Gregory James Talks About Cult of Beauty… Cult of Beauty is the eleventh album by San Francisco guitarist Gregory James. Like the best of James’ previous work, this one pinches from the raw soulfulness of earliest jazz-rock-funk adventures. And as much as it features his nimble guitar work, it exposes the explosive rhythms of bassist Kai Eckhardt and drummer Deszon Claiborne.
Gregory James grew up in San Francisco, absorbing what he calls, “One big, beautiful mélange of American music,” the classic music of Broadway, jazz hybrids like Charles Lloyd’s quintet, and the psychedelic rock heard in Golden Gate Park. “That’s probably why I tend to blur jazz and rock more thoroughly than a lot of people,” he says.
James’ first album, Alicia, was released on New York’s Inner City label in 1978. He produced records in the San Francisco Bay area over the next three decades featuring Paul McCandless, Ron Miles, Peter Michael Escovedo, Jenny Scheinman, Raul Rekow, Karl Perrazo, Paul Van Wageningen, Celia Malheiros and others. His bands have been defined by great bass players – Marc Van Wageningen, Derek Jones, Jon Herrera, Benny Reitveld, and again on Cult of Beauty, Kai Eckhardt.
On the heels of his genre-hopping funk band Garaj Mahal, Eckhardt has been building a group in San Francisco around drummer Claiborne and Egyptian-born keyboardist Osam Ezzeldin. Gregory James recalls going to one of their gigs. “It was a rainy night, it was late, people hadn’t shown up yet, so they just jammed. They did two or three jams, and I was like, ‘Okay, this is my next record.’
“I just had Kai, Deszon and Osam come into the studio and jam. They spent a day laying down those ten tracks, and it’s in the order that they jammed them.
“It’s kind of the way that Miles and Teo put together Bitches Brew. You know, just a bunch of jams.’ Then I just figured out what to play over it. Made up some melodies to fit over what they were doing.”
“Any Time You Call” opens the album with buoyant funk and tuneful harmonies. “Freedom Om” features James screaming on a 6/8 cadence, while the title track is more of an open, pastoral setting. Emily Palen adds violin over the earthy 9/8 of “Siren Song.” James and Ezzeldin call and respond on the frantic 11/8 “Dance of the Wrathful Dakinis.” The guitarist reinvents “Alicia” with Baron Shul’s beefy tenor atop his best King Sunny Ade turn. James revels in his return to the electric, raging on “Alexandria.”
Engineer Cookie Marenco recorded the album onto 2-inch tape, and mastered using Direct Stream Digital audio. “It sounds like everybody is in the same room at the same time. I can actually make it sound like people are listening to me, when in fact they’re not,” James smiles. “Kai has that ability to kind of anchor stuff with one note. So as always, we always make great music. I would like to let people know that it exists.”
— Robin Tolleson, Modern Drummer, Mix, Strings Magazine
“Bridges the gap between musical adventure and mass appeal.” Downbeat
“High energy polyrhythmic fusion, and pastoral impressionistic sketches. In both, James’ guitar lines are simple, direct, and melodic.” Guitar Player
“Guitarist Gregory James displays a remarkable blend of influences and styles.” Jazziz
“Any Gregory James release is cause for celebration. The mix of jazz and world musics, of electric and acoustic instruments, of simple melodies and impressive chops, makes me homesick for the City By The Bay’s talented melting pot.” Dan Forte, Editor, Musician
“From tablas to turntables, the James band melds many styles – Latin, flamenco, trip-hop – yet pushes the boundaries of jazz.” Bassics
“Guitar and flute intertwine in stately communications that balance flash and sensitivity. The result is a crystalline, truer-than-life sound with stunning spacial dynamics and clarity.” San Francisco Bay Guardian
“At age 15, when most kids are playing video games, guitarist Gregory James was playing with jazz pianist Vince Guaraldi. James would later team up with everyone from Ray Charles to Van Morrison. His solo career has now spanned four decades, seamlessly blending Latin and flamenco styles with funk, trip-hop and jazz.” Mountain Xpress