CD reviews

CD REVIEW: Bob James Trio – Espresso

Bob James Trio – Espresso
(Evosound: EVSA572M. CD review by Nick Davies)

Bob James has established himself as one of America’s most accomplished composers, arrangers and instrumentalists. He is a multiple Grammy Award-winner and its has long been his desire to return to the trio format, which was last seen on his 2004 release Take It From The Top.

James’s last album as leader was the 2006 release Urban Flamingo and, since that time, he has been working with Fourplay and collaborating with David Sanborn and Keiko Matsui. It’s true that James is normally associated with the smoother side of jazz; however, in pure jazz, many would agree: he is outstanding. Espresso, his latest album, is just that.

He is joined by bassist Michael Palazzolo and drummer Billy Kilson and, as the press release states, “…the musicians felt an immediate chemistry”. It is clear that they are a tightly-knit ensemble with a product as close to perfection as possible. Musicality is key to any album and this release has it in bucket loads.

The first tune, Bulgogi, starts with James’s piano at first, with Palazzolo’s base playing along in the background. That said, it causes no distraction from the piano. Moving up tempo, all the instruments converge around the piano, which continues to steals the show. Throughout the varying tempo, this composition is played beautifully, showcasing Bob James’ extraordinary talent and enticing the listener to the rest of the album.

The next song, entitled Shadow Dance, commences with James’ piano, softly this time. As with the first tune, the beat starts to pick up when all the instruments are introduced. A particularly catchy offering that had your reviewer tapping his feet to the beat. James’ effortless ability to change the pace seamlessly and take the listener on a journey is reminiscent of Keith Jarrett at his best. Covers on a record are usually a hard sell because they are inevitably compared to the original. Bob James chose to cover Fats Waller’s Ain’t Misbehavin’ and Grover Washington Junior’s Mister Magic. Both of these, in their own right, are classics and, to anyone else, untouchable but Bob James has magically made them his own and 21st Century classics. The band weaves its way through these so well, you’d be forgiven for believing they were originals. Despite sticking to their scores, James’ introduction of subtle changes enhances both. This is nothing short of a masterclass in covering records.

Ultimately, this album is an affirmation of Bob James’ remarkable expertise, away from his popular recordings as a member of Fourplay. The trio setting works incredibly well with flawless jazz piano-led performances. As with any trio, the superb supporting members complement the main artist beautifully, delivering every note a very high standard.

This album is a must-have: one of the best releases of 2018. Just when you think the bar couldn’t get any higher, a gem like Espresso comes along to surprise the world. An inspired album… standout track: Mister Magic.

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