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JAZZ REVIEW : James’ Formula Funk Starts Feet Moving but Leaves Minds Idling

Somewhere along the route to discovering a musical identity, keyboardist-composer Bob James discovered financial security. His early delvings into Cageian experimentation and straight-ahead jazz expression gave way to formulaic funk that gets the feet moving but leaves the mind in idle.

At the Coach House in San Juan Capistrano on Tuesday night, James, accompanied by a septet of heavy-handed funksters, continued bashing his way to success with a six-song set that, while lasting barely an hour, seemed interminable.

As a composer, James falls short on almost every front. While capable of creating a pleasant melody here and there, he remains more a cut-and-paste artist. Snippets of melodic ideas are fitted into short phrases that are then piled willy-nilly atop one another until a complete package emerges. But the packages he offered to a nearly full house Tuesday evening had no continuity. He created plenty of rhymes but clearly demonstrated that poetry is far beyond his reach.

Rhythmically, James’ music was stuck in a funk groove that quickly grew monotonous. Straight-eighths, heavy backbeats and off-setting accents were evident in every tune and restricted, for instance, flutist Alex Zonjik’s solos, causing them to be composed primarily of afterbeats. Poor guy sounded like he had the hiccups.

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More in keeping with the thrills today’s supporters of rhythmic Yup-zak seek were the solo efforts of guitarist Dean Brown and saxophonist Kirk Whalum. Brown, recalling the early days of acid rock, offered series after series of spasmodic flurries of notes. His fingers racing furiously to speed his messages, he failed to deliver any music along the way. Similar was Whalum’s approach. Reaching high and low for guttural honks and shrill squeaks, he too forsook communication for pyrotechnics.

James has created a monster that he continues to feed rather than fend off. His skills as a player have atrophied to the point where he was only capable of simplistic, single note solo lines whose synthesized sound effects took precedence over melodic concerns.


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