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Jose James at Dazzle

Geoff Anderson By

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Jose James
Denver, CO
April 23, 2014

Al Green, Marvin Gaye, Bill Withers, Gil Scott-Heron. Mix them together, bring them into the 21st Century and you end up with something that sounds a lot like Jose James. Wednesday night at Dazzle, 36-year-old James brought his band and updated soul sound to Denver. He also brought along a plethora of other influences like R&B, jazz, funk, some rock and a touch of hip hop. Another aspect of the James sound was his hypnotic, trance-like sound. Many of his tunes had a dreamy, head-nodding vibe.

Born in Minneapolis, James later moved to New York and studied at the New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. During his studies, he came in contact and collaborated with an array of diverse artists and expanded his already eclectic talents and interests.

He began Wednesday night's performance with a number of songs from his forthcoming album While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note, 2014). Although it will be his fifth album, he wasn't widely known until his fourth album (his first album for Blue Note Records) was released last year, No Beginning No End (Blue Note, 2013). A highlight Wednesday evening from the upcoming album was "Anywhere U Go" which had a muscular, funky bass line but also managed to maintain the laid back, nearly hypnotic feel all at the same time. Certainly, James' smooth, smoky voice has a lot to do with it. James is one of those singers who can simultaneously sound both casual and forceful.

Later in the set, James worked in some cover tunes. A medley of Bill Withers' "Ain't No Sunshine" and "Grandma's Hands" matched the evening's vibe. It also featured an extended solo by Kris Bowers on the Rhodes electric piano. Bowers played several solos throughout the evening, usually on the Rhodes, but he also had a couple synthesized keyboards he used as well. Solomon Dorsey stepped into the spotlight a couple times for bass solos. He also added some occasional harmony vocals. Through the evening, he switched back and forth between an electric bass and a keyboard he used for the bass parts. The keyboard usually got lost in the mix, but the electric bass forcefully propelled the bottom end.

Drummer Richard Spaven supplied the understated syncopation, sometimes throwing in some hip hop style rhythms. Guitarist Brad Williams was the newest member of the group and only stepped up for one extended solo late in the set. Most often, he provided short fills and atmospherics which helped create the trance effect. Typically, James simply sang, but he picked up an acoustic guitar for several songs.

Toward the end of the set, James mashed it up with "Just the Two of Us" and Freddie Hubbard's "Red Clay." Overall, the James sound had much in common with the vibe of the latest Dianne Reeves album Beautiful Life (Concord, 2014) or with some of the recent work of the Robert Glasper Experiment (i.e. Black Radio (Blue Note, 2012)).


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