Live: Jose James Brings The Love To Harlem

Categories: Jose James, Live

Nicole Battle
Jose James
Harlem Stage Gatehouse
Saturday, February 11

Better than: Ever.

What better way to see in the pre-Valentine's Day weekend, a warm-up for the designated 24 hours our culture sets aside for Love, than to enjoy the supple outpourings of Jose James? For two nights last weekend, the Yankee-hatted jazz vocalist and his bold, sensitive musicians debuted his fourth album No Beginning, No End at the Harlem Stage at the Gatehouse. Approaching well-deserved acclaim for its 30th Anniversary of programming artists who nudge the radar, the Gatehouse glowed with warmth and intimacy. Intriguing projections and soft lighting on the golden brick walls of the 1890 Romanesque edifice (a former water pumping station) gave us the the sensation of being suspended in amber—a great setting for a soiree of incandescent artistry.

In olden days, sheer gravity helped the Gatehouse, set high on the rock of Manhattan, to send water gushing down to the city below. That embedded energy seemed still at work as the weight of James's creative legacy, a debt he loves to honor, flowed though him. A man who can croon and scat and fly his vocal with hummingbird wings, James is secure enough to work with genres as different as classic jazz and electronica—Flying Lotus is a friend—with authenticity every time. He recently worked on "Facