Blackmagic is the sophomore release by José James, the jazz singer with the silky smooth baritone that wowed Gilles Peterson enough to sign him to his Brownswood Recordings label.
The album has garnered much praise since its release, albeit being rather different from his critically acclaimed 2008 debut album, The Dreamer. Where The Dreamer was more obviously a jazz album, James invites the listener to enter into the other parts of his musical mind with Blackmagic, parts that include soul, the “nu” part of the jazz spectrum, hip hop (including the more experimental side of it, à la Flying Lotus who produced a few tracks), and even Detroit house with the Moodymann produced track, “Detroit Loveletter.”
Despite getting more experimental on this album, the undoubtedly jazz style drums, horns, piano and other elements are ever present to remind us that yes, this is still jazz. And then there’s that smooth voice that stays true to its roots, whether it’s alongside a hip hop beat as in “Lay You Down,” the marriage of jazz to an organic nod to dubstep in “Warrior” (a remake of Benga’s “Emotions”), or the radio friendly neo-soul of “Promise in Love” produced by Japan’s DJ Mitsu The Beats. The Flying Lotus produced title track is perhaps the best of the lot, with earlier released remixes by Joy Orbison, dOP, Untold and Izmabad.
The future looks nothing but bright for José James – he’s just been signed to Impulse! Records, the legendary label that has brought us music by the likes of John Coltrane, Alice Coltrane, Archie Shepp, Pharoah Sanders, Sun Ra and countless others. With an Impulse! release slated for May of this year (a duet recording with Belgian pianist Jef Neve called For All We Know), one can’t help but get the sense that we are watching a new jazz legend in the making.
Review: Helen Luu