Picks and Pans Review: Sketches of James

updated 04/02/2001 at 01:00 AM EDT

originally published 04/02/2001 01:00AM

Various Artists (Koch Jazz)

Like the songs of Johnny Mercer, James Taylor's tunes are melodically rich, subtly rhythmic and complex enough to provide jazz musicians with an ideal place to start riffing. This tribute to 10 classic Taylor songs proves the folkie's airy musings work well in smoke-filled grottos. Produced by guitarist-arranger Tim Weston, 48, son of bandleader Paul Weston and '50s pop singer Jo Stafford, the collection lacks a marquee talent (there's nary a Marsalis on hand) but turns to medium-impact names, with an emphasis on such Latin stars as Flora Purim, Oscar Castro-Neves and Poncho Sanchez's Latin Jazz Band. Sanchez gets Taylor's most familiar composition, "Fire and Rain," which he renders in an admirably nondramatized congas-and-piano arrangement. Shirley Horn's typically introspective vocal, meanwhile, matches up beautifully with "Secret o' Life," Purim's vocal over Airto Moreira's Brazilian percussion on "Only a Dream in Rio" is heavenly, and Tower of Power puts some macho into "Steamroller."

Bottom Line: Sweet daddy James

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