It looks as if this might be José James’s year. Or at least it’s looking to be a good day for the Minneapolis-reared jazz/R&B singer, whose new album debuted today at NPR Music’s “First Listen” site -- a hip and prestigious outlet for streaming records ahead of their release -- and who is slated to perform tonight on “The Late Show With David Letterman.” This will actually be James’ second national TV performance in a month, too, as he also performed on “Conan” in December (see below).
All the attention on James is over his fourth record, “No Beginning No End,” which arrives Jan. 22 via Blue Note Records. NPR’s write-up on the album says it “splits the difference between Bill Withers and D'Angelo.” Among the participants in the sessions were co-producer Pino Palladino, who replaced John Entwistle as the Who’s bassist, as well as fellow cutting-edge jazzists such as Robert Glasper and Kris Bowers. The album’s innovative sound might come as a surprise to fans who only heard James’ last record, “For All We Know,” a more traditional jazz collaboration on Verve Records with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. But the smooth-baritone singer also worked with the likes of the Roots, Basement Jaxx and various electronic DJs in prior projects. His first big break was winning a 2006 jazz competition in London, and he proceeded to live there for several years. He has since relocated to Brooklyn.
James, 33, grew up in south Minneapolis with a Panamanian musician dad -- José James Sr. -- who played horns with Willie & the Bees and Ipso Facto, and with the daring jazz guru Carei Thomas as one of his main mentors. The younger James has played the Dakota many times, but his next hometown gig is instead at the Cedar Cultural Center on Jan. 29.