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Jose James - The Dreamer

Jose James, Dreamer

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 3.5 out of 5

BROOKLYN-based, Panamanian Irish 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 indie label Brownswood.

Early tracks (including an IG Culture remix) were circulated by word of mouth and on the internet, and earlier this year Shoreditch’s trendy Cargo was crammed to the rafters as the slightly built young man with the smokey baritone had a packed house hushed in appreciation.

Evidence of those smokey, dusky vocals are in abundance on The Dreamer, the subsequent debut album from James, which transports the listener to some dimly lit Brooklyn (or Manhattan) lounge bar with effortless ease. It’s an extremely accomplished effort, dripping in deeply soulful vocals and a low-key jazz accompaniment.

In truth, it may be a little too laidback for some tastes and certainly won’t appeal to anyone not convinced by jazz in the first place. But there’s no denying that James is an emerging talent – and one who is determined to do things on his own terms.

Having captured the limelight and the attention of some illustrious industry people, James is determined to keep them listening and The Dreamer is far more than just the type of debut that plunders from the Great American Songbook; rather, it’s reflective of the singer-songwriter’s own experiences of love and life.

Seven of the ten songs on the album are self-penned, including the haunting, trumpet-backed Love, which brings the album to a satisfying close, and the smooth, seductive Blackeyedsusan, which is delivered in quietly scintillating fashion.

Elsewhere, his version of Freestyle Fellowship’s Park Bench People demonstrates his love of contemporary hip hop, while his take of Rashaan Roland Kirk’s Spirits Up Above is dripping with heartfelt emotional and is clearly the sound of James having some fun and indulging a passion.

Red is awash with some nice piano melodies and a slightly more upbeat vibe, while there’s a cinematic beauty to the melancholy piano chords of Winter Wind, which conjures romantic images of Central Park in the winter into the mind.

As previously stated, The Dreamer won’t be to everyone’s tastes – but for jazz fans or romantics, there’s plenty to admire and whether it makes you want to catch James live, or put the CD on at dinner parties for some soothing, unobtrusive backing, there’s a goldmine to be tapped.

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 and he has also worked with Basement Jaxx, Flying Lotus and Nicola Conte.

Download picks: Spirits Up Above, Love, Blackeyedsusan, Winter Wind, Park Bench People

Track listing:

  1. Dreamer
  2. Velvet
  3. Blackeyedsusan
  4. Park Bench People
  5. Spirits Up Above
  6. Nola
  7. Red
  8. Winter Wind
  9. Desire
  10. Love