I became a huge fan of Jose James after listening to his 2008 debut, The Dreamer. James first struck my interest after I first read an article about him in Downbeat magazine. He seemed like the type of young modern jazz artist I had been waiting to hear: a young versatile, open-minded cat who respected the legends that came before him while bringing a fresh b-boy flair. After listening to The Dreamer, I saw that I was right in my pre-assessment of James.
I am more than happy to say that James topped himself with his sophomore release, Blackmagic.
It's entirely unfair (and incorrect) to categorize Blackmagic as a straight jazz album. Blacksmagic defies categorization. James recalls legends like Gil Scott Heron, Terry Callier and Jon Lucien in that he comes from an angle that's both jazzy at its core AND conventionally soulful all while creating a lushly unique vibe that is all his own.
The brilliant Flying Lotus, DJ Mistsu the Beats, Taylor McFerrin (son of Bobby) and Moodyman all contribute production, helping to further defy categorization. FL's three contributions (Code, the standout Made for Love and the title track), in particular, all arrive at a perfect meeting point that merge his trademark celestialness with James' wistful old-soul groove.
All thirteen of Blackmagic's tracks (as well as the slow burning 10-minute jazz vocal piece "The Light" that rounds out the album as a bonus track) radiate with so much soul, feeling and creativity.
This album is proof that good music is still being made and released. You just won't hear it on the radio! I'm not sure if Blackmagic is slated for a US release or not since James has recently signed a deal with Verve Records to record and release a traditional jazz record entitled "For All We Know", yet it is an album (like The Dreamer) that is more than heavily recommended. It is worth tracking down as an import, no matter how pricy that option may be.
A definite favorite of 2010 (yes, already!). Much respect to Gilles Peterson for believing in and nurturing this brilliant young artist's talent.