THE BEVERLY HILLS OUTLOOK, Gina Zollman
James Rich is a captivating jazz crossover sensation, combining his musical theatre and acting roots with jazz, R&B, gospel and pop. Still a young man, he is embarking upon a career primarily in jazz, and showed excellent taste in material, emphasizing his debt to his idol, Nat "King" Cole. James started his set with four songs that Nat made famous, but put his own, distinctive stamp on them.
The first tune, Nat's "Nature Boy," set the atmosphere for the show, showing an innovative, R&B interpretation of this classic jazz/pop tune, with intermittent emotional pleading and wailing that was surprisingly honest and emotionally raw.
"A Nightengale Sang In Berkeley Square," another absolute all-time favorite of mine, was performed and arranged in such an unusual style, that totally made sense and was original, and very "James Rich" all the way! James really swung and gave the song a new meaning for me, about the beautiful coincidences that occur when we fall in love. Just wonderful to hear an old song a new way. James' jazzy and rollicking "Route 66" just wouldn't let go, it was funky and hard-driving, so not an imitation of the original version or the many covers that have been done, but a truly innovative way to reach the road song wisdom of this tune. This number also showed off James' awesome natural showmanship, something you've either got or you ain't. James has got it.
James Rich gave some erudite patter about Nat Cole that was respectful and never tried to steal from the great man; his only goal was to honor him and give his take on the music he loves so much. "Mona Lisa" was the final song of Nat's, sung so beseechingly, like a lost child, that it became a totally different piece, also a revelation...James makes his point: there is much gold to be mined in these standards, and they are ripe for reworking with an unusual approach.
Standouts from the rest of the program include "Cry Me A River," which James should record as soon as possible before someone rips off this stunning, offbeat and incredibly haunting arrangement! James has a musical vision that has to be experienced to be understood. Suffice it to say, his message is well-served by this classic material; that these gems have a lot to tell us still, and we need to hear them out. The soulful quality of this song has never been more evident than in James' rendition, and that is saying a lot.
Expressive and even explosive in places, Rich's "Bluesette" came off as "extreme" George Benson, at times laid back, and then, "watch out"! The emotional payoff James built into the song was huge. James ended the show after many thank-yous and humble acknowledgements to the crowd for coming out on a Sunday night, with a musical theatre number, "I Choose You." This was probably his most relaxed song, sexy and less histrionic, and yet hitting gospel-flavored notes now and again, showing his vocal chops. James sings like a seasoned pro, like a studio singer, and his emotional range is vast. He wished us peace as he bid us farewell, and did not perform an encore, which would have been welcome. Word is there is a Nat "King" Cole tribute show in the works starring (who else?) James Rich, to be staged at the Deborah Downey Theatre in North Hollywood sometime soon. That's a show I'd like to see. Catch this powerful, intriguing new artist as he makes a name for himself.
The Boston Globe
"...Rich lofts the equivalent of high fly balls."
The Boston Herald
"Rich's wide ranging voice turns the tender love song...into the show's musical high point."
The Pioneer Press
"James Rich is caramel smooth."
Pulse of the Twin Cities
"...Twin Cities visitor James Rich...has a positively acrobatic range.