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Jazz has always had a soft spot for pop music. Icons like trumpeter Louis Armstrong blessed the masses with his positivity and raspy voice in 1967's "What a Wonderful World" and saxophonist John Coltrane transformed Rodgers and Hammerstein's 1960 musical smash "My Favorite Things" into a swinging affair. Fast forward to 2014 as singer, songwriter and producer Jose James continues the practice with a fine rendition of 1972's "Simply Beautiful" by the one-time prince of R&B, vocalist Al Green.
James is a singer with a commanding presence, his tenor like velvet with exceptional range that includes folk, ethnic, and avant-soul with diverse shades and colors in his fifth album While You Were Sleeping. His boldness to cover Al Green's hit song is no small feat but he performs with empathy and expressiveness delivering a cover that still possesses much, if not all of Green's alluring magic. Nonetheless, James is a stylist and shapes the evocative lyrics with the aid of guitarist Brad Allen Williams's agile chords and Kris Bowers's organ undercurrents.
The key here through, is not only the song's classic melody, but also the performance by fellow Blue Note label mate/ trumpeter Takuya Kuroda who provides a spellbinding and lengthy solo that eddies and flows with James's smoky voice.
Track Listing: Simply Beautiful.
Personnel: Jose James: vocals; Kris Bowers: organ; Solomon Dorsey: bass; Takuya Kuroda: trumpet; Brad Allen Williams: guitar; Richard Spaven: drums.
Years ago now--in Rhodesia--listening to Voice of America with Willis Conover I heard Bunk Johnson play When The Saints Go Marching In, and Billie Holiday sing Don't Explain. I knew then there was no other life for me than jazz.