José James- Blackmagic LP

posted 23 Feb 2010, 01:59 by Joe Richardson   [ updated 23 Feb 2010, 02:13 by Harry Cooke ]
[Brownswood Recordings]
Released: 22nd February 2010

by Tony Clarke

José James is a jazz singer, hailing from New York but now based in London, who has released this second album on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood Recordings label. 

His music bears the hallmarks of that stable with its laid-back, late night blend of soulful vocals, hiphop and jazz. Blackmagic ambitiously avoids settling for this palette of influences, though, casting a wider world net, and incorporating other global and underground sounds. James has been globetrotting, performing and working with many different artists including beatmeisters Flying Lotus and DJ Mitsumaintaining they have contributed fresh direction and tracks.

Beats carry and drive songs like ‘Lay You Down’, ‘Warrior’, ‘Made For Love’ and title track ‘Blackmagic’. And these are the strongest on the album. The first puts a slow, hypnotic hiphop groove against an r’n’b vocal, underpinned by electric piano and brass. ‘Warrior’ plunders the techno-dubstep of Benga’s ‘Emotions’, a cover of sorts, where added vocals often the textures and a piano solo flies in the breakdown. There is looseness and noisiness to ‘Made For Love’: James’s voice is almost lost in a soup of glitchy flicks of rhythm and eerie washes of electronica.

‘Blackmagic’ haunts, is bluesy, a much edgier proposition compared to other tracks which predominantly seem risk-averse. The interesting, adventurous songs are too few in number. They sit between less inspiring soul like ‘The Greater Good’ and jazz ballads like ‘No Tellin’’ that tend to fall a little flat. James’s rich baritone is impressive if not quite the demanding presence it should be. Is this a shortcoming of the production or a performer still honing and developing their vocal style?The same could be levelled at the lyrics which also seem risk-averse, stick straightforwardly and simply to the genre’s favourite topic of love, and could be more demanding.

As a whole, the album Blackmagic is very listenable, not dislikeable, but only engages when hinting at its possibilities and potential. Ultimately, I felt it underdeveloped and less than the sum of its parts.