Devout jazz fans generally think of Bob James as a commercial sellout who helped create smooth jazz back in the '70s. In 1965, however, James unleashed the Explosions LP via the now mythical ESP-Disk', home to folk-rock mutants the Fugs and Albert Ayler, the seminal Cleveland free-jazz saxophonist. A heady collage of out-there sounds and electronic music, it sounds edgy even now.
James has been blazing a creative if melodically accessible path ever since. His latest, Angels of Shanghai, finds James merging with a small group of Asian instrumentalists. Using both sampled rhythms and the pipa, a lute-like stringed instrument, Angels makes for a coolly exotic and occasionally funky fusion of genial jazz and traditional Chinese folk forms.
"There were language barriers, but music is an international language," James was recently quoted as saying. "It takes care of itself. Having nine musicians on stage -- five Chinese, playing their traditional instruments, and my quartet -- I think it's going to be both visually as well as sonically interesting."