Despite the buzz, we haven’t ever been huge fans of José James in spite of the hype that says he’s one of the best new singers in jazz.
Actually that’s not strictly true. We just haven’t felt that José’s recordings have lived up to the early, and now unavailable, vocal versions of tracks off John Coltrane’s masterful “A Love Supreme”. Here’s Resolution from those sessions. There aren’t a lot of vocal takes on Coltrane’s masterpiece (or at least this passage of it) and that one is great.
Anyway returning to James it seems he is inspired by the masters to do his best work. This incredible live take on Billie Holiday’s classic Strange Fruit below does the difficult and covers the uncoverable with plausible intensity.
The gospel themed introduction just kills it for us.
It’s from a live concert thrown to celebrate 100 years since Lady Day was born and is MUCH, MUCH better than the version on his recent Billie inspired album (one of many from prominent artists this year).
Perhaps the dedication to Trayvon Martin, one of a number of impossible to account for deaths of young African Americans at the hands of police in Southern America, is the source of the feeling and passion. Certainly the events at Ferguson, Missouri have already given rise to anger based masterpieces from D’Angelo and Kendrick Lamar – amongst others.
Whatever the cause there’s an intensity to José James’ modern day spiritual that deserves a listen.