"The communal experience of playing live - that's why I became a musician in the first place," "It's exciting and liberating. It never gets old for me." ~ Boney James
The soulful, seductively silky-smooth sax stylings of Boney James were on display Saturday May 3rd inside the sold-out, extremely intimate setting of the Railhead Showroom located in Las Vegas's Boulder Station Casino. The twice Grammy nominated, Soul Train Award winning, numerous Smooth Jazz Awards and NAACP Image Award nominee is known for his powerhouse live performances. And he certainly didn't disappoint on this evening, as he brought his own special brand of urban jazz to the packed and vocally appreciative crowd that was slanted decidedly female.
As his band was laying down a funky groove, Boney comes bip-boppin' out and immediately goes to the front of the stage and begins his salute to the first rows as he meanders from one end of the stage to the other. The sensual "All Night Long" from his "Body Language" CD which was co-written by his keyboard player for the evening (Mark Stephens) along with Paul Brown starts a trend of Boney touching from tunes from his past, while still putting the main emphasis on his much-acclaimed most current release "Shine". "Stone Groove" from his "Pure" release is a great example of an aptly named tune; as Boney and his mates lay down a stone groove that they'll continue for the entire show. In Boney's words they "break it down".
Among the songs performed from "Shine" are the very beautiful "In the Rain" and the gentle Brazilian bossa nova of Antonio Carlos Jobim's "Aquas De Marco (Waters Of March)" where Boney's soprano sax interplays superbly with the keys. Hearing this Jobim song always brings back pleasant memories for me; as I reflect back to fond personal circumstances from listening to it on singer Art Garfunkle's brilliant album "Breakaway" many years ago.
"The Total Experience", a song combining high energy with a substantial melody, also from "Shine", is another crowd favorite, due to it's extensive playtime on Smooth Jazz radio. Here keyboardist Mark Stephens fills in most admirably for the great George Duke who had manned the keyboards on the Concord Records release.
The remainder of his band is top notch also. Alex Al on electric bass guitar, Omari Williams on drums, and Rob "Fonksta" Bacon on electric guitar all "Shine", but there is no mistaking whose star (Boney's) is shining the brightest. All are afforded opportunities to stretch out and solo over the course of the evening, which contributes to the party atmosphere that Boney thrives in. At one point in the show Boney bemoans the fact that he can't croon like Barry White; but he more than makes up for any vocal shortcomings with his velvety sax tones.
Concert highlights included "Sweet Thing" the title track from Boney's seminal 1998 release in which the audience sang along, "Ain't No Sunshine" from "Seduction", and the closing "Grazing In the Grass" from his "Shake It Up" duet release with Rick Braun.
James' playing always demonstrates a sense of "Pure" earthy soulfulness while displaying his virtuoso talent without any unnecessary ostentatious grandstanding. Boney didn't fail to do his customary "up close and personal" stroll into the audience. First, to serenade a woman with his saxophone, and then do a little bump dance (to her delight), and then stopping briefly to thrill another lady before heading up the side of the room to the bar area, out around the back, and then back up the center aisle.
Boney James is a passionate performer with warm charisma, and he constantly wowed the crowd, even at one point leading them in a finger snapping exercise to display "attitude". Boney reminds me of the old saying "Love is like playing the piano. First you must learn to play by the rules, then you must forget the rules and play from your heart." as he displayed to all those present the firey intensity inside him as he clearly played from his heart.
~ Randall 2008