Live Review: José James at Jazz Café, London (19th March, 2010)

With a full a black suit, a seriously seductive smile and a touch too much charm in his swagger, Minneapolis-born jazzy singer/songwriter José James looked more like he was about to go an expensive date than perform at London’s Jazz Café on Friday night. That said, with tickets going for £20 on the door, perhaps to the crowd it was an expensive date. Either that or this particular audience just happen to be unreasonably difficult to please.

As Mr James licks his lips, looks down at the microphone, and then picks it up as if it were his women, the crowd barely responds. And even when he starts to sing one of the better songs on his recent album ‘Lay You Down’ there is still little reaction. It is a sparkling rendition too, free of ego and full of romance. The bass sumptuously straddling out of the speakers, while warm notes emerge from the keyboard, both playfully and almost prayerfully. To this the audience heats up a little while James continues to look confident and sing as if he could quite easily walk on water.

By the time James’s is performing ‘Black Magic’ the audience has almost fully given in to his advantageous charisma. The song opens as a cover of Carlos Santana’s ‘Black Magic Women’ and then slowly transforms into the familiar rhythm of James’s album title track. Clearly this is a moment he’s been looking forward to. He runs off stage to give his band solo opportunities, he shakes hands with a fan and laughs at a joke, and then he stands centre stage and sings as if he were assaulting the air and scats as if he were a young Hip hop vocalist possessed by the spirit of Louis Armstrong and the jagged, esoteric hymns of Leon Thomas.

Irrespective of the above, the night ends with a performance of ‘Warrior’ which is perhaps the finest moment of them all. A Fender Rhodes Piano plays in a warm Tech/House rhythm, while Jazz vocals touch bass with a broken beat drum loop. An explosion of sound is unleashed and whatever generic Jazz box José James is supposed to fit into is clearly blown wide open. Collaborator and backing vocalist Jordana de Lovely joins him mid-stage to celebrate the climax and chant the song’s enigmatic chorus: ‘Power life while we ask and receive’.

After this and a magnificent drum solo, which seems intense enough to put the drum kit out of use for good, James and the band flee the stage as if it were the scene of a crime and they were the chief culprits. In my opinion the five of them should be charged with being too brief and not giving the crowd an encore. Or more notably for giving us a short and splendid escape from a rainy night in Camden and then dumping us right back in it.

–David Mensah

Photography by Ettoruccio.

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