to New York, where he formed the soul-jazz trio the Wildare Express with drummer Tommy Derrick. The Wildare Express lasted about six months, playing venues throughout the East Coast and Detroit, and then Wilson decided to concentrate on more complex variations of hard bop and soul-jazz. Eventually, such respected musicians as Grant Green, Roy Haynes, and Sam Rivers began playing with Wilson. Around the same time, Blue Note offered the organist a contract based on a demo he had sent the label.

On Broadway, Wilson's first album for Blue Note, was a quartet session featuring his old bandmate Derrick and was recorded in October of 1968. It was followed in March of 1969 by Love Bug, which featured contributions from trumpeter Lee Morgan and guitarist Grant Green. His third album, Blue Mode, was cut in December 1969 and offered some of his hottest playing. With his fourth album, 1970's A Groovy Situation, Wilson moved in a commercial direction, much like many of his Blue Note peers. In July of 1971, he recorded Set Us Free, his final album for the label.

Wilson's contract with Blue Note expired after Set Us Free and he moved to Groove Merchant, where he released three albums -- Cisco Kid, Bad Stuff, and The Sweet Life -- during the mid-'70s. Throughout the decade, he also played on sessions by funk, soul, and jazz artists, including a record by the Fatback Band. During the late '70s, he recorded sporadically, eventually retiring from music in the early '80s.

By the late '80s, Wilson's music had been rediscovered by a new generation, listeners who didn't dismiss his records as commercial fluff. Like several of his peers, his late-'60s and '70s records, through sampling, became cornerstones in the newly emerging acid jazz and jazz-rap genres. Soon, his out of print records became collector's items, and his sampled licks were appearing on dancefloors throughout England and parts of New York. Eventually, samples of his records were included on hit albums by A Tribe Called Quest, Us3, Brand New Heavies, and Nas. In light of all this new attention, Wilson decided to return to performing, and he toured with Guru's Jazzamatazz revue in 1995. He also began writing new material and performing in new groups, including combos he led himself. In 1996, he signed to Hip Bop and released two albums, Live at SOB's and Organ Donor. The following year, he recorded Organic Grooves with Dr. Lonnie Smith and Doug Carn.

On Broadway, Reuben Wilson's debut for Blue Note, is a little undistinguished, but it remains an enjoyable exercise in late-'60s soul-jazz. Like many of his peers on Blue Note, Wilson's soul-jazz displayed a familiarity with contemporary soul and R&B styles. Not only does he cover R&B hits like "On Broadway," "Baby I Love You" and "Ain't That Peculiar," but the interplay between Wilson, guitarist Malcolm Riddick and Tommy Derrick occasionally recalls Stax, Motown and uptown soul. The combo, which also features tenor saxophonist Trevor Lawrence, remains rooted in jazz, with the organist demonstrating a Jimmy Smith influence, but the jazz feeling is tempered by a desire to work a groove instead of improvising or attempting to reach new sonic territory. And On Broadway is a successful groove record, but in comparison to the two albums that followed, it's a little uneven.

Ramon Morris - 1974 - Sweet Sister Funk

Ramon Morris 
Sweet Sister Funk

01. First Come, First Serve 4:47
02. Wijinia 5:30
03. Sweet Sister Funk 6:15
04. Sweat 6:23
05. Don't Ask Me 5:18
06. Lord Sideways 6:12
07. People Make The World Go Round 3:13

Bass – Mickey Bass
Congas – Tony Waters
Drums – Mickey Roker
Electric Piano – Albert Dailey
Guitar – Lloyd Davis
Tenor Saxophone – Ramon Morris
Trumpet – Cecil Bridgewater

Who was (or is) Ramon Morris? His saxophone playing on 'Sweet Sister Funk' (1973, originally on Groove Merchant) - apparently the only record he ever made as a leader - is so mature, bold and powerful that one is almost tempted to think that a saxophone giant with contractual ties to another label temporarily assumed the identity of one Ramon Morris and proceeded to record one of the grooviest jazz records of the early Seventies. It is such a pity that Ramon Morris apparently never got the chance to make another record as a leader. You can hear him again on Reuben Wilson's 'The Sweet Life' (also on Groove Merchant), which contains a funky version of "Inner City Blues" sampled by A Tribe Called Quest.

