Angels of Shanghai
Bob James wrote and performed one of the most familiar TV themes in the history of the medium. It’s “Angela,” of course, heard repeatedly from 1978 to 1983 as a cab cruises along New York’s Queensboro Bridge before craziness ensued on the sitcom Taxi. How refreshing, then, to hear a new version of the iconic song, this time titled “Angela With Purple Bamboo,” on James’ ambitious new work fusing contemporary jazz with music from the Far East.
James traveled to the Shanghai Conservatory of Music to record the CD, where he met a talented group of five young Chinese musicians who attend the prestigious university. Their musical magic is extracted from exotic violins, harps and flutes and traditional Chinese melodies adapted to James’ own style. Original songs include one composed with Fourplay band member Nathan East, “Endless Time,” which also features East’s vocals. Another member of Fourplay, drummer Harvey Mason, contributes to three songs. Then there are a couple of traditional Chinese melodies that James tailored to his own, unique style. One tune, “Theme ‘Onara’ From ‘Daejangkeum,’” is adapted from a Korean TV drama.
Although the CD is in contrast to anything he’s done in his long career, for frame of reference you can consider this closest to James’ pop-jazz recordings, just enhanced with the exotic sounds of a region where the pianist has performed many times and for which he obviously has affection.