Jazz CD Reviews

Boney James – The Beat – Concord Records

Saxophonist refines contemporary r&b jazz.

Published on March 12, 2013

Boney James – The Beat – Concord Records CRE 34249-02, 42:09 [4/9/13] ****:

(Boney James – tenor saxophone, alto saxophone soprano sax, flute, keyboards; Brandon Coleman – keyboards; Vinnie Colaiuta – drums; Lenny Castro – percussion; Rob Bacon – guitar; Dwayne “Smitty” Smith – bass; Omari Williams – drums; Jarius Mozee – keyboards, guitar; Abi Mancha – vocals; Rick Braun – trumpet; Tim Carmon – piano, keyboards, keyboard bass; Alex Al – bass; Phil Davis – keyboards, Raheem DeVaughn – vocals; Mark Stephens – keyboards; The Floacist – vocals)

As a musical student, James Oppenheim, a.k.a. Boney James made a couple of key transitions. The first was a switch from clarinet to saxophone at the age of ten. The second was developing a passion for soul music. Following in the footsteps of sax men like Grover Washington Jr. his jazz style reflected an r&b translation. Unfairly classified as “smooth jazz”, James has developed an urban groove that combines aspects of funk, jazz and soulful blues. Also skilled as a keyboardist, he has toured with Morris Day, The Isley Brothers, Bobby Caldwell, Randy Crawford and Teena Marie.

In 1992, he began to record as a band leader with his debut, Trust. Subsequent Certified Gold Records followed, and his 2006 effort, Shine, cracked the Billboard Pop Chart. A plethora of artists (Faith Evans, George Benson and Al Jarreau to name a few) have appeared on his albums. He has received three Grammy nominations, and has returned to the studio for his tenth solo project.

The Beat can be classified as soulful jazz. Ten cuts feature the saxophone talent and musical arrangement skills of James. The opening track is a lush rendition of Stevie Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing”. The Latin style and free-flowing rhythm are captured faithfully. James is very expressive on soprano saxophone and the addition of keyboards enhances the texture. Switching to tenor saxophone, “Sunset Boulevard” has a cohesive, smoldering resonance. The rhythm section (including drummer Omari Williams and percussionist Lenny Castro) anchors the emotional sax lines. Rob Bacon joins with a distorted guitar solo. James’ compositions have a fluid r&b feel. On “Missing You” Abi Mancha sings understated counter-vocalese to the sax lead.

The up-tempo material resonates. “Batucada (The Beat)” has a funky groove and is powered by dual  sax and trumpet (Rick Braun). The duo trades licks and raises the roof. A steady hook underscores “Powerhouse” which weaves atmospheric keyboard with harmonic alto saxophone. These subtle touches bring to mind the underappreciated early 70’s contemporary jazz period. But there is a decidedly modern approach. Vocalist The Floacist adds a hip-hop flavor on “The Midas (This Is Why)” None of the vocal performances overshadow the music, or the focal point of the album, James’s saxophone. In most instances, additional touches enhance the layered effect of the mix. Slower tracks, including (“Mari’s Song” and“Acalento (Lullaby)” reflect melodic interpretation, and are very accessible.

Please ignore the inevitable “smooth jazz” label. The Beat is a generous portion of soul jazz.

TrackList: Don’t You Worry ‘Bout A Thing; Sunset Boulevard; Missing You; Batucada (The Beat); Maker Of Love; Mari’s Song; Powerhouse; The Midas (This Is Why); Acalento (Lullaby); You Can Count On Me

–Robbie Gerson

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