Every song on this album is great. Indeed, few jazz records of the early seventies are groovier than 'Sweet Sister Funk'. I would give this record a six-star rating if I could, yet I only rate it 4 stars because of the sloppy reissue. The cd I purchased from is an undated product of a label called ioda. The booklet looks like it has been photocopied on obsolete equipment. One merely gets an impression of what the original record cover must have looked like. The tracklist on the back is the only information you're getting. If you want to find out who the other musicians are, you'll have to do some research on the web. (I wasn't surprised to learn that Ramon Morris was accompanied by Mickey Bass on bass, Mickey Roker on drums and Cecil Bridgewater on trumpet. All of them are beautiful musicians and sound in great form on this disk.) Fortunately, the sound quality on this cd is okay.

In summary: an absolutely indispensable recording, but try to avoid the ioda cd reissue if you want more than the music itself.

Ramon Morris' lone Groove Merchant date remains one of the most potent fusion records of its time. An uncommonly soulful and nimble tenorman, Morris proves ideally matched to the jazz-funk idiom, and Sweet Sister Funk achieves a near-perfect balance between its mainstream and experimental leanings, forging a series of fierce grooves as imaginative as they are accessible. Recorded with a crack supporting unit including trumpeter Cecil Bridgewater and percussionist Tony Waters, the album radiates with positive energy -- it's a genuine shame Morris never again recorded as a leader, because the mind reels at the possibilities his muse might have pursued.

Bob James - 1977 - BJ4

Bob James 

01. Pure Imagination 5:22
02. Where The Wind Blows Free 6:44
03. Tappan Zee 6:51
04. Nights Are Forever Without You 6:25
05. Treasure Island 6:41
06. El Verano 4:55

Bass – Gary King
Cello – Alan Shulman, Charles McCracken
Drums – Steve Gadd
Electric Piano [Fender Rhodes], Piano [Acoustic Grand], Clavinet, Synthesizer [Arp Odyssey, Oberheim Polyphonic] – Bob James
Guitar – Eric Gale
Oboe, English Horn – Sidney Weinberg
Percussion – Ralph MacDonald
Recorder [Alto] – George Marge
Soloist, Flute, Flute [Alto] – Hubert Laws
Soloist, Trumpet, Flugelhorn – Art Farmer
Tenor Saxophone, Bass Clarinet, Recorder [Tenor] – Romeo Penque
Tenor Saxophone, Flute, Clarinet – Eddie Daniels
Trumpet – John Frosk, John Gatchell
Viola – Emanuel Vardi, Lamar Alsop
Violin – Charles Libove, David Nadien, Emanuel Green, Harold Kohon, Harry Glickman, Matthew Raimondi, Max Ellen, Paul Gershman

Recorded at Van Gelder Studios, November/December 1976.

He may not have been inventive with his album titles, but jazz keyboardist Bob James has always had a way with stellar arrangements and great material. So it is with his 1977 album BJ4. Continuing the jazz-pop/rock fusion of its three immediate predecessors, BJ4 only has six tracks on it, but they are very good ones--originals like "Where The Wind Blows Free", "Tappan Zee", and "Treasure Island"; and adaptations of "Pure Imagination" (from the original 1971 film WILLY WONKA AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY), the England Dan and John Ford Coley hit "Nights Are Forever Without You", and "El Verano"--a lush Latin-influenced instrumental based on the Jefferson Starship's 1975 hit "Miracles."

James' arrangements and keyboard playing are aided by such fine musicians as percussionist Ralph MacDonald, drummer Steve Gadd, guitarist Eric Gale, and flautist Hubert Laws, along with the recording expertise of producer Creed Taylor. This is yet another jewel in James' ever-expanding crown of great albums, and well worth getting for jazz, pop, and rock fans alike.

