Bob James ‘H’/’Sign of the Times’ (Robinsongs/Cherry Red) 4/5

bob-jamesKeyboardist Bob James is among the most sampled of all jazz musicians and his mid-late 1970s albums contained some of the catchiest ditties on the planet. This double offering captures him in more R & B mode at the beginning of the 1980s with the second album a definite nod towards the highly efficient Quincy Jones production stable with several key members of the production team on board here. The first album starts with an unusual acoustic piano intro and then builds into a Caribbean-flavoured enterprise on ‘Snowbird Fantasy’ with steel drums par for the course. The strongest pieces feature a then in vogue Grover Washington at the peak of his powers on soprano saxophone(and just about to hit the charts big time along with Bill Withers on ‘Just the two of us’) on the delicate sounding ‘Brighton by the Sea’. The pair reproduce the magic on the acoustic revisiting of Peaches and Herbs classic ballad ‘Reunited’. As ever with James, film and t.v. exploitation of his music is never far from his mind and ‘Shepherd’s song’ sounds as though it is made for an airing as a t.v. theme tune. However, the second album represented a change in direction with vocals more to the fore and the writing talents of Rod Temperton (Heatwave, James Ingram, Michael Jackson and Quincy Jones) ensuring that this album would score highly in the soul charts. The title track is a heavy bassline driven and moody song which scored big time in clubland and, as ever with Temperton’s songwriting skills, supremely well crafted. Virtually as compelling is ”Hypnotique’ which has an eerie atmospheric feel to it while the laid back beauty of ‘Enchanted Forest’ and an acoustic rendition of ‘Unicorn’ round off a well balanced album. Top of the range musicians include Marcus Miller, Ralph MacDonald, Grover Washington Jr. once more and the vocals of Patti Austin.

Tim Stenhouse