Yesterday on Dreamjazz I mentioned José James, a singer it’s easy to temporarily forget about in the wake of Gregory Porter’s stratospheric rise to fame and the achievements of Kurt Elling since his John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman record and The Gate.
But less than three years ago James was on the ascendant, and he has not gone anywhere despite a few delays and mysteries.
Granted his performance with McCoy Tyner in London last year during the London Jazz Festival was not his finest, although he still impressed some critics who had not seen him before.
But think back to the early autumn of 2009 and the low om, that began his East Coasting band’s show at Ronnie Scott’s.
This band still has not recorded, possibly to do with some of the rights of the material, possibly other reasons, but in any case this is the band that plays ‘Equinox’ and other material from Coltrane’s Sound.
It was clear at Ronnie Scott’s that James and his band were on a quest that night and his quest continues given snippets of recent activity releaed online and via social media.
Since his devastatingly promising album The Dreamer and rumours of his version of Coltrane material and a fine Easter show earlier that year at the Jazz Café, the clock has been ticking in the countdown to James’ next album.
Not surprisingly the search is a spiritual one with Coltrane that ultimate enigma and totemic timeless figure. It is also, for the New York-based singer, partly a statement of where the jazz singer finds himself today, because he has clearly worked it out and come up with something fresh.
Early on a reworked ‘Welcome’ from Kulu Sé Mama with its echo of probably the most famous piece of music known to man in the modern age (‘Happy Birthday’) the long involved specially conceived set featuring James with the highly rated Belgian pianist Jef Neve, UK bassist Neville Malcolm and newcomer US tenorist Michael Campagna adding soprano saxophone and flute.
The gig that night caught fire on ‘My Favorite Things’ and the roaring opening to ‘Equinox’ and when James later worked at the high end of his range harmonising with Campagna’s soprano saxophone on ‘Naima’ while the momentum only dipped slightly when ‘Central Park West’ needed a quick restart.
Neve, James and Campagna worked superbly together while Richard Spaven’s displaced beats modernised at times without distracting.
Neve manages the feat of not sounding like McCoy Tyner who James has got to perform often with while keeping to the spirit of his musical approach with the extra element of Debussian light and shade added at times informing his more delicate touches.
Surely James’ next move will be agenda setting just as this band that night was live in a jazz club, the biggest test of them all.
José James, pictured above