Bob James - 1976 - Three

Bob James 

01. One Mint Julep 9:04
02. Women Of Ireland 8:00
03. Westchester Lady 7:23
04. Storm King 6:33
05. Jamaica Farewell 5:21

Bass – Gary King (tracks: A1, A2, B3)
Bass Trombone – Dave Taylor
Bass Trombone, Tuba – Dave Bargeron
Cello – Alan Shulman, Charles McCracken
Drums – Harvey Mason (tracks: A2 to B3)
Flute – Hubert Laws, Jerry Dodgion
Flute, Tenor Saxophone – Eddie Daniels
Guitar – Eric Gale (tracks: A2 to B2), Hugh McCracken (tracks: A2 to B2)
Harp – Gloria Agostini
Keyboards – Bob James
Percussion – Ralph MacDonald
Tenor Saxophone, Tin Whistle – Grover Washington, Jr.
Trombone – Wayne Andre
Trumpet – John Frosk, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, Marvin Stamm
Viola – Al Brown, Manny Vardi
Violin – David Nadien, Emanuel Green, Frederick Buldrini, Harold Kohon, Harry Cykman, Lewis Eley, Matthew Raimondi, Max Ellen

Bob James himself on Three:

I was three years into a solo recording career with CTI at the time, and things were going good. The first two records sold well and I felt like my career was really solid by this time. But I wasn’t really sure where I was headed on this album. Once again, I had no idea of what would become of anything I made. Especially having been in the instrumental jazz field for a while at this point, I was wondering what else I could do. The meat of this album is in the parts where a lot of improvising took place. But with this, I didn’t know what was going to stick with the public. As a musician, improvisation is great; but the public doesn’t care, they just want good tunes. [laughs] This album has some of my favorite moments, but as far as the public was concerned, I think it fell a bit short of what I would’ve liked. And with “Westchester Lady,” it wasn’t until years later that people even wanted it hear it on the radio. This album remains a sentimental one because of the time it was recorded. The music industry was going through a lot of changes. This didn’t sell as well as the two previous LPs, but I’m still proud of it. There’s a certain element of randomness to this LP, which I like.

By Three, Bob James -- the pianist, composer, and arranger -- was deep into jazz-funk. The five tracks here reflect his obsession with hard, danceable grooves that take as much from the soul-jazz book as they do his years with CTI. Using many of the same session players he bonded with at his former label -- including Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken, Hubert Laws, Will Lee, and Harvey Mason -- and a large host of stellar horn players (among them Lew Soloff and Jon Faddis), James offers five selections of simple but fun jazz-pop. On "One Mint Julep," Grover Washington's tenor goes head to head with James' Rhodes and synths. "Women of Ireland" is a solid take on the ballad with fine guitar work from Gale as a contrast to the watershed of strings. The laid-back, space groove contains another killer solo by Washington, while "Westchester Lady" borders on disco without ever falling headlong into it. The closer, "Jamaica Farewell," is another shimmering ballad with a whistle solo by Washington playing the melody. The faux-reggae rhythm and slippery bassline are the only things that keep it from slipping into a lightweight ether. Although the sound here is somewhat dated, the feel is timeless.

Bob James - 1975 - Two

Bob James 

01. Take Me To The Mardi Gras 5:50
02. I Feel A Song (In My Heart) 5:26
03. The Golden Apple 7:20
04. Farandole 8:24
05. You're As Right As Rain 5:29
06. Dream Journey 5:57

Bass – Eric Gale
Cello – Alan Shulman, Alla Goldberg, Tony Sophos, George Ricci, Jesse Levy, Seymour Barab, Warren Lash
Clarinet – Eddie Daniels
Drums – Andrew Smith
Electric Piano, Clavinet, Synthesizer, Organ – Bob James
French Horn – Al Richmond, Jimmy Buffington, Peter Gordon
Guitar – Eric Gale (tracks: A1, A2, B1), Richie Resnicoff (tracks: A3, B2)
Percussion – Arthur Jenkins, Ralph MacDonald
Trombone – Eddie Bert, Tom Mitchell, Tony Studd, Wayne Andre
Trumpet, Flugelhorn – John Frosk, Lew Soloff, Marvin Stamm, Randy Brecker, Victor Paz
Violin – Charles Libove, David Nadien, Emanuel Green, Gene Orloff, Harold Kohon, Harry Cykman, Harry Glickman, Harry Lookofsky, Joe Malin, Matthew Raimondi, Max Ellen, Paul Gershman
Vocals – Frank Floyd, Lani Groves, Patti Austin, Zachary Sanders

Recorded at Van Gelder Studios, December 1974 & January 1975.

