Nowadays, most people, when they think of Bob James, they think of him in context of the super group, Fourplay, of which he is a founding member. And that’s fine, because this year, Fourplay is celebrating their 25th anniversary, and their legacy is undeniable, thanks in large part to Mr. James. But, we should also remember that Bob James was already a very well established artist before Fourplay was even a thought in anyone’s head. He has been making music professionally since 1963. That’s 51 years folks. That’s a whole lot of music.
From his iconic classics like “Angela,”(a/k/a The Theme From Taxi,) “Westchester Lady,” and “Night Crawler,” to some of my personal BJ favorites like “Restoration,” (the precursor to the band that would become Fourplay), “Restless,” and “Awaken to the Blue,” to the collaborations: the iconic Double Vision album with the great David Sanborn, the four hand piano work he’s done with Keiko Matsui on Dancing on the Water, and Altair & Vega, to the Cool album with Earl Klugh, to his collaborations with Kirk Whalum, and his daughter Hillary James, and others, Bob James has created a lot of memorable music for us to enjoy over these many years.
He is currently on tour to support his latest album, Live at the Milliken Auditorium. He brought his quartet to the Birchmere, and I was so thrilled to be in the audience for that show. They opened the show with a Bobby Lyle tune, “Blues Down Under,” and followed it with Horace Silver’s “The Jody Grind.” The music seemed to get better and better as the night progressed. We all started to settle in; the band seemed to be finding their groove with this audience, and the audience found their groove with this band. Next up was “Eva La Bop,” a song written for his granddaughter. Bob shared with us that he is an admirer of late pianist Glen Gould, and that Gould was an admirer of Petula Clark. So, as his tribute to Gould, James and the band played a rendition of the 60’s hit “Downtown.” The running joke of the night was that most of the songs on the set list were written before bass player Carlitos Del Puerto was even born.
When the crowd recognized “Night Crawlers,” they immediately broke into loud applause and adulation, as well as when they heard James’ rendition of the Grover Washington classic, “Mr. Magic.” But in my opinion, he saved one of the best for last, “Westchester Lady.” The crowd went wild.
When you have someone the likes of Bob James performing, you expect that the other members of the band are going to be on point. Greatness was delivered that night in the forms of Perry Hughes on guitar, Carlitos Del Puerto on acoustic bass, and Billy Kilson on drums. We got to hear some great solos and features by all of them. It was my first time hearing both Hughes and Del Puerto, but Billy Kilson is no stranger to me though. I’ve been a fan of his since seeing him perform with Chris Botti. I was not the only Kilson fan in the audience that night, judging by the applause and comments when he sat down at the start of the show.
Overall it was a great show, and if you’re lucky enough to be in a city where this show is playing, I urge you to go, not just to support live music (which you should be doing anyway!) but to hear one of the best in the business doing what he does best.