For a while there, it looked like Grammy-nominated artist Boney James would never pick up his sax again. Several years ago, he got in a car accident while driving on the L.A. highway. He’s lucky to be alive, but didn’t walk away free and clear. The car accident fractured his jaw and shattered two of his teeth.
A musician this deep wouldn’t be denied. He fought back, playing for the sheer joy of it and for himself. He gave himself up fully to the music that has always sustained him through the good and hard times, pouring everything into what would become his best recording effort ever. The Beat, James’ 14th album, dropped last April 9th and quickly took on a force of its own, earning a place in the 2014 Grammys as a nominee for best pop instrumental album and the NAACP Image Awards for outstanding jazz album.
James knew the album was better than good, because it came from deep inside him — free of self-conscious, studio expectations. “There was no sense that this had to be a certain thing. I was recording for fun, experimenting with this hybrid R&B and Latin sound, two genres I love. So my playing on this album has a different energy. I think it’s one of the best records I’ve ever done.”
It is. James always surpasses the ordinary smooth jazz connotations. But this album rises above all of his previous recordings, and anyone’s preconceptions. His use of R&B, Latin, jazz, and only the hippest of spoken-word shorthand is near-genius on The Beat — and the reason why he’s a consistent crowd pleaser, with Grammy nominations, NAACP nominations, a Soul Train Music award and nomination, and four gold albums. “I’m always thinking about making music. It’s still my consuming passion.”
His consuming passion flows over each of the 10 slamming tracks in The Beat, a marvel of Latin and R&B lovemaking. James is able to exude innovative, sensual stream-of-consciousness, as well as warm, languid tones from his sax. The bass is fuller, the percussion deeper, and the strands that color each piece come from pure instinct.
James’ inspiration for the entire album came from Sérgio Mendes’ Brazilian twister, “Batucada,” done up differently with funky R&B in mind. During the recording process, James was in between labels. By the time the album was finished, it was ready for a grand return to Concord Records.
The Beat takes a generous helping of funk and groove from the golden touches of mavericks such as trumpeter Rick Braun (“Batucada [The Beat]”), U.K. spoken word artist The Floacist (“The Midas [This Is Why]”), and R&B singer Raheem DeVaughn (“Maker Of Love”).
Boney James kicks off Ebony Maze Promotions’ Summer Smooth Jazz Series for one night only, this Friday, 9 p.m. (door open 6 p.m.), at the Lake Terrace Ballroom on 1690 Oak St. in Lakewood, N.J. Call (800) 595-4849 to get in.
Other artists include Hiroshima, July 25, New Urban Jazz Party with jazz pianist Bob Baldwin, saxophonist Walter Beasley, and trumpeter Tom Browne, August 22, and multi-instrumentalist Brian Culbertson, September 19.