Bob James himself on two:

Thinking back on it, this album is like my sophomore year as a recording artist. By the time we went into the studio to cut the album, One was already pretty popular, so we needed a strong follow-up. There are several songs on this record that were continuations of the same concepts as the first one. There was an adaptation of a classical piece on it called “Farandole,” which went on and got a lot of airplay. The other track was “You’re Right as Rain,” which was my arrangement of a popular vocal track at the time. We tried to give a groove to it, similar to “Feel Like Making Love.” This record reminds me of my friend Ralph Macdonald a lot too because Ralph really helped me out. He helped out all the rappers too by playing the cowbell part on “Take Me to Mardi Gras.” [laughs] Ralph has had a lot of success from his records that have been heavily sampled too. And one of his most successful samples is from a tune called “Mr. Magic,” that Grover Washington did. The part from “Mr. Magic” that got used was the arrangement I did for it. But because I didn’t technically write the song, Ralph got all the income from that track. [laughs] I did the arrangement and played piano, but I didn’t see any money from “Mr. Magic.” We talked about it years later and still joke that we’re even, because he never saw any income from playing the “Take Me to Mardi Gras” bells. [laughs]

 “Take Me to Mardi Gras”
I was a pretty big fan of Paul Simon at that time and even did some work with him in the studio. I’ve always really liked that song and thought I could bring something to it as an instrumental version. So I decided to do it with a kind of Latin groove, and low and behold, twenty-five years or so later, these hip-hop guys used it a lot. I mean it’s a really simple vamp. Ralph [MacDonald] is the guy playing the cowbell on the intro. Ralph played percussion on many recordings in the same era as I did. And he’d played percussion on many of my albums, while I played piano on many of his. So he helped me out this time by sitting in and playing a pretty standard intro section. It wasn’t anything that was really thought about or heavily planned. We were just improvising in the studio and trying to establish a carnival type of mood before the melody came in. We wanted to just let the rhythm section do their thing. But the way the record got mixed, the cowbell part is really prominent. I’m sure lots of rappers were just looking for a loop to rap over and the tempo for it was just right. That’s why I think Run-DMC and other early folks used it so much. I am very fond of this song.

“Farandole (L’Arlesienne Suite #2)”
The way we worked with rhythm in that era were often repetitive vamps. There were some real nice bassline vamps that were similar to “Nautilus.” They were short and just two measures long that just repeated, so it is very easy to edit. I think this has been sampled many times because there is a big enough chunk separated from other elements, which made it easy for producers to come in and make a loop out of. It is a classical composition by a composer by the name of Bizet, and I just arranged it and adapted it for a jazz tune. Creed and I liked playing around with compositions.

I was just talking on the phone to a very good friend of mine as we recall the music that we both loved in the '80s and still enjoy listening to this day. Bob James, whom we both watched at a live concert years ago, was one of the subjects of our conversation, and we both agreed that of all Bob James' recordings, "Bob James Two" is our top favorite. Likewise, we both agreed to JAZZIZ Magazine's 1997 Readers' Poll which voted Mr. James as the #1 Best Acoustic Pianist and #1 Best Jazz Composer. Our phone conversation prompted me to write this review.

I have loved the music of Mr. James ever since I heard the albums he collaborated with a gifted guitarist, Earl Klugh, on "One On One" and a follow-up "Two Of A Kind," which my friend and I both own in LP formats. This wonderful CD consists of six tracks (I wish there were more) superbly arranged and conducted by the very talented Mr. James himself, who also plays electric piano and organ magnificently.

The opening and one of the best tracks, "TAKE ME TO THE MARDI GRAS" was composed by another famous artist, Paul Simon, and it was a jazz staple in the '70s/'80s and everyone I know loves this dynamic tune. The mixed ensemble of various instruments blended perfectly in harmony to produce this awesome recording. I especially like the solo clarinet by Eddie Daniels as well as Eric Gale on guitar.

"I FEEL A SONG IN MY HEART" is a standout! This song has straight-to-the-point lyrics and sung by one of the finest divas in the jazz scene and my favorite jazz vocalist, Patti Austin. Hers is a kind of voice that is really meant to sing jazz/blues songs. Her interpretation is heartfelt and moving, not to mention the flawless arrangement. Some of my favorite songs that she recorded are "How Do You Keep The Music Playing," "Say You Love Me" and "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes."

