Panamanian (now resident in Minneapolis,, USA) José James attended The New School for Jazz and Contemporary Music. In 2008, he debuted with his first album, The Dreamer, on the Brownswood label with Blackmagic following in 2010. 2010’s For All We Know came out on the Impulse! label and became the winner of both the Edison Award[ and L’Académie du Jazz Grand Prix for best Vocal Jazz Album of 2010.

On this album he showcases his significant vocal talent to the tunes of Billie Holliday whose 100th birthday it would have been this year and who James claims as his inspiration for following his chosen career path. “As much as I loved Nirvana, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, her music spoke to me on a much deeper level. Her work was mastery – of pain, of trauma, of faith in music and the power of transformation. I had found my teacher. Billie Holiday made me want to be a jazz singer and set me on the path that I’m walking today. “ he says in the notes to this album out on Bluenote and downloaded here from Highresaudio.

You get Good Morning Heartache, Body and Soul, Fine and Mellow, I Thought About You, What a Little Moonlight Can Do, Tenderly, Lover Man, God Bless the Child, Strange Fruit and all are rather splendid indeed.

Yesterday I had The Blues is produced by Blue Note president Don Was and features  a band that includes pianist Jason Muan, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland. The arrangements are for the main part sparse allowing James’ vocals to shine through and carry the emotional connection he obviously has with the music herein through to the listener – the exception to the laidback blues stylings of Yesterday is the much more upbeat and energetic What A Little Moonlight Can Do.

I’m certainly no jazz aficionado, but this is clearly an album of worth and James’ vocal talents are undeniable. This, together with the excellent musicianship and Holliday’s heartfelt lyrics makes for a thoroughly enjoyable album. Highlights for me are the gospel-like and stripped-back Strangefruit which, if you know the song, can’t fail to touch you and cause the hairs on the back of your neck to stand up.

A fitting tribute to Holliday!

 

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