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Jose James: Two Sides, Same Coin

With a pair of different yet equally dynamic releases, vocalist José James arrives

It’s been a long time since a male jazz singer delivered an unapologetically sensual album. Blackmagic (Brownswood), the lubricious sophomore disc from José James, brings sexy back to jazz without the smut factor of, say, R. Kelly. “I can dig it,” says the Minneapolis-bred, now London-based singer-songwriter, 31. “Yeah, the music is sexy; it’s late-night.”

Even though the mid-’60s’ spiritual jazz is a significant touchstone of James’ music, Blackmagic undoubtedly leans closer to Leon Ware than Leon Thomas, as James’ baritone massages the songs’ languid melodies and lustful lyrics. By recruiting electronica producers such as Taylor McFerrin, Moodymann and Ben Westbeech, the disc reveals James’ involvement in DJ culture, something that he credits British jazz and dance guru Gilles Peterson with helping him develop. “[Peterson] took me from the New York jazz scene and put me around the world in a whole other scene, which is very club oriented. I’m thinking, ‘There are 500 people in the crowd and half of them are ladies.’ That’s what we want to see at a jazz concert,” James says. “I want to make music for our generation.”

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