Another highlight to me is the track that I never get tired listening to all these years.... "YOU'RE AS RIGHT AS RAIN," which was originally recorded by the Stylistics in the '70s. Remember the famous and best-loved Rhythm & Blues group back then? Their most notable songs are "You'll Never Get To Heaven If You Break My Heart," "I'm Stone In Love With You," "Stop Look And Listen To Your Heart" and "You Are Everything."

The track that has a classical touch is "Farandole:"L' Arlesienne Suite No. 2." It was arranged and adapted from the great master Georges Bizet's composition. It features a fine jazz musician, Hubert Laws, on flute. The rest of the tracks are Bob James' original compositions "The Golden Apple" and a very remarkable tune, "Dream Journey."

Superb recording! Will never get tired listening to it especially "I Feel A Song In My Heart."

Bob James - 1974 - One

Bob James

01. Valley Of The Shadows 9:42
02. In The Garden 3:06
03. Soulero 3:22
04. Night On Bald Mountain 5:51
05. Feel Like Making Love 6:40
06. Nautilus 5:08

Alto Flute, Recorder – George Marge, Romeo Penque
Arranged By, Conductor – Bob James
Bass – Gary King
Bass Trombone – Alan Raph, Jack Gale, Paul Faulise
Cello – Alan Shulman, Anthony Sophos, Charles McCracken, George Ricci, Jesse Levy, Seymour Barab
Drums – Idris Muhammad, Steve Gadd
Flugelhorn – Jon Faddis, Thad Jones
Guitar – Richie Resnicoff
Keyboards – Bob James
Percussion – Ralph MacDonald
Trombone – Wayne Andre
Trumpet – Alan Rubin, Jon Faddis, Lew Soloff, Marvin Stamm, Thad Jones, Victor Paz
Vibraphone – Dave Friedman*

Recorded at Van Gelder Studios, February-April 1974.

Bob James’s career developed during a time when radio ruled, records sold, and Roberta Flack had the country’s number one song. Things were different then. Popular music was changing, and over in New York, kids were priming themselves for a burgeoning hip-hop scene. James was thirty-five by 1974 and had just released his first solo album on CTI Records. His subsequent projects for the label were both commercially successful LPs and unsung flops. Regardless of units sold, it was those very records that would lay the foundational sound for some of hip-hop’s most coveted records. It was those kids in New York who initially took James’s music and adapted it for themselves to use and the world to see.

James’s first three CTI releases—One, Two, and Three—are amongst the most sampled records ever. And if we’re truly beginning to grasp how younger generations make music, it’s safe to assume that James’s catalogue is a resource that’ll be continually sifted through and sampled from.

Bob James himself on One:

This is the most sentimental project of mine. I’m amazed at the life it still has even though it was recorded thirty years ago. The music business surprises me in all kinds of ways and this has been one of them. The most rewarding thing about this project, which I was committed to and worked so hard on, is that it took on new life years later. It’s amazing really. Given all of that, I never would have anticipated how so many songs from this record would end up in a completely different genre. When I recorded the album, I wasn’t thinking about it in that way. In the back of my mind, I was thinking that this album, at the very least, would give me a chance to record some arrangements that I could use as a demo. [laughs] I wasn’t even thinking about it as a full time solo thing. And that’s why the album is so eclectic. I did all kinds of stuff, used different musicians and orchestras just to have a wide variety of music to show people. One song in particular, “Feel Like Making Love” was also done by Roberta Flack around the same time. Roberta’s version became a huge hit, so I sort of rode on the coattails of that. [laughs] Radio stations at the time would play both our versions back to back, which gave me a lot of exposure. I think Roberta Flack’s success helped catapult my record sales. “Night on Bald Mountain” was another cut that got a lot of airplay. I think those two songs helped make the album a success. I had no idea the record would become commercially successful, so well remembered and so sampled.

