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Bob James: Dancing on the Water

Listening to Bob James play solo piano is like seeing a smartly written, well-acted stage play: full of dynamics and intrigue, with the spaces and reactions almost as powerful as the words. Dancing on the Water is filled with these emotive meditations in the form of solo piano pieces and well-matched duets. James manipulates time and dynamics to create specific moods on pieces ranging from the nimble and sly “Bogie’s Boogie” to the minimalist, bittersweet “Modesty.” He’s not afraid to let the spaces ring out along with the notes, lending a haunted melancholy to “The Green Hour,” for example. But the pairings here prove equally affecting, as James sparkles in high-register, running give-and-take with guitarist Chuck Loeb on “Dancing on the Water,” and paints a four-handed picture with Keiko Matsui on “Altair & Vega,” pitting his broad, melodic sweeps against her high register, stiff-fingered melody-then trading places. The duo makes one piano sound like an orchestra. Some of the album’s most poignant moments are in duets with bassist Dave Holland, including a beautiful, world-weary reminiscence on “Last Night When We Were Young,” which finds Holland’s padded bass patter falling over James’ piano doodles like a soft shadow.

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