Dec 16, 2014

Attention: Bob James' 1970's CTI Fusion Albums Officially Do Not Stink

On the contrary, not only do Bob James' 70's Fusion albums not stink, they are actually some of the best arranged jazz funk you will ever hear.

These albums are not at all lite jazz, or gasp, smooth jazz. These albums are well produced yes, but have plenty of improvisatory heat, and plenty of challenging arrangements.

I must say right away, I never fell victim to the I hate Bob James Fan club. Sure, some of his later albums are smooth to the point that very little fire is left in the music. But these CTI albums I am talking about, numbered 1 through 3 are masterpieces of bass grooving, tightly arranged jazz funk.

 Lots of fantastic 70's detective thriller music styles thrown in for good measure. I try not to get caught up in the genre box, I don't care if this music isn't classic jazz. It's just plain old good music to my ears.

It also doesn't hurt when Grover Washington Jr's tenor Sax permeates these albums as well.

Bob James One:

The first volume, One from 1974, features 2 of the best Bob James tracks, "Nautilus" and "Valley of the Shadows". The former being covered by so many hip-hop artists it's incredible.

"Nautilus" has been sampled by artists like Run DMC on "Beats to the Rhyme", and by "A Tribe Called Quest" on "Clap Your Hands". At least  20 more sampled versions are available. The track "Valley of the Shadows" is a track that should be sampled, just love the build up of tension and then the release on that one.

Bob also had a charting pop hit with the track "Feel Like Making Love".

If Bob James was no good, why would so many people sample the music?

The main detractors of the music, are the same narrow minded jazz elitists who can't seem to remove this and other fusion music from the jazz box.

 I have never understood the reason why those critics can't just despise the music without making sure everyone knows it ain't jazz.

OK, we get it guys. I don't care that it's not jazz, just like I never cared that Miles Davis' electric period wasn't jazz proper either.

 Seems like a lot of wasted energy worrying about what genre something is, just call it fusion if you need a label. The listener can decide on their own what genres are being fused

Bob James Two:

1975's Two is another fine fusion album to follow up One. Two features another widely sampled track "Take me to the Mardi Gras", a track sampled by the Beastie Boys on their album Licensed to Ill, and by LL Cool J on his album Radio.

The funny thing is, "Mardi Gras" is probably my least favorite track on the album. The second track is a really nice r&b vocal track by Patti Austin, honestly this track is pretty darned good for the genre.

"The Golden Apple" and "Farandole" are the ringers here for me, I like the 70's detective thriller music style.

Both tracks have that Lalo Schifrin soundtrack music vibe. Bass funk grooves, electric piano noodling, and heavy brass punctuation in the back drop. Some tasty guitar from Eric Gale as well throughout the track as well.

Then at the 4 minute mark of "Farandole", Hubert Laws chimes in with a nice flute solo melody that almost takes you to the land of milk and honey, only to have the street wise vibe return you to the concrete jungle sound, with that funked out brass heavy sound.

Bob James Three:

I think over the past 20 years, Three has become my favorite Bob James albums. Even though the first 2 would be a very close second, I feel like Three is the pinnacle of the style being searched for on the previous 2 albums.

Some of the numbers here reach out and grab me. "One Mint Julip" West Chester Lady", and "Storm King".  "One Mint Julip, a cover of a 1952 r&b classic written by Rudy Toombs, is a funky big band work out, with many ups and downs.

I never get bored listening to these albums, the melodies and catchy instrumental hooks keep you interested. If you don't like the Fender Rhodes piano or funky bouncin' bass, you won't find much to savor on these albums.

In the end the music does sound dated a bit, it's firmly etched in the decade of the 1970's.  I do not have an issue with that at all, that adds to the charm of the music in my mind.

You can can get all 3 of Bob James' First CTI albums at very reasonable prices on vinyl, and you can can get them on CD or Download of course.

The double disc Restoration: The Best of Bob James is a great way to acquire the most important stuff from this era, but a lot of post 1980 music comprises disc 2, and it's just a different vibe all together.

I would say it's a good idea to get the original vinyl copies or CD's anyway, as almost all of the music is worth repeated listens.

All LP Cover and Label photos my own.

Dec 1, 2014

John Coltrane's Giant Steps: My Favorite Tributes to the Saxophone Classic

Any saxophonist since 1960 has had to come to grips with Coltrane, much like Coltrane himself had learn from Charlie Parker.

Really, even now, 54 years later the track "Giant Steps" sounds like a Herculean effort. Trane, using his previously developed Coltrane changes to indeed create a literal GIANT STEP with "Giant Steps".

I do not have a background in music theory, I am not a formally trained musician. I don't approach music listening in that way either, I like the music or I don't.  I have been blessed with an inquiring ear so to speak, I like learning and acquiring a taste for different musics that other people seem to shun.

Giant Steps is one of those jazz war horses that is probably overdone to the point of it being an eye rolling experience. Probably like hearing a rock n roll cover band playing yet another rendition of Deep Purple's "Smoke on the Water". Though I can attest, it is infinitely easier to play that on a guitar than "Giant Steps".

Below I have included a few takes on the Coltrane classic. I particular like the David Murray version, nearly 14 minutes of fun. Murray stretches out remarkably on the track.

A different small group Buddy Rich version with Sonny Fortune on Tenor is also fun. Woody Herman's 70's funky big band also takes a turn I rather Like.

Kenny Garrett does his best on alto in a trio setting that seems tame on the album to say the least, but this live version below nearly tears the paint off the wall. Over the years this version from 1995 has grown on me, Garrett is my favorite of the post Jackie McLean alto players.

Kenny seems almost shy at the start, perhaps showing respect, then Jeff Watts nearly blasts off into outer-space, what a great drummer he is!

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