"GRAND PIANO Canyon," the latest release from keyboardist Bob James, features a cast of studio and fusion all-stars, including guitarists Lee Ritenour and Eric Gale, saxophonists Kirk Whalum and Mike Brecker and drummer Harvey Mason. Yet for all the talent assembled, the results are disappointingly thin.
In fact, as soon as Mason latches onto a fashionable funk beat on the opening track, "Bare Bones," what's in store for listeners becomes painfully obvious: another tuneful but tepid collection of pop jazz instrumentals that wouldn't sound out of place wafting through the local supermarket.
True, some tunes hold a slight edge over others -- the Sarah Vaughan tribute "Wings for Sarah," for example, or the occasionally rambunctious " . . . Stop That!," which James composed in "fond remembrance of the vinyl LP." Mostly, though, the music is as predictable as it is polished, with the guests discreetly adding their contributions to James's sparkling grand piano, lustrous synthesizer and easy listening arrangements. (So discreetly, in fact, that some of the parts sound as if they were phoned in.)
In the end it seems clear that James, perhaps best known as the composer of the "Taxi" television theme, won't lose any longtime fans with this stubbornly middle-of-the road effort, but he won't win any converts either.