David Tohir 11-Mar-2001 Explosions

Bob James has had a long career in the jazz world, having received both praise and criticism by fans of the genre. An accomplished pianist, he was among the most sought after session players in New York in the late 60s, eventually leading him to work as a producer, arranger, and player for the commercial jazz label CTI beginning in 1973. CTI released, primarily, albums that were very well produced, but the music had much less in common with Miles or Trane than with what one might hear in a dentist's office or on an elevator. James' position in the jazz community never really recovered from his association with CTI, and while he was still a highly sought session player, those sessions were now pretty much restricted to music that was decidedly not jazz.

Prior to any of this, however, James recorded an exceptionally interesting album for the ESP label. Explosions was released in 1965 and featured James, along with Barre Phillips on bass and Robert Pozar on drums. It is often cited as James' free jazz album, but that isn't entirely accurate. It does bear much resemblance to free jazz recordings being released at that time, and the players are largely using that as their musical vocabulary, but three of the five tracks are composed by contemporary classical composers Robert Ashley and Gordon Mumma. I find this album one of the most interesting examples of the nexus of the improvisational philosophies of jazz and classical music.

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