REVIEW: Smooth Jazz Is Definitely a Genre

Have you ever taken a look at the music genres available in the tag editor of Windows Media Player? It lists over a hundred, starting with “a capella” and ending with “vocal”, and it even includes “noise” — and yet doesn’t seem to recognize the genre that Boney James is best-known for. Go figure.

James is one of the leading lights of the music known as Smooth Jazz, which has tons of fans who appreciate it not only for its relaxing and soothing properties (when used as background to almost anything) but also for the talent and skill of its artists. James is one of the most accomplished, with the ability to play flute, clarinet, keyboard, and three kinds of sax — and play them very well indeed. Boney James — Shine is his newest album and it’s due out later this month on the Concord label.

James Oppenheim (who was given the nickname “Boney James” in his early, hungry days) was originally from the New York area, but his family moved to California during his teen years and he managed to earn a history degree from UCLA while his musical resume began to build. After graduation, he devoted all his time to music and his career began to climb — first as a side man and then as a leader as he found a home in Smooth Jazz, where he’s had a number of successful albums and packed concerts.

I don’t dislike this kind of music, but have always found that it just didn’t suit me because it was a little too “backgroundy” for my listening habits. For example, if I tuned into it on my car radio, after a while the music would just seem to disappear and my mind would wander away from it. (And my mind has a tendency to drift anyway, and doesn’t need any help.) However, I have always appreciated the skill of the artists, many of whom are very talented.

It’s possible that his new album is designed for someone exactly like me because it’s obviously a mixed bag, with all the cuts having that Smooth Jazz sound but stretched in a lot of different ways. For one thing, James has partnered up with several well-known and established solo artists, among them Faith Evans, George Benson, Philip Bailey, and Ann Nesby, and the music itself varies quite a bit too. It runs the gamut from rock-tinged and R&B all the way to my favorite song, which is the one I’m going to post for a sample.

I’ve always had a fondness for Brazilian Jazz (which is another genre not listed on WMP) and that’s exactly what we have here with a song written by Antonio Carlos Jobim, “Acquas De Marco (Waters Of March)”. It’s an enjoyable listen as Boney plays both soprano and tenor sax – and keyboard! (But not all at the same time.)

Boney James — Shine should be an appealing addition to the library of his established fans, and also to other folks who might be looking for something a little different than just standard Smooth Jazz.

Buy the album

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