Friday 8 February 2013

'No Beginning No End' by Jose James [Album review]

I’ll apologise in advance as I can tell this is going to end up being one of those back-and-forth and somewhat garbled reviews where I seem to have lots to say about the release but I don’t actually know what the point I’m trying to make is.  That’s about as good an introduction as any, so let’s get down to the album at hand… Jose James’s ‘No Beginning No End’.  I’ve spoken much about my adoration for Jose James’s music so let’s just say that my anticipation for this album was very high and leave it at that, for fear of me coming across as overly-obsessive.

Well, I am overly-obsessive but I don’t want you to know that.

Many reviews for this album have highlighted this at James’s subtle shift away from jazz but I actually think this should be less of a focal point than it is.  James has always been amongst a very short list of artists that can actually – comfortably – get away with such seemingly bold moves.  His diversity has always been a significant part of his charm.  Beyond just comparing the traditional jazz-stylings of ‘The Dreamer’ to the more contemporary-sounding, ‘Black Magic’, his catalogue of music extends far further, from gracing the last three album releases by Italian maestro, Nicola Conte and his unique bossa nova-jazz-infused compositions; Germany’s number one musical export, Jazzanova, and their wonderful collaboration from 2008, ‘Little Bird’; appearing on both albums from Japan’s fiery piano-led jazz trio, J.A.M.; even collaborating with the eclectic dance outfit, Basement Jaxx, in 2009 on their album ‘Scars’.

It’s a diversity that can only come from complete confidence and security in yourself as an artist and everything you want to achieve.

Assessing the assembled musicians for ‘No Beginning No End’, on paper… this is it!  This is James’s bold attempt at more commercial recognition, and it’s a great way to do it: Robert Glasper, Chris Dave, Pino Palladino and Amp Fiddler, not only include some of the best musicians in the world right now, but they’re also logical ones for James to recruit as well.  Robert Glasper – and, in turn, Chris Dave – both just having come off an incredible breakthrough year  themselves with The Robert Glasper Experiment achieving notable success for their album, ‘Black Radio’, marks the interesting comparison of an artist attempting to take that progressive leap towards new audiences, as evidenced by his approach to include a host of vocalists established within the contemporary soul and R&B world.  Esperanza Spalding too, again last year, with her more radio-friendly release, ‘Radio Music Society’.  The logic is fairly self-explanatory but I suppose it’s just a shame that jazz needs to be… jazzed-up to appeal accessible and interesting to audiences.

‘No Beginning No End’ certainly takes this ideology on board and embraces the new direction with minor shifts in styles and genres as the album progresses.  Fairly welcome neo-soul-esque grooves kick off the opening portion of the album, with ‘It’s All Over Your Body’ and ‘Sword + Gun’ proving to be particular highlights, the seemingly very popular Emily King combo of songs ‘Come To My Door’ and ‘Heaven on the Ground’ acts as the segue to potentially more standard James fare with a series of lush jazz ballads that at times are suitably reminiscent of ‘The Dreamer’.  There’s a fairly surprising turn from Amp Fiddler as he delivers the music for the album’s closer ‘Tomorrow’, although, in honesty, after hearing about Amp’s involvement before the album’s actual release, I was hoping for something uniquely Fiddler-esque that would have been more of a fit for the first half of the album, but this will more than do!

This is a good album.  And I mean a gooood album. The more I listen to it the more it grows on me, as songs like 'Bird of Space' and 'No Beginning No End' start to marinate into my subconscious, and 'Do You Feel' reveals itself as the true gem of the whole album.  One slightly nerdy complaint is that the inlay card doesn’t allocate the musicians to the songs they played on, so as I’m in the midst of my Chris Dave fandom, I would have quite liked to know the songs he actually drummed on, along with Robert Glasper et al.

This album has been dubbed Jose James’s best shot at achieving crossover success.  Ultimately, time will tell whether that’s what happens or not, but in the meantime, the most important thing for existing fans is that it’s another release for him to include amongst what’s building to be a truly incredible discography.

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