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Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974 - 1982

Bob James

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Album Review

A Bob James compilation such as this was long overdue. Rhodes Scholar collects 22 tracks he recorded for CTI and Tappan Zee, ranging from One in 1974 to One on One in 1979. The music is arranged chronologically for the most part, with derivations made for musical continuity. As much as his music, however, is the manner in which this comp showcases his development of the Fender Rhodes piano's sound as jazz-funk began to emerge in the mainstream. Disc one commences with the nocturnal, break-driven groove of "Nautilus" (the sampling favorite was originally the last track on One). While that cut was expected, it is juxtaposed with the lengthy arrangement masterpiece that is "Valley of the Shadows." This cut uses everything from exotic chorus vocals (decades before other producers thought to wed Gregorian chant to dancefloor pop) to a Headhunters-esque knotty groove, to rolling tom-toms, fat, bright brass, and turbulent strings to create a jazz labyrinth with striking breaks from Steve Gadd. Other standouts on the disc include the James version of Paul Simon's "(Take Me to The) Mardi Gras" (he had played on the singer's version); Bizet's Farandole, which outdoes Deodato at his own game; the synth, Rhodes, and horn funk of "Storm King," and two groovers from Heads, its title track and the expansive "Night Crawler." Disc two opens with a live version of his smash "Westchester Lady," with its screaming electric guitar (courtesy of Hiram Bullock), popping Gary King bassline, and the abstract Rhodes expressionism at the end that hints back to James' first LP for ESP in the mid-'60s. While "Angela (Theme from Taxi)" is ubiquitous in any James comp, it's overshadowed by the inclusion of "Caribbean Nights" from the same album, with its organic percussion (courtesy of Mongo Santamaria), sexy Rhodes, Ron Carter's subtle bassline undergirding wordless vocals, a lilting nylon-string guitar, and woodwinds. "Shamboozie," from Hands Down, melds an infectious reggae rhythm, an unforgettable melody (it has its roots in "Angela"), and the modern production on Heads, while "Spunky" is a driving four-on-the-floor cousin derived from that set's title track with a punchier bassline. While some might argue that compilation producers Bob Perry and Andrew Mason should have gone deeper into the earlier records at the expense of the latter, it would miss the point — Rhodes Scholar reveals the spectrum of James' vision and influence as a pianist, composer, arranger, producer, and sonic technician who presented the Rhodes' unique sound as the centerpiece of the influential pop-jazz he was creating. Another hip thing is that the liners contain a wealth of track-by-track info from the man himself, making this indispensable.


Born: December 25, 1939 in Marshall, MO

Genre: Jazz

Years Active: '60s, '70s, '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Bob James' recordings have practically defined pop/jazz and crossover during the past few decades. Very influenced by pop and movie music, James has often featured R&B-ish soloists (most notably Grover Washington, Jr.) who add a jazz touch to what is essentially an instrumental pop set. He actually started out in music going in a much different direction. In 1962, James recorded a bop-ish trio set for Mercury, and three years later his album for ESP was quite avant-garde, with electronic tapes...
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Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974 - 1982, Bob James
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