Jose James - For All We Know (With Jeff Neve) (2010)

Jose James
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Jose James is one of the most exciting male artists to come along in a decade, and that's of any genre. Confident and assured without being boastful, this baritone balladeer never has to stoop to crass suggestions to ooze sexuality or that elusively defined "swag." His last two projects, The Dreamer and Black Magic, have established new standards of artistic excellence in jazz fusion and electro-soul. On his second project in six months and his Verve debut, the creamy-voiced James goes the straight-ahead jazz route with Dutch classical jazz composer and pianist Jef Neve to tackle the Great American songbook.

Jose James is one of the most exciting male artists to come along in a decade, and that's of any genre. Confident and assured without being boastful, this baritone balladeer never has to stoop to crass suggestions to ooze sexuality or that elusively defined "swag." His last two projects, The Dreamer and Black Magic, have established new standards of artistic excellence in jazz fusion and electro-soul. On his second project in six months and his Verve debut, the creamy-voiced James goes the straight-ahead jazz route with Dutch classical jazz composer and pianist Jef Neve to tackle the Great American songbook.

Stripped down to just piano and voice, one gets to experience James' skill and intelligence in phrasing and tone, but also the emotional limitations of his approach when laid bare. Neve's often minimalist piano arrangements are adroit in skill but largely unemotional, leaving James to bring just enough heart to prevent this project from being a strictly cerebral exercise between two highly capable technicians. Still, James' confidence on some cuts may be a deficit on those tunes that require a little less suave and a little more unabashed vulnerability. James' delivery possesses a sweet coolness that almost never leaves listeners in doubt that he's in control of his heart. This approach works on lilting charmers like "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" and "Just Squeeze Me," and sophisticated, detached fare like "Autumn In New York" and "Lush Life." However, usual tearjerkers like "Body and Soul," "Embraceable You," and the title track need more emotional availability from James, not a technical approximation. Only on their vaguely ominous take on "When I Fall In Love" and the deliciously paced "Tenderly" is there an authentic fragility exquisitely executed by both pianist and vocalist, reminding us of the risk missing on the rest of this casual affair. Maybe that's the peril of recording an entire album during a one-night stand; it tends to lack the depth and danger of a truly emotional commitment. Recommended.    

Notable Tracks: "When I Fall In Love," "Tenderly," "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You," "Autumn In New York "

Vocals: 3.0 stars
Music: 3.0 stars
Lyrics: 4.0 stars
Production: 3.5 stars
SoulTracks Call: Recommended

By L. Michael Gipson

 
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