A newsworthy release, not just for the poised American songbook performances of Minneapolis-born, London-based singer José James and his accompanist, Belgian pianist Jef Neve
, but also for its issuing label. The iconic Impulse! is not best known for vocal albums.
Under its present owners, Universal Music/Verve, the onetime home of the new thing and its standard bearer, saxophonist John Coltrane
, was mostly dormant during the 2000s, aside from a burst of reissue activity mid-decade to coincide with the publication of Ashley Kahn's biography, The House That Trane Built: The Story of Impulse Records
(Granta, 2006). James is the first new artist in over a decade to sign to Impulse!, and For All We Know
is its first newly recorded release since pianist/harpist Alice Coltrane
's Translinear Light
James' arrival at the label doubtless owes something to the connection between Impulse! and London's Brownswood Recordings, which released James' debut album, The Dreamer
, in 2007, and whose main man compiled Pure Fire! A Gilles Peterson Impulse! Collection
(Impulse!, 2006). But the partnership isn't in itself a wholly strange one; in its 1960s heyday under producer Bob Thiele, Impulse! hosted the occasional singer, including Johnny Hartman
, who famously recorded John Coltrane and Johnny Hartman
(Impulse!, 1963). For All We Know
isn't as synergistic a nod to the label's history as was Translinear Light
, but a connection exists.
James' album is his second in 2010following the DJ friendly, groovecentric Black Magic
(Brownswood)and according to the singer, it came about through serendipity: Neve filled in for his regular pianist at a concert in Brussels and the vibe was so strong that the next day the duo booked a studio and recorded the tracks, most of them first takes, during a single six hour session without a producer.
The nine tunes here are mostly balladsthe tempo picks up a little on "Gee Baby, Ain't I Good To You" and "Just Sqeeze Me"and the standouts are "Tenderly," "Body And Soul," "Embraceable You" and an extended reading of Billy Strayhorn
's "Lush Life." It's a spare but seductive album, on which James' smokey baritone voice, alone except for Neve's piano, weaves attractively anachronistic magic.