Boney James' unlikely stand

The cringey countdown is certainly on and moving full steam ahead towards release day for the new Boney James record. The record company has put up a few glossy photos, the latter the work of ''creative duo'' '''Describe the Fauna'''. How exciting.

Published: 8 Feb 2020. Updated: 3 months.

The cringey countdown is certainly on and moving full steam ahead towards release day for the new Boney James record. The record company has put up a few glossy photos, the latter the work of ''creative duo'' '''Describe the Fauna'''. How exciting.

Smooth jazz, the kingdom of which Mr James is one of the chief tempters of tune, is not to be taken at all seriously. Or, more to the point, at all.

However, in one of those inconvenient ironies it is often the guilty secret of many a top jazz club that they sneak on this kind of stuff while maintaining their reputation somehow of still being a serious jazz club.

Usually all the real jazz fans run away when smooth is on so the clubs end up with a completely new audience of diehards or baffled newcomer innocents who never admit quite sensibly beyond the confines of the club to even knowing what smooth jazz is let alone who the daft guy with the sax and the hat happens to be.

In an age of social media the weird thing is that smooth jazz hardly earns a tweet, never ever a review unless someone is taking the piss, and yet packs jazz clubs out every time the American stars (they are nearly all American) decide Europeans need this sort of thing inflicted on them like now.

Let's be charitable, on quiet nights when only a few people and their admittedly highly discerning pet dogs turn out for hip new band Trigonometry who are however public spiritedly tackling the more preposterous side of Colosseum, things for the club are looking grim when the jazz club cash till has terminally seized up through lack of use this side of Christmas and possibly for ever unless they can get Dave Koz on the phone again and book him for a month to restore their scarily depleted coffers.

Intrinsically a waste of time beyond keeping overpaid record company excecutives in a job (when companies could actually hire people who cared), one of the great paradoxes of the universe is how acts such as Boney James sell a lot of records. People I suspect buy their records because they have been hypnotised into believing that what they are listening to is not music but instead a sticky, highly bad for you, ''fun'' drug called atmosphere that makes a change from listening to their beloved Andre Rieu all day long or enjoying the on-hold music they listen to when they are ringing up for news of the exciting new range of tropical salsa Kettle chips in stock soon at their local Asda. If your idea of atmosphere by the way is sitting listening to someone playing the same old licks badly all night made to sound good by a backing band who should be actors and a crafty sound engineer who somehow has made the muppet on stage sound good and deserves a medal, then good luck to you.

Solid is released by Concord in April. Its predecessor the unironically titled Honestly made it to the top of the Billboard contemporary jazz album charts and the chances are that this will have a sporting chance too if the marketing guys spend enough cash to ease it along which they still do even when it can be estimated to sell shedloads without their ever lifting a pampered finger. There is always budget to promote the likes of Solid when most jazz albums get about a fiver to cosy up to the one person who might review it to encourage a few more to buy it. Boney says sweetly but very bizarrely: “I often get great compliments from the people that come to my shows, that I ‘never disappoint’ them, and that’s very gratifying to me. That’s what I was trying to express with this title, that sense of character… to stand for something principled.” SG

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Reverso, The Melodic Line, Out Note

Ryan Keberle can be one of the most innovative jazz trombonists around in an experimental sense. Here he is with French pianist Frank Woeste fronting their band Reverso. The emphasis on this occasion is less on obvious innovation, more on mood …

Published: 8 Feb 2020. Updated: 3 months.

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Ryan Keberle can be one of the most innovative jazz trombonists around in an experimental sense. Here he is with French pianist Frank Woeste fronting their band Reverso.

The emphasis on this occasion is less on obvious innovation, more on mood painting around a distinctive repertoire that tilts towards fresh composition.

The style achieved by Reverso on The Melodic Line is pervasively chamber-jazz, meaning a largely acoustic sound that embraces the discipline of classical chamber music and applies for extra measure the language of jazz improvisation. The outcome is certainly a very accessible amalgam. Will its appeal land in a more relatable way among classical fans than jazz ones? My guess is that it will. Purists in both areas, however, may step back from fully embracing the results.

Keberle and Woeste have played Ravel before and here instead surround themselves, not a million miles away, in the always fascinating world of Les Six, early-20th century French composers whose members included Darius Milhaud (who influenced Dave Brubeck massively), Francis Poulenc, Arthur Honneger and Germaine Tailleferre.

Full of impressionism Woeste zoned in on a Milhaud folk-inspired suite of piano pieces, 'Saudades do Brasil'. Tailleferre, however, inspired Keberle who concentrated on 'Impromptu' and 'Pastorales' for solo piano, among other pieces, to draw on for his new compositions. 'Absinthe' has a piano line that sounds a little like something Brad Mehldau elaborated upon on Highway Rider so to jazz ears you can also locate the sound beyond the chief inspirations. (Actually Mehldau was on that vastly more liberty-taking work inspired a good deal by Brahms.)

Cellist Vincent Courtois adds a lot of colour but his role is secondary to the core trombone-piano dialogue. The overall sound has a contented, dreamy feel. That said the whole effect is not particularly gripping. This is hardly party music unless your idea of a party is a nice cup of tea, a slice of cake and bed by nine. However, the album rewards close listening for its high level of musicianship and especially, in my overall favourite selection 'Montparnasse' that introduces a slightly different tilt, almost an electronica mood created via sustain and deftly lapping arpeggios, and sounds more modern momentarily.

Overall we as listeners find ourselves more in a sound montage-type environment where the music can retreat into a warmly fuzzy space but does not engage more than a sense of looking out through the window watching the world go by. 'The Melodic Line' is more landscape pastoral than abstract expressionism.

A lack of contrasting louds and softs and very little chromaticism means that this is an easy listen. The album is reliant on washes of comfortable volume but could do with more of a sense of attack. Looking at the album in the round, excellent instrumentalism is to its credit. Less of a plus point is the lack of direct engagement given the way the melodicism tickles you a little too relentlessly as if with a feather (even a 'blue' one). Stephen Graham

To be released on 14 February. Ryan Keberle photo: Fabrice Journo