The sharp, bluesy guitarist Bob DeVos came up in the groups of Jimmy McGriff and Hank Crawford, Richard “Groove” Holmes and Sonny Stitt, and Charles Earland, and the music on his fifth album, Shadow Box, sounds exactly like the soul-jazz conjured up by those masters. The album, also featuring Dan Kostelnik’s warm Hammond B3 organ, Steve Johns’ firm but unobtrusive drumming and, on about half the tracks, the big, soulful tenor saxophone of Ralph Bowen, doesn’t acknowledge any natural next steps like funk or hip-hop. It’s stuck in the ’60s, and that certainly isn’t a bad thing. It’s nothing new, but it’s dead-on.
The most interesting composition here is the title track, by the leader. The head begins with a sneaky, sinister riff then moves to a cathartic passage. The piece also elicits particularly inspired solos from the players: DeVos understands how better tunes provoke better improvisations. Shirley Scott’s sentimental “Basie in Mind” is handled with love and care, and Percy Mayfield’s “The River’s Invitation” also receives a nice reading, its downhome guitar melody floating over cushiony organ harmonies and a New Orleans drum groove.
While all music deserves to be analyzed, Shadow Box needn’t be looked at too deeply. The album makes for the best kind of background music: sounds present not to just take up space but to enhance the moment.