José James ‘No Beginning No End’ (Blue Note) 4/5

To some José James will be best known for his cool, laid back jazzy vocal delivery on the duet album with Jef Neve ‘For all we know’ a few years back. Subsequently he has performed live with no less than the McCoy Tyner trio. However, this new recording for Blue Note finds him changing direction for a more contemporary sound that straddles nu-soul grooves and jazz-infused climbs and this is in fact the third solo album following on from ‘The dreamer’ in 2008 and ‘Black magic’ in 2010. Aiding him in his quest is fellow label mate keyboardist Robert Glasper who co-produces (overall production duties going to band bassist Pino Palladino who does a fine job) as well as performing. Indeed it is the former who supplies the classic Minnie Ripperton keyboard riff of ‘Feel my love’ on a tribute to New York’s most prestigious jazz club in Greenwich Village, ‘Vanguard’ and James excels when accompanied by an intimate setting. The opener, ‘It’s all over (your body)’ is Erykah Badu territory and the pared down instrumentation plus trumpet works well as does ‘Make it right’ which repeats the formula complete with Stevie Wonderesque keyboards. On the gentle ballad ‘Come to my door’ (originally written for his debut album, but surprisingly left off), José James has the opportunity to show off his deeply melodic voice with the guitar riff providing an ideal counterfoil. Stretching out into jazz and even gospel terrain, the simple duet with acoustic piano on ‘Do you feel’ is a side of James’ repertoire this writer would like to hear more of. The thirty-three year old singer-songwriter is just hitting the creative peak in his career and with such a sympathetic setting, is heard to his best advantage. A much anticipated UK tour will follow in March/April.

Tim Stenhouse