Bob James Trio

Resident archivist Jack Dangers pulls out a record by Bob James Trio, which resides in the slender Venn slice where electronic music and jazz co-exist

Bob James is a piano player who’s been sampled almost as much as James Brown. His best-known tune is probably ‘Angela’, which was the theme for the TV show ‘Taxi’. Mind you, his albums ‘One’ and ‘Two’, which were released in 1974 and 1975, have been sampled to death. The really big piece is from an amazing track from ‘One’ called ‘Nautilus’. It’s been used by so many people, from Run-DMC to Mary J Blige, Wu-Tang Clan, Björk, me… I re-used it on the new Meat Beat record.

But the record I pulled out this month is his second album, ‘Explosions’, released in 1965 on a label called ESP Disk under the name Bob James Trio. I came to this album mainly because Gordon Mumma is on it, plus I collect a lot of the records from the ESP Disk label. They put out the first Fugs record and albums by Pharoah Sanders, Albert Ayler and Timothy Leary. They always did interesting black and white covers too.

Along with Gordon Mumma, Robert Ashley, another electronic music pioneer, is also credited on ‘Explosions’.

Both are big names in the electronic/contemporary avant-garde music scene, but I think this album might be the first time they appeared on record.

Robert Ashley founded the Ann Arbor Cooperative Studio for Electronic Music with Gordon Mumma in 1958, and they toured together throughout the 1960s. Ashley went on to become director of the San Francisco Tape Music Center in 1969, and he was later married to Mimi Johnson, whose label Lovely Music, Ltd released ‘Vernal Equinox’ by Jon Hassell and most of her husband’s music.

Gordon Mumma collaborated with John Cage and Merce Cunningham’s dance company in the late 1960s and early 70s. His first album, ‘Dresden / Venezia / Megaton’ from 1979, was one of Lovely Music’s early releases. He was known for his “cybersonic” circuits, which he used these to manipulate sound in live performances.

‘Explosions’ is the first Bob James album to incorporate electronics and tape manipulations – it’s like musique concrète. Gordon Mumma is credited on the first track, ‘Peasant Boy’, and Robert Ashley is on the second, ‘Untitled Mixes’. Both pieces are pretty avant-garde with some extreme sounds in there, and it was probably the first time jazz and electronic music were combined on record.

Bob James is 83 now, and he’s still touring and recording.

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