12 is of historic value because it introduced saxophonist Kirk Whalum, who was still a year away from debuting as a leader with 1985's Floppy Disk. One of the more noteworthy albums that Bob James came out with in the '80s, 12 finds him featuring the up-and-coming Whalum on three selections: the funky "No Pay, No Play," the pensive "Midnight" and Whalum's own "Ruby, Ruby, Ruby" (a slightly Spyro Gyra-ish number). While those selections are enjoyable, the strongest tune on the CD is James' haunting, Chick Corea-influenced "Legacy."
Hot on the heels of his commercial breakthrough Touchdown, which contained the monster hit "Angela (Theme from Taxi)," Bob James teamed up with acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh for the first of two hit duet albums. One on One is not strictly a duet side, however. The pair is accompanied by a band of crack studio types that includes James' former CTI mates acoustic bassist Ron Carter and drummer Harvey Mason and a host of others as well as string and woodwinds sections. The fare is light, breezy, and barely there in places. Out of these sessions came "The Afterglow," which lit up the charts right after "Angela" did, making James the hottest jazz commodity on the scene.
Keyboardist Bob James and acoustic guitarist Earl Klugh struck gold with this session, recently reissued on CD. The formula hasn't changed much in succeeding years. Both Klugh and James are capable musicians; they demonstrated on this collection of light, innocuous melodies and occasionally interesting backbeats a high degree of professionalism. Klugh is a first-rate guitarist whose solos are concise and nicely delivered, but frequently sound thin. James' piano and electric keyboard playing is a puzzling combination of flawlessness and lifelessness.
This keyboardist was putting the "smooth" into "jazz" long before there was a format by that name. Since the mid-70s, Bob James has been one of instrumental music's most consistent purveyors of tunes that hover in the gray area between lighthearted pop and more sophisticated jazz textures. James' approach here is a little like his contribution to the supergroup Fourplay rather than dominate, he's content to jam and be one of the guys. Though his solos stand out, it's almost as if he's a hired gun on a project featuring the best and brightest of this second generation of smooth jazzers. He's farmed out the production tasks to some top studio guys (including musician/artists Paul Brown, Chuck Loeb, Michael Colina, and David McMurray. On the lively, shuffling "Take Me There," he bounces around joyously over Loeb's crisp guitar lines and Kim Waters' smart mix of soprano and alto saxes.
Bob James H was released in 1980 on his Tappan Zee imprint during his great run that began with Touchdown in 1978. Its immediate predecessor is the One on One duet album with Earl Klugh. James recorded it in the same way he'd been making records since joining CTI in the early 1970s: with a large, all-star studio group paired with a couple of top-flight soloists. The former group included trumpeter Jon Faddis, Randy Brecker, and Eddie Daniels; the latter features Grover Washington, Jr., Hiram Bullock, Airto Moreira, and Buddy Williams. Of course, hovering over everything is James' trademark piano, full of lovely if rote grooves and fills. The music revolves around breezy, easy themes and colorations, where the new contemporary (later, "smooth") jazz met lithe cinematic-style orchestral themes with some neat and tidy funk overtones. "Brighton by the Sea," with a tough soprano solo by Washington is a great example. Airto's hand percussion plays counterpoint to Williams drums, Gary King's deep, fretless, funk bassline holds the groove and Grover moves right into it, and then soars above it.
Bob James' most enduring recording is perhaps one of his least adventurous. Full of simple laid-back melodies, light, airy grooves, and quiet backdrops, it's a smooth jazz "masterpiece." It's an enduring part of his catalog and was the launch pad for many movie and television projects, and for a string of hit recordings for the Warner label in the 1970s, '80s, and '90s. In effect, it insured his financial security for the future. The set is notable for its heavyweight cast including David Sanborn, Ron Carter, Idris Muhammad, Steve Gadd, Eric Gale, Hubert Laws, and Earl Klugh. It also netted the monster hit "Angela (Theme from Taxi)," which continued to get airplay on smooth jazz stations into the 21st century. James is a highly developed pianist, arranger, and composer, and while the music here is as safe as milk, it nonetheless spoke to millions.
Over four days in December of 1979, pianist Bob James assembled three different bands to play (and record) at three legendary venues in New York City to showcase his own diversity as a composer, arranger, and bandleader. The Bottom Line, Town Hall, and Carnegie Hall all offered different aspects of James' approach to jazz and popular music. The Bottom Line band is a smooth and funky sextet that includes saxophonists Wilbert Longmire and Mark Colby, James, drummer Idris Muhammad, bassist Gary King, and guitarist Hiram Bullock. The Town Hall gigs featured a larger band that included three pianists: James, Joanne Brackeen, and Richard Tee, as well as drummers Billy Hart and Steve Gadd and bassist Eddie Gomez…
This stellar work contains the elements of classical music combined with the influences of both Matsui and James thus creating a work that is partially written and partially improvised adding a lovely depth of feeling and intimate connection of artistic expression. The title of this piano duet release, Altair & Vega, refers to a Japanese folkloric tale about two stars in the galaxy that cross paths only once a year. The bonus DVD of a concert the two performed in 2010 in Pittsburgh at the Manchester Craftsmen's Guild clearly reveals a shared admiration and respect.
By Three, Bob James – the pianist, composer, and arranger – was deep into jazz-funk. The five tracks here reflect his obsession with hard, danceable grooves that take as much from the soul-jazz book as they do his years with CTI. Using many of the same session players he bonded with at his former label – including Eric Gale, Hugh McCracken, Hubert Laws, Will Lee, and Harvey Mason – and a large host of stellar horn players (among them Lew Soloff and Jon Faddis), James offers five selections of simple but fun jazz-pop.