How we rate: our writers tend to review music they like within their preferred genres.
Smoother than cognac and just as refined, No Beginning No End drips with an unabashed sensuality both subtly delivered and painfully personal. With his Blue Note debut, Jose James employs the terrifying capacity of his voice to penetrate the heart of deeper, more hidden spaces and lay bare the emotional contours of urban existence.
To accomplish this feat, James wraps the distinct timber of his voice in a contemporary cloak that weaves together jazz, R&B, electronica, pop, funk, and soul elements. This is more than genre blending. The fluid approach of James and the musical partners he brings together on No Beginning, No End defies the existence of genre divisions, instead using musical facets pulled from a wide variety of styles, eras and formats as a painter uses different colors to deftly craft a personal vision.
James has delved into the slower-tempos of '60s and '70s R&B, married them with jazz improvisation and pop ballad structures, and then layered in low-end electronica and trip-hop beats and textures to examine the dark, close spaces and isolated moments of slowness often considered alien to our cityscapes and rapid-fire lifestyles.
The result is an album of remarkable consistency both in atmosphere and quality of execution. It is also an album deserving close attention, for the first impression is defined by liquid beats and soulful grooves, a mesmerizing hypnotic flow and the unique qualities of James' voice. Further listening reveals one of James' less recognized qualities, the perceptivity of his writing and lyrical interpretation. James wields his voice deftly to dissect complex emotional relationships with disturbing clarity, often leaving a sense of nakedness that uncomfortably reflects vulnerabilities, longings, and joys. James' brilliance is that he manages this with deceptive simplicity, without pretension, and in a totally hip, urbane musical context.
Perhaps the epitome of this phenomena is reached on the outwardly straightforward, most pop-oriented of the album's 11 tracks, "Come to My Door." The prosaic lyrics and memorable tune set the stage for a gorgeously delivered meditation on unconditional love, resonant for its translation of this lofty concept into the real world through concrete imagery and a touchingly heartfelt delivery. More impressive, it manages to thoughtfully examine the many emotional layers involved: the melancholy inherent in unrequited devotion, the fulfillment that comes with it, and the hope we all have that somewhere out there someone is waiting for us to knock on their door in just that way.
Few artists are able to achieve this much in such a simple tune. Although not every tune on No Beginning No End accomplishes so much, each reflects a similar level of craftsmanship and personal investment. From the call of "Sword+Gun" to reject violence, to the floating abstraction of "Bird of Space," to the funky, horn-infused seduction "It's All Over Your Body," the album is a display of artistic maturity both insightful and thoroughly inviting.
Track Listing: It’s All Over Your Body; Sword + Gun; Trouble; Vanguard; Come To My Door; Heaven On The Ground; Do You Feel; Make It Right; Bird of Space; No Beginning No End; Tomorrow
Personnel: Jose James: vocals; Kris Bowers: piano; Robert Glasper: piano(4) bassist Pino Palladino: bass; Hindi Zahra: vocals (2); Emily King: vocals(6); Chris Dave:drums(4); Richard Spaven: drums(8); Grant Windsor: keyboards(8); Corey King: trombone(8); Takuya Kuroda: trumpet(8); Jeremy Most: guitar(8)