Minneapolis-bred, Brooklyn-based Jose James is a singer and composer thatâ€™s about to sneak up and take your breath away. Jamesâ€™ debut album The Dreamer just dropped from Gilles Petersonâ€™s visionary label Brownswood on January 28. He belongs to a labyrinthine lineage that ranges from Babs Gonzales, Eddie Jefferson, Mark Murphy, Leon Thomas, and Joe Lee Wilson -- by way of John Coltrane, Rahsaan Roland Kirk, and Dwight Trible -- to Marvin Gaye, Gil Scott-Heron, and Rahsaan Patterson.
Like pianists and composers Robert Glasper -- a fellow alumni of the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music in New York -- and Lafayette Gilchrist, he is as deeply influenced by soul and hip-hop as jazz, but make no mistake; for all of his dusky baritone soulfulness and stylistic accessibility, James is an imaginative and committed jazz singer. He doesnâ€™t wear a tux, he doesnâ€™t do the Great American Songbook, and he doesnâ€™t water his music down. But heâ€™s smooth, innovative; heâ€™s proven himself on New York Cityâ€™s club stages with serious players and ever-growing audiences, and in the halls, small theaters, and clubs of Europe, with deejays and rappers based on a couple of 12-inch singles that have also garnered remixes. He is heralded by the current generation of club DJs for his rich smoky baritone and his ability to use restraint as well as improvise and for his keen rhythmic sensibility.
James didnâ€™t waste time with the usual routes to get his music heard. While clubbing in England, he walked straight up to Peterson and put his demos in the DJâ€™s hand. Peterson was impressed with Jamesâ€™ confidence but was subsequently knocked out by what he heard -- a vocal version of Coltraneâ€™s â€œEquinox,â€ recorded with his trio -- pianist Nori Ochiai, drummer Steve Lyman, and double bassist Alexi David. Other cuts made their way across Europe and Japan by word of mouth and the spidery Internet. Peterson signed James to Brownswood and recorded Dreamer, the title tune of which is dedicated to the late Dr. Martin Luther King, and features a fine trumpet solo by Omar Abdulkarim. James wrote seven of the album's ten cuts; he also produced it and did the arrangements. Other cuts on the set include a wonderful reading of Kirkâ€™s â€œSpirits Up Aboveâ€ with no less than Junior Mance on piano, as well as Bill Leeâ€™s (Spikeâ€™s pop) â€œNolaâ€ from the Sheâ€™s Gotta Have It soundtrack. In a more contemporary vein, he also covers Freestyle Fellowship's â€œPark Bench People.â€
All that said, the magic is in hearing and seeing James and his trio work their magic. Below is a full concert recorded at the small hall of the Paradiso in Amsterdam on January 11 of 2008, courtesy of Fabchannel.com and Brownstone.
Dreamer is not available as a domestic pressing in the U.S. but is carried on CD by independent online retailers in the U.S. and is available on download from Amazon and iTunes.