José James is a revelation, and he’s not even a new revelation. The man has been pumping out quality music for five years (probably even longer, realistically) and yet he has only recently been brought to my attention. His debut record was very favourably reviewed by a man I trust with music reviews, my editor , while his live show receives ongoing accolades from someone I have no choice but to listen to, our younger brother Z. Frequent readers of this site will know that Z has styled himself as somewhat of a jazz, funk and soul aficionado, and so when he speaks highly of Sir James, you know it’s the real deal. That of course didn’t stop me neglecting his latest record until the latest possible moment, only to experience the kind of eargasm that’s happening less and less with new albums. No Beginning No End, which this song opens, is so thoroughly enjoyable that I find no reasons not to join the highly commendable ranks of the converted.
An obvious parallel to draw with James, and indeed probably the reason he resonates with so many people, is D’Angelo. The timbre of his voice, the extreme levels of sophistication in his instrumentation and the simmering sexuality so close to the surface that it literally burns your hand if you go near it are all hallmarks of the neo-soul pioneer, but as much as he is the same as everyone’s favourite recluse, James is also remarkably different. For a start, he skews far more towards the experimental end of jazz than the traditional, and you can hear that most notably in the way he arranges his rhythm section. Word is that he recorded, produced and arranged this record all on his lonesome, without any record label backing, which means it’s safe to say most of the tricks and flourishes here came straight from his mind. Funk and jazz drummers typically lean back on the beat rather than trying to race in front of it, crafting the sense of laidback cool that permeates some of the best tunes from the genre. James takes this one further by hooking the drummer up to a delay triggers to the snare and hi-hats and letting them ring out in a similar dropped triplet style that you hear And that’s before you even get to the bass.
Everything José James does has so many elements of good taste that you feel like a goof just listening to him. The way he pulls back the trumpet harmonies, rather than letting them blast, or phases in the drums to let the bass breathe and sink in for full effect. Then there’s his voice, which is just made for this stuff. It’s chocolate, honey, caramel and a variety of other oozing, delicious things and it is unique in the respect that you know he could do infinitely amazing things but he’s content to just chill. Seriously, when was the last time you heard a songwriter who had this much special sauce just lay back and let the mood take him? Or, dare say it, let improv ideas make it onto the final recording? This is something pretty excellent. Rave reviewed justified. Get into it.
José James – ‘It’s All Over (Your Body)’