Boney James – The Beat (2013)

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Tune in to any contemporary jazz station, and the name “Boney James” will be mentioned in the course of five minutes, guaranteed. He first became an in-demand session musician during the late 1980s, released his debut solo album in 1992, and is now a consistently top seller in contemporary jazz.

James’ latest effort, The Beat, attempts to incorporate Latin rhythms as well as jazz and R&B. Although he includes numerous instrumentals, he succeeds most when accompanying guest vocalists.

The instrumentals on The Beat are a mixture of covers and original compositions. James turns in adept solos on Steve Wonder’s “Don’t You Worry ‘Bout a Thing” and Sergio Mendes’ “Batucada.” He clearly holds great affection for these classics, but the excessively smooth treatment robs the songs of their original passion and swing. Fellow smooth-jazz figure Rick Braun joins James on the latter track, with his trumpet and James’ sax accenting the song’s Brazilian tempos.

As previously mentioned, his work with guest singers captures more interest. The leadoff single, “Maker of Love,” features neo-soul singer Raheem DeVaughn and nicely bridges R&B and contemporary jazz. The lush keyboards cushion DeVaughn’s romantic Teddy Pendergrass-esque style, with James adding sensuality through his sleepy but sultry solos. In general, “Maker of Love” has the potential for appealing to broader audiences; at the very least, it serves as a pleasant addition to the “quiet storm” genre.

Another interesting diversion is “The Midas (This Is Why),” guest starring Natalie “The Floacist” Stewart. Neo-soul fans may remember her as one half of the defunct (and much missed) duo Floetry, and her typical half-spoken delivery enhances the song’s intimate feel. Her laid back rapping compliments James’ soft sax quite effectively. A James composition, “Missing You” contains jazzy chord changes and some lovely vocals (courtesy of guest Abi Mancha).

The remaining songs on The Beat are James compositions; they could more appropriately be described as grooves. James’ work tends to include an extended groove that he and other musicians expand upon, creating an overall mood rather than an active listening experience. This is music to chill by, a call to sip a glass of wine and relax.

James fans will most likely appreciate The Beat in that it represents the sax player’s signature style. Those unfamiliar with his work may want to download “Maker of Love,” as it is James at his most accessible and tuneful. However, those who do not appreciate the contemporary R&B genre will not be converted through this album; in other words, The Beat finds James preaching to the smooth-jazz choir rather than recruiting new members.

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Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole

Kit O'Toole is a lifelong music enthusiast who maintains a stand-alone music blog called Listen to the Band. In addition, she is the internet columnist and a contributing editor for Beatlefan magazine. She also holds an Ed.D. in Instructional Technology. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Kit O'Toole
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