Jose James played to a sold-out and, mostly adoring, audience at Band on the Wall on Saturday. James’ rich, slightly nasel baritone is similar to Jamie Cullum’s, and they operate in similar ways, with covers and originals performed with real dexterity and verve. James covers featured a terrific sequence of Bill Withers’ songs, ‘Ain’t no sunshine’, ‘Who is that man?’ and ‘Grandmother’s hands’. This latter was particularly moving, with its ‘What you doing, JJ?’ in the middle. And where ‘Ain’t no sunshine’ is more a cliché than it is a standard, James’ approached the song with both reverence and a sense that he was subtly making it his own. That was followed by a rather indulgent version of Marvin Gaye’s ‘Mercy, mercy, me’. James slowed this right down which allowed space for his band to explore the chords, but both James’ delivery and the rather extended solos stretched, I suspect, the patience of many in his audience.
James band were mostly very fine and the pianist Kris Bowers is a wonderful musician in his own write. When James went into ‘Afro-Blue’ from Robert Glasper’s Black Radio album, Bowers showed that, if not yet in the Glasper class, then he is certainly a name to watch. The rhythm section of British drummer, Richard Spaven and bass player, Solomon Dorsey, really drove and had the audience swaying and moving all evening. Trumpeter, Takuya Kuroda, also provided lyrical interludes.
James also played songs from his new album, No beginning, no end; including a direct and driving ‘Sword and Gun’. James’ strengths as a songwriter are more with the ballad and the lyrical, and from the new album he sang a number of his finely crafted, rather sparse songs, including ‘All over your Body’, and ‘Bird of Space’, which he attributed to a day spent with Leon Ware, who was so wonderful at BotW in February. He finished the evening with the equally cool ‘Do You Feel?’.
Mention should be made of the supporting band, JD73 Electrio. They comprise: Dan Goldman on Rhodes and synths, the truly excellent Kenny Higgins on bass and Gordon Kilroy on drums. They too got the audience moving with an assortment of their own pieces and others from such as Bob James. If this latter name does not exactly set the pulses racing, JD73 were far racier and hotter than the ‘smooth jazz’ label implies.