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Beyond “Taxi”: Robinsongs Pairs Two LPs From Fender Rhodes Hero Bob James

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Bob James - Sign Two-FerCherry Red’s Robinsongs label, which has recently been responsible for reissues from jazz greats like Hank Crawford, Richard Tee and Ramsey Lewis, has turned its attention to producer-arranger-composer Bob James with the two-for-one release of his 1980 and 1981 albums, H and Sign of the Times.  The electric piano master has been making records as a leader since 1963 – his most recent is 2013’s Quartette Humaine with saxophonist David Sanborn – and this pair comes from the early years of his own Tappan Zee label (formed in1977).

The Missouri-born, Berklee-trained Bob James’ first outing as a leader, 1963’s Bold Conceptions for the Mercury label, 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 electric piano.  James never planned on becoming so closely identified with the instrument, but his mastery of the Rhodes contributed mightily to the sound of 1970s crossover and fusion jazz styles.  James continued arranging and playing at Creed Taylor’s CTI, which spun off from its A&M Records roots into a true independent.  At CTI, he made significant contributions to sets from Grover Washington, Jr., Stanley Turrentine, Milt Jackson, and outside of Taylor’s empire, James added color to recordings by Paul Simon and Neil Diamond and composed the wistful theme to television’s Taxi.  But his key roles as arranger and sideman led to his artistic rebirth on the 1974 album One.

Each year between 1974 and 1977, James issued a numbered release, from One to BJ4, arranging, conducting and playing both his own tunes and choice cover versions.  With 1977’s Heads, he parted ways with Taylor, establishing his own Tappan Zee banner under the aegis of Columbia Records.  He was rewarded when the album became his first Jazz No. 1 LP.  Also serving for a time in A&R at Columbia, James continued to turn out records like clockwork.  He also took along the masters to his first four albums and saw to their reissue at Tappan Zee.  H marked his first album of the 1980s.

Hit the jump for details on both albums included on this reissue, including track listing and order links! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

August 13, 2014 at 10:16

Posted in Bob James, News, Reissues

“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! Read the rest of this entry »

Written by Joe Marchese

October 28, 2013 at 10:43