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Love Dance

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Album Review

In the 1980s and '90s, artists who liked their pop-jazz accessible but creative faced a number of challenges. On one hand, many NAC programmers tended to favor outright elevator Muzak — and on the other hand, artists like Grover Washington, Jr., Joe Sample, and David Sanborn weren't going to get any respect from bop's hardcore no matter how substantial their recordings were. (Sanborn, in fact, expressed his frustration over the fact that dogmatic jazz purists view anything with a backbeat as inherently evil). So about the only thing someone like Bob Thompson can do is simply be himself and let the chips fall where they may. Accessible and melodic but hardly without substance, Love Dance underscores the fact that pop-flavored jazz doesn't have to be devoid of a brain. Intelligent yet easy-to-absorb tunes like "Joyful Noise," "Oasis," and the funky "Godfather" aren't just instrumental pop — they're proof that jazz, R&B, and pop elements can be united into an attractive and cohesive whole, and they remind us that for pop-jazz players, there is a middle ground somewhere between the intellect of Branford Marsalis and the type of knee-jerk, formulaic approach that NAC radio often favored in the '90s. The closest the CD comes to straight-ahead jazz is Thompson's Latin-influenced take on John Coltrane's "Equinox," and the only time it sounds like outright Muzak is when the keyboardist/pianist provides a fluffy, bland cover of Anita Baker's "Talk to Me" — obviously, he recorded that one for NAC radio instead of for artistic purposes. But on the whole, Love Dance is pop-jazz/crossover with integrity.


Born: 24 August 1924 in San Jose, CA

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '50s, '60s, '70s, '80s

The music of West Virginia pianist Bob Thompson, active as a leader or sideman since the 1970s, ranges from electric and acoustic in a mostly dance-funk style to excellent modal jazz à la McCoy Tyner. In the late '80s Thompson also became house pianist for the Mountain Stage radio program, produced by West Virginia Public Broadcasting and widely distributed by National Public Radio. He recorded a number of albums for the Atlanta-based Ichiban label during the 1990s and into the 2000s while also establishing...
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