When: Wed., Jan. 30, 9 p.m. 2013
R&B singer Jose James isn’t a known quantity in the jazz world, though tastemakers such as British DJ Gilles Peterson have done their best to make him one. James has made it clear to anyone listening that he doesn’t consider himself a jazz artist, even though early in his career he worked with the likes of Chico Hamilton and Junior Mance and in 2010 he recorded an intimate album of jazz standards with pianist Jef Neve called For All We Know (Impulse). With his rich, malleable, expressive voice, though, he’s an artisan compared to current R&B practitioners such as Frank Ocean or Miguel—and that’s apparently enough to persuade some people that he must be singing jazz. To my ears it’s obvious that James’s focus is on modern R&B, with a heavy dose of D’Angelo. He does little to disrupt that comparison on his newest and best record, No Beginning No End (Blue Note), which succeeds in large part because he’s no longer searching for his sound. It features bassist Pino Palladino (who also coproduced), a key player on D’Angelo’s Voodoo, and its terse, velvety horn charts and stuttery hip-hip grooves also recall that paradigm-shifting album. The influence of hip-hop-producer J Dilla is audible too, heightened by the presence on several tracks of keyboardist Robert Glasper, whose current project is steeped in Dilla’s sound—tightly coiled rhythms, compressed frequency range, gut-thumping bass. Unlike D’Angelo, whose singing is fiercely focused but reserved, James uses the full range of his powerful voice; it can be silky, gentle, and imploring, but every so often he really pours it on, a move that’s all the more powerful because he uses it so sparingly. An undercurrent of the blues in his style connects him to jazz (he admits that jazz is a part—but just a part—of his sound), and his writing covers more turf than D’Angelo’s does—the lovely “Come to My Door” could be a coffeehouse staple rather than a slow jam. He’s supported by a lean band featuring bassist Solomon Dorsey, keyboardist Kris Bowers, trumpeter Takuya Kuroda, and drummer Nate Smith (a Dave Holland sideman). —Peter Margasak Mister Joshua opens.
Price: $18, $15 in advance