A magic moment from the Brownswood Loves Jazz night at Bush Hall.
Brooklyn based jazz-singer José James took a pretty direct route to getting Gilles Peterson’s attention. He flew over to London, went out clubbing and slipped the hugely influential DJ and prescient A&R man a copy of his demos! Intrigued by the hip young singer’s attitude, Gilles took a listen, and blown away by his stunning vocal version of Trane’s classic tune Equinox, immediately signed him to his thriving young indy label Brownswood. Early tracks (including an IG Culture remix) were circulated by word of mouth and on the internet, and earlier this year Cargo in trendy Shoreditch was crammed to the rafters as the slightly built young man with the smokey baritone had a packed house hushed in appreciation.
James is more than just another cool stylist though, still in his mid-twenties, he is a young singer committed to pursuing a deeply soulful, vocal jazz tradition which includes the likes of Babs Gonzales, Billie Holiday, Joe Williams, Mark Murphy, Jon Lucien and Leon Thomas, and his live shows find him as likely to scat his way through Moanin’ as to present his own richly sonorous music. Indeed his debut album, The Dreamer, reveals him as a growing songwriter and composer, who rather than plunder the Great American Songbook prefers to tell his own tales of love and life. Seven of the ten songs on his debut album are self-penned including the haunting trumpet flavoured beauty of the title track and the low-slung groove of Love. Elsewhere on the album his version of the Freestyle Fellowship’s Park Bench People shows his love of contemporary hiphop (an influence that like pianist Robert Glasper he wears lightly) while his take of Rashaan Roland Kirk’s Spirits Up Above has an emotional depth and spiritual force reminiscent of the great Andy Bey.
The Dreamer was recorded in New York with Jose’s regular band and guests, including legendary pianist Junior Mance who he met while studying at the prestigious New School for Jazz & Contemporary Music NY. He works with a broad range of collaborators including pianists Nikki Yeoh and Elan Mehler, as well as label mate Ben Westbeech and internationally recognised producers/composers Nicola Conte and Basement Jaxx.