“Valley of the Shadows”
Well this is the type of tune that would be difficult to convince record companies to do in the later years. But at the time, Creed [Taylor] was very open to letting me do what I wanted to do. I really loved having the chance to do something like this. In a way, I treated this song like a film score because it was very dramatic. And, I suppose that in the back of my mind, I was hoping this song would help me get work in the film-scoring business. Although I can’t trace my film work to this song, I think it did indirectly help me get future jobs in films. I definitely had a lot of offers to score movies after it was released. I think people realized my background allowed me to do that type of music too. It was full of contrasts and was just really different. That song was probably the most radical and daring in that era because it was very different than what anyone else was doing.

“Night on Bald Mountain”
Creed Taylor really liked the idea of taking classical music and adapting it to jazz or funk. This song gave me an opportunity to work with a larger ensemble of musicians. Especially for a piece like this, there was a huge orchestra and a big brass section. It also was one of the early recording sessions of Steve Gadd who became very respected in our field. He was one of the most well-known jazz drummers and “Night on Bald Mountain” featured him pretty prominently. Steve often credits this tune as helping him establish his reputation because so many people heard him on this. I’m very proud of that. Steve and I have remained very close friends since.

 “Feel Like Making Love”
This song was written by Gene McDaniels. I was hired to play piano on Roberta Flack’s record and that’s where I first heard this tune. It was a great song and I had a feeling it could be a hit. We were in the studio recording her version, and within a couple weeks I had the opportunity to do my own record. So I just decided to use the same band, same sax player, same rhythm section; Idris Muhammad on drums, Gary King on bass, and Richie Resnicoff on guitar. So we were just trying to recreate that same groove, but as a funkier instrumental piece. I think it really work out great.

This song is the most ironic thing of all. [laughs] It didn’t get any attention when the record came out in the ’70s. Then as years went by, I found out that the hip-hop field was heavily sampling it. Of course it was the LP era, so there’s a side A and side B. Often times, producers would put what they consider to be the best cut on the beginning of the A side because the audio is much better on the outer ring of a record. The grooves were wider and just other technical stuff like that. The songs that would be “attention getters” were placed on the outside of the record. And “Nautilus” is hidden at the end of side B. [laughs] So that should give you an indication that we didn’t pay much attention to it. I had written several compositions of my own, primarily so I could get my own copyrights of the album and this was just another one of those compositions. It’s a real simple tune because I was just looking for a nice groove to improvise on. I had a great rhythm section that was in the studio that day so we were just having fun.

Although you may not recognize the name Bob James it’s quite possible that you’ve actually heard his music. Over thirty hip-hop groups have sampled his music, including A Tribe Called Quest, Ghostface Killah, Run D.M.C, Jeru the Damaja and several others. It’s kind of strange how a man could be sampled in so many popular rap songs yet be so underrated and forgotten in his own respective genre; smooth jazz. Out of the 30+ albums that James released during his obliterated career One is often regarded as the highlight. Mixing together smooth funk with light jazz James was able to create an assortment of sounds branching out to a variety of different styles and moods. At points James sounds like a combination of Sly & the Family Stone and Miles Davis with his painless combination of methods.

The main component to One would have to Bob James’s smooth piano playing. Using his Fender Rhodes keyboard Bob goes from playing danceable fusion tunes to dark, eerie jazz. Everything about One is smooth whether it be the fluid keyboard playing, the exotic guitar sounds, or the polished, bright production. The whole album is littered with sparkling keyboard effects giving it an extremely lightweight, bouncy atmosphere. In the Garden is a prime example of this mainly consisting of James’s sparkly piano playing and a laid-back, jazzy harmonica line. Valley of the Shadows is another highlight; it’s nearly ten minutes of spooky tribal percussion, eerie backing vocals, and creamy guitar playing. Whether it be a slow, spirited song or an upbeat funk tune James always makes his music sound so flowing and sinuous. Nautilis is a beautiful funk inspired piece propelled by a slick bassline and subtle keyboard touches that join together effortlessly creating a homogenous combo of jazz and R&B. One is classified as a jazz album yet there is minimal usage of brass instruments. Instead the album is much more guitar and piano based giving it heavy influences of rock, funk, and R&B.

Despite the fact that jazz music isn’t looked upon as accessible Bob James is able to create an uncomplicated, almost effortless jazz album. Even those who aren’t very interested in jazz music should still give One a listen; the album offers a palette of different of sounds and instruments in a very accessible manner. Although One isn’t an extremely flashy or remarkable recording it is an incredibly fun, relaxing, and interesting album.