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Various Artists: Sketches of James: Selections From the James Taylor Songbook

A pair of new releases point to arguments for and against the proliferation of interpretive tribute collections in the marketplace. The first, a selection of James Taylor compositions titled Sketches of James (Koch Jazz KOC-CD-8580; 48:44) justifies its existence through truly unique reads of a catalogue ripe for the jazzifying. With complex timings and key changes, as well as a variety of influences already present in the folk-rock originals, Taylor’s compositions lend themselves nicely to respectful reinvention. Producer Tim Weston pairs his artists and songs well: Where Mitchel Forman’s take on “Something in the Way She Moves” captures Taylor’s awe-struck romanticism with an intimate piano jazz trio, guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves leads a small orchestral group in a dreamy sweeping read of “New Tune.” Other striking interpretations range from Shirley Horn’s world-weary account of the “Secret o’Life,” and a brisk, breezy Latin read by Pancho Sanchez of “Fire and Rain,” which adds new dimensions of drama and verve to the traditionally laid-back folk piece.

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