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Conceptual jazz laced with
romance and robust sax action

Boney James
The Venue at Horseshoe Casino
Hammond, IN
December 18, 2009
Boney James Boney James Boney James

Story and photos by Andy Argyrakis

The holidays may be around the corner, but brass man Boney James has plenty of his own reasons to celebrate. For starters, he recently released the concept collection Send One Your Love (Concord), which just earned a Grammy nomination for "Best Traditional R&B Performance" via the track "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight." Even before amassing those bragging rights, the saxophone stalwart racked up over three million album sales, eight Billboard Contemporary Jazz chart toppers and even a Soul Train Award for "Best Jazz Album."

As expected, the jazz and soul genres were both on ample display throughout a near two hour set at the always appealing and acoustically warm The Venue at Horseshoe Casino, but he threw both scenes for a loop thanks to the vibrant direction of his latest disc. The ten track collection interweaves several Motown and old school soul classics with like-minded originals, which in turn translated to a sensual, steamy and downright groovy occasion.

In terms of the remakes, James dug out some deep dusties via Barry White's "I'm Gonna Love You Just a Little More Baby," Stevie Wonder's "Send One Your Love" and The Stylistics' "Stop, Look, Listen (To Your Heart)," replacing the lyrics with some mighty fine playing chops and occasional improvisational jamming. He also took Nat King Cole's "The Christmas Song" and channeled the R&B standard through a contemporary jazz lens.

As for the originals, they may not have packed as many immediate punches, but nonetheless possessed a pleasant demeanor. Many from his twelve album career were reminiscent of the like-minded Dave Koz or Brian Culbertson, while several others switched between shades of Detroit, Philadelphia and even Steely Dan.

In either original or covers contexts, James displayed impressive playing precision and plenty of personality (including a selection performed while roaming the crowd) to set him apart from the sleepy side of the smooth jazz dial. Given his previous session work resume with everyone from the Isley Brothers to Morris Day and Randy Crawford, it's easy to see why, but those qualities have only escalated across 17 years of solo stardom. And regardless if his latest project takes home a Grammy or simply scores a nominee sticker, there's sure to be another bustling chapter of jazzy innovation (or re-interpretation) coming right around the corner.

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