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By Mtume ya Salaam of Kalamu.com


Saturday, September 05, 2009.


José James has a new album scheduled for October 2009. If it’s even half as good as his debut release, The Dreamer (Brownswood, 2008), I’m going to love it madly.

Since The Dreamer dropped, José’s been busy. He’s toured all over the world (though, unfortunately, not in my neck of the woods) and he’s collaborated with numerous instrumentalists, bands, DJs, remixers and producers.

One of the strengths of The Dreamer CD is its specific and thematically consistent sound. The entire CD could’ve been recorded in one shot, with one band, in one night. A masterpiece of mellow moodiness, it’s ten tunes are meant to be heard one after another, as one piece.

José’s non-LP work is very different. Because he’s working with different artists on each track and because he isn’t necessarily the primary creative force behind the music, we get a surprise with each tune. The soundscapes range from straight-ahead jazz to jittery electronica to the thudding 4/4 feel of late-night neo-soul—before the needle drops (so to speak) we’re never sure what we’re going to hear.

So, in anticipation of José’s sophomore release—and in celebration of simple good music—here’s a handful-plus of my favorite non-LP tracks from my pick for best new artist of the decade—José James.

* * *

1. Nicola Conte feat. José James – “The Nubian Queens – from Ritual (Schema/EmArcy, 2008)

Let’s kick things off with something fiery from the Italian producer and guitarist, Nicola Conte. The tempo, spirit and overall feel of this piece remind me of Dee Dee Bridgewater’s recent remake of “Afro Blue” (from her Red Earth release). In case you’re interested, the Ritual CD includes two other tunes featuring José – “Like Leaves In The Wind” and “Awakening.” The horn arrangement at the end of “The Nubian Queens” gets me hype every time.

2. J.A.M. feat. José James – “Jazzy Joint” – from Just A Maestro (Brownswood, 2008)

Is José really rapping? Yeah, he is. Sounds like a freestyle, believe it or not. But he’s singing too. And scatting. So all in all, it’s cool…as long as he doesn’t make too much of a habit of it. You know what they say: ‘You gotta dance with the girl that brung ya.’

3. Jazzanova feat. José James – “Little Bird” – from Of All The Things (Sonar Kollektiv, 2008)

Sounds like José fronting Cinematic Orchestra. Or maybe one of the more adventurous outings from Zero 7. Dude’s voice is like velvet though. Velvet, man. I could listen to this all day and all through the night.

4. José James – “Desire” (Moodymann Remix) – from Desire & Love (The Remixes) (Brownswood, 2008)

If I’m hearing this correctly, Moodymann sampled the very first bass hit of the album track, amp it up some, and then, using that brief little bit of a sample as inspiration, constructed an entire house-inspired yet still-jazzy rhythm. He left José’s ever-so-slow vocals untouched though (other than the repeating “Remember!” and “Love!”) and somehow made it all work. A weird, quirk-filled remix of a tune that sounds completely different from what you’re listening too now.

5. Chico Hamilton feat. José James – “Lazy Afternoon” – from Twelve Tones Of Love (Joyous Shout, 2009)

Talk about a change in vibe. We’ve gone from the hippest of cutting-edge clubs in NYC or
L.A. to an open field in the Midwest
or back home in the South. This gorgeous piece is just Chico Hamilton and José James. Nothing else is there because nothing else is needed.

6. Yellowfin feat. José James – “Kings And
– from Grand & Putnam (Bagpak, 2009)

Here’s José straddling three worlds: we get jazz-inflected vocals, brief bursts of hip-hop-inspired rhythm/talking and atmospheric, contemporary-style instrumentation from
’s own Yellowfin.

José’s one hell of a vocalist—we know that already—but he’s also a talented lyricist. I dig it when he says:

And when push come to shove
We nod heads to the beat
And put our hands to the sky
We black flowers breaking concrete…

7. DJ Mitsu The Beats feat. José James – “Promise In Love” – from A Word To The Wise (Planet Groove, 2009)

A straight-up neo-soul thing. If you would’ve described this one to me before I heard it, I would’ve assumed I’d hate it. I don’t at all – quite the opposite.

It’s candy, I know. But mama used to say, “All things in moderation.” A little bit of sugar won’t kill you. Dim the lights and kick back for a minute.

8. José James + Flying Lotus – “Visions Of Violet” – from 12” Single (Brownswood, 2008)

Taking us out with a brief blast of slow-motion funk from José as backed by
sample-meister FlyLo.

“Only happiness and joy tonight….”


* * *

Dig the tunes, y’all. I’m out….


Mtume ya Salaam is a published writer and an expert on contemporary Black music. He lives in New Orleans, USA and can be reached at mtume_s@yahoo.com.



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