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“Taxi” Driver Bob James’ Funky Fusion Celebrated On New 2-CD Anthology

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Bob James - Rhodes ScholarEvery day, somewhere in the world, someone is watching Taxi – and hearing the catchy yet wistful theme song composed by Bob James.  The television comedy, created by Mary Tyler Moore Show alumni James L. Brooks, Stan Daniels, David Davis and Ed. Weinberger, ran from 1978 to 1983 and netted eighteen Emmy Awards.  But the original music of Taxi is just one of the many credits of jazz great Bob James.  His spellbinding ouevre has just been compiled by the Decision Records label in association with James’ own Tappan Zee Records for the 2-CD compendium Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974-1982.

The compilation’s title comes from James’ mastery of the Fender Rhodes electric piano, an instrument developed by Harold Rhodes that was practically ubiquitous in the sound of seventies fusion jazz.  Herbie Hancock, Chick Corea, Joe Zawinul and Bill Evans are among the legendary pianists who took to the instrument in jazz settings, while in R&B, Stevie Wonder and Ray Charles also cottoned to its singular sound.  But the Fender Rhodes arguably had no more prominent home than Creed Taylor’s CTI label.   Taylor’s label aimed to blend jazz with pop, rock, funk and R&B overtones, a formula it mastered on albums from unquestionable giants like Wes Montgomery, Quincy Jones, Stanley Turrentine, Hubert Laws, Freddie Hubbard, Milt Jackson, Paul Desmond, Antonio Carlos Jobim, and the pre-mainstream fame George Benson.

The Missouri-born, Berklee-trained Bob James’ first outing as a leader was 1963’s Bold Conceptions for the Mercury label, but it remained his only such recording until 1974.  Instead of pursuing above-the-title stardom, James busied himself as a keyboardist and arranger, contributing an arrangement to Quincy Jones’ 1969 CTI record Walking in Space which first acquainted him with the Fender Rhodes.  As Andrew Mason recounts in the comprehensive liner notes that accompany Rhodes Scholar, James never intended to become so closely identified with the instrument.  He had generally found its use as a novelty in jazz, explaining to Mason that “some of my favorite players occasionally would use the Rhodes – Oscar Peterson, Bill Evans – and I was quite critical of the way they played it, because I could tell that they weren’t really embracing it as a musical instrument.”  He realized that “if I used the same technique that I would use on the acoustic piano, it was too heavy and sounded clunky and awkward.”  And so his more subtle approach honed specifically for the Rhodes established James as one of the instrument’s virtuosos.  He continued arranging and playing at CTI, which spun off from its A&M Records roots into a true independent, and made significant contributions to sets from Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and others.  Outside of CTI, James could be heard on recordings by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond.  But James’ key role at Taylor’s label led to the artistic rebirth on his 1974 album One, which is where Rhodes Scholar begins.

After the jump: what will you find on this new compilation?  We have more details plus the full track listing and order link!

The first disc of Rhodes Scholar is sequenced chronologically, with selections from James’ pen plus some rather well-chosen covers.  Two tracks hail from One (“Nautilus” and “Valley of the Shadows”) and three from 1975’s Two; the Two selections truly show off the breadth of James’ arranging skills as he tackled compositions by Georges Bizet (“Farandole (L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2)”), Paul Simon (“Take Me to the Mardi Gras”) and Thom Bell and Linda Creed (“You’re as Right as Rain”).   The disc continues with two tracks each from 1976’s Three, and 1977 duo BJ4 and HeadsBJ4 marked James’ final effort for CTI; subsequent releases mainly came via his own Tappan Zee banner until he moved to Warner Bros. in 1985 (out of the scope of this collection).

The second disc isn’t sequenced strictly chronologically, but features three selections from 1978’s Touchdown (including Taxi theme “Angela”), one each from 1979’s Lucky Seven and One on One (an album of duets with guitarist Earl Klugh), one from 1979’s live album All Around the Town, two from 1981’s Rod Temperton collaboration Sign of the Times (including “The Steamin’ Feelin’” with backing vocals from Luther Vandross) and two from 1982’s Hands Down.  All told, every one of James’ solo albums between 1974 and 1982 is represented over the course of the two CDs other than 1980’s H.

James is joined on these 22 tracks by musicians such as Grover Washington, Jr., Steve Gadd, Ralph MacDonald, Randy Brecker, Hubert Laws, Ron Carter, Art Farmer, and Alphonso Johnson.  The grooves laid down by James and co. and reprised on Rhodes Scholar have been sampled by numerous hip-hop artists over the years, and attention is paid to the ensuing songs in the liner notes by Mason, who co-produced the compilation with Bob Perry.  The booklet also boasts photographs of James and source information as to each track.  Arnold Mischkulnig has remastered all songs at Brooklyn’s Chop Shop Studios.  In addition, the rare 1975 Italian 7-inch edit of “(Take Me to the) Mardi Gras” has been appended as a bonus track.

Bob James’ Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974-1982 is available now from Decision Records in both 2-CD and 3-LP formats.  You can order at the links below!

Bob James, Rhodes Scholar: Jazz-Funk Classics 1974-1982 (Decision/Tappan Zee CD DEC-CD-1103, 2013) (Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)  (3-LP Vinyl Edition: Amazon U.S. / Amazon U.K.)

CD 1

  1. Nautilus
  2. Valley of the Shadows
  3. Farandole (L’Arlesienne Suite No. 2)
  4. (Take Me to the) Mardi Gras
  5. You’re as Right as Rain
  6. One Mint Julep
  7. Storm King
  8. Tappan Zee
  9. Treasure Island
  10. Heads
  11. Night Crawler

CD 2

  1. Westchester Lady (Live)
  2. Caribbean Nights
  3. I Want to Thank You (Very Much)
  4. Angela (Theme from “Taxi”)
  5. Look-Alike
  6. Sign of the Times
  7. The Steamin’ Feelin’
  8. Love Lips (with Earl Klugh)
  9. Shamboozie
  10. Spunky
  11. (Take Me to the) Mardi Gras (7-Inch Version)

CD 1, Tracks 1-2 from One, CTI LP 6043, 1974
CD 1, Tracks 3-5 from Two, CTI LP 6057, 1975
CD 1, Tracks 6-7 from Three, CTI LP 6063, 1976
CD 1, Tracks 8-9 from BJ4, CTI LP 7074, 1977
CD 1, Tracks 10-11 from Heads, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP PC 34896, 1977
CD 2, Track 1 from All Around the Town, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP C2X 36786, 1981
CD 2, Tracks 2-4 from Touchdown, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP PC 35594, 1978
CD 2, Track 5 from Lucky Seven, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP PC 36056, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 6-7 from Sign of the Times, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP FC 37495, 1981
CD 2, Track 8 from One on One, Tappan Zee/Columbia LP FC 36241, 1979
CD 2, Tracks 9-10 from Hands Down, Tappan Zee/Columbia FC 38067, 1982
CD 2, Track 11 from CTI (Italy) single 304, 1975

Written by Joe Marchese

October 28, 2013 at 10:43

One Response

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  1. Excellent title…but this has to be like the 9,000th 2 CD BJ anthology that trods over the same territory. Just off the top of my head: 2001’s Anthology (Castle), 2001’s Restoration (WB), 2002’s Essential Collection (Koch), 2009’s Very Best of (Salvo). And I own the first three!!!

    Rob Maurer

    October 28, 2013 at 13:19

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