Bob James and Free Flight gave a study in jazz-fusion contrasts before a packed house at Sunday's opening of the three-concert "Contemporary Jazz Series" at the Orange County Performing Arts Center.
Pianist-composer James, who travels to the Southland from New York about once a year, offered his brand of medium tempo jazz-pop-funk, which ranged from atmospheric one-chord grooves to carefully orchestrated sound paintings that moved through many moods.
"Westchester Lady," of the multimood variety, began with the theme brightly yet lightly played by James. Then the band--Peter Moffitt, electronic keyboards; Kirk Whalum, saxes; Dean Brown, guitar; Gary King, bass; Buddy Williams, drums; Docter Gibbs, conga drums and percussion--roared in, bringing things way up. Just as quickly as the band reached a thunderous climax, it dropped to a shimmering quiet.
A less-complicated tune was "Zebra Man," where the bearded James displayed his trademark electric piano sound, delivering relaxed lines that flowed easily on top of a subtle yet insinuating rhythm.