José James: Love in a Time of Madness (Blue Note)

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José James: "Love in a Time of Madness"

The press release for José James’ Love in a Time of Madness, his seventh album and fourth for Blue Note, posits, “James is reborn as a powerful voice in contemporary R&B.” Fair enough, though James has, since his emergence a decade ago, always ranked among the most protean of musicians, continually blurring the lines between jazz, soul and rock. Admittedly, never has his intra-genre zigzagging been on such bold display as it is across Madness’ dozen tracks.

James originally envisioned Madness as a double album, one half focusing on love, the other exploring societal woes, particularly the increase in violence against black Americans. But the “madness” portion proved overwhelming, and he instead opted to concentrate on love and its essentiality to healing.

The kaleidoscopic panoply travels from the dark, dramatic, electronica-fueled “What Good Is Love?” and morning-after contemplation of “Last Night” to the headily romantic, dance-floor-ready “Live Your Fantasy,” funkified party anthem “Ladies Man” and tender, soothing “To Be With You.” James teams with Mali Music for the gorgeously pensive “Let It Fall” and with the magnificent Oleta Adams for the closing “I’m Yours,” an ode to shared hope. And while Madness celebrates James the musical polyglot, James the bespoke jazz stylist is concurrently showcased on the soundtrack for Fifty Shades Darker (in which he makes his film debut). There, he contributes a buttery “They Can’t Take That Away From Me.”