Review of Jose James' album Blackmagic released through Browswood Recordings
It is as yet to be ascertained as to whether he has been to LA, Chicago or even been south to Key Largo. What is undeniable however is that he is indeed, by any definition, a 'Smooth Operator'. Mr Jose James, a Minneapolis born, resident of Brooklyn, and an artist signed to Gilles Peterson's British label, Brownswood Recordings, offers up his second album 'Blackmagic'. This is Jose's follow up to the critically acclaimed, jazz infused, 2008 'The Dreamer'.
Jose James music is a blend of Soul, Jazz, Hip-Hop and Experimental, although for the most part during 'Blackmagic' the emphasis is clearly on the more soulful, quieter, evocative and extremely laid back variety. His rich baritone voice, said to be "reminiscent of Terry Callier and Gil-Scott Heron", couldn't be more opulent, velvety or warm and fluid if it were a Creme Egg in a drink. Some of his influences are clearly evident on the new album, Marvin Gaye's seemingly effortless and sumptuous vocal style, and Billie Holiday's emotion and delivery in particular. Jean-Michel Basquiat's influence, himself once a member of a band, but more renowned for his art, is not as easy to identify, with the one possible exception of 'Warrior'.
Barry White (Or even his thinly disguised parody Fat Harry White) would find it difficult to touch Jose James for creating the mood for 'Lurve' on the opener 'Code'. The track is dripping with soft, 70's, soulful flavours akin to soft porn soundtracks or wannabe Shaft style movie scores. The theme of love, longing and romance is never far away on Blackmagic. Late night scheduling on radio shows across the land have probably got more-or-less the whole output of this slickly produced album on repeat. DJ's specialising in airing and 'solving' listeners romantic trials and tribulations are no doubt salivating at each inadequately matched line they could reference as they play out one of Mr James new tracks to ease the troubled soul! 'Lay You Down' continues in the same vain with the added benefit of a slightly Trip-Hop beat coupled to Jose's oh so smooth voice. ("Lick your lips and come and taste mine, see my body in the candle glow"). Whether this is your bag or not, there is no getting past the fact that this is seriously seductive, sensual stuff. Thankfully there is a shift in emphasis, occasionally, most notably on the Orbital-ish electronica of 'Warrior' a track somewhat out of place on Blackmagic but one that is certainly worth the inclusion, at home here or not. The jazz piano works incredibly well against the manufactured beats. (After featuring on the Basement Jaxx track 'Gimme Somethin' for the 2009 album 'Scars' maybe this will become more of a new direction for JJ). The predominant theme re-emerges for 'Made For Love', 'Save Your Love For Me' (The song previously covered by Etta Jones and Nancy Wilson), 'Love Conversation', a duet with Jordana de Lovely (Yes really), 'Beauty' and much of the remainder of the album. The title track 'Blackmagic' does at least offer up a slight respite in that it's jazzy, off kilter, backing make it more interesting and enjoyable.
The voice may not be all, but it's so nearly all here. If you like your vocal, silky smooth, sensuous, seductive, cool and sexy you're going to like Mr Jose James a lot. 'Blackmagic' is out now and JJ is over in England to promote it with four dates starting in Manchester on 18th March. Get your lighters at the ready and put the Champagne on ice.