Monday 18 August 2014

'While You Were Sleeping' by Jose James [album review]

Following up on his Blue Note debut early last year, ‘No Beginning No End’, Jose James takes a bold stab at capitalizing upon that album’s success with his follow-up release, ‘While You Were Sleeping’.  While that album introduced an element of neo-soul into the mix, notable on the album’s first half, as well as continuing his tradition of 21st century jazz, ‘While You Were Sleeping’ knocked everyone for a loop with a completely new sound, one that showcased his affection for musicians and bands like Nirvana, Jimi Hendrix and Radiohead.  In many ways, these are artists that sound a world away from the Jose James we were first introduced to through 2008’s ‘The Dreamer’.  (If people were surprised by James’ change of tactics in 2010’s ‘Black Magic’, then this will redefine that emotion.)

‘No Beginning No End’ was notable for its extensive list of collaborators including Amp Fiddler, Chris Dave, Pino Palladino, Robert Glasper, Emily King, etc, but on this go round, the music has been kept almost entirely amongst his own band which consist of Solomon Dorsey (bass), Richard Spaven (drums), Takuya Kuroda (trumpet) and Kris Bowers (keys).  ‘Team Jose James’ has already had an excellent year with the release of Kris Bowers’ debut album ‘Heroes + Misfits’ and Takuya Kuroda’s ‘Rising Sun’ (the latter of which was produced by Jose James), but the band has also now made room for its new guitarist, Brad Allen Williams, who helps the collective in capturing the right feel for their new direction. 

Fans were introduced to the band’s new ‘direction’ via the album’s lead single ‘EveryLittle Thing’ (somewhat reminiscent of James’s previous collaboration with Basement Jaxx, ‘Gimme Something Real’) which in honesty may not have been the best single choice to woo fans.  When listening to the album as a whole, the song flows almost seamlessly amidst the other songs, but as a first-song introduction, I have to confess my jaw hit the table when I first heard it.  ‘Angel’ sets the album’s tone perfectly, the title track is dreamily-romantically brilliant; ‘Anywhere You Go’ and ‘Without U’ exemplify the energy and proficiency of a masterful team; Becca Stevens provides a beautiful guest vocal spot on ‘Dragon’ (I implore people to check out her vocal contribution to Ambrose Akinmusire’s ‘Our Basement’ from earlier this year too!), and Takuya Kuroda earns himself a ‘featuring’ spot on the album’s closing Al Green cover, ‘Simply Beautiful’, which is very much the album’s high point.

Does it all work though?  Ultimately, Jose James is an artist that needs your trust – if you trust in him, you couldn’t possibly be disappointed because he knows exactly what he’s trying to achieve, and the fact that he consistently accomplishes it with ease is testament to his overall skill and ability.  I saw Jose James (and this very band) perform last year and I actually would’ve thought a shift towards the style of traditional soul stylings of artists like Bill Withers and Al Green (of which James is an open fan of, even going as far as working in covers of each into his set) is where they were likely to go with this release, as exemplified by ‘Simply Beautiful’.  ‘While You Were Sleeping’ is genuinely an excellent piece of music from start to finish and I hope people will give it the chance it deserves.  Never to be accused of having made the same album twice, all I can leave you with is to wonder… what will he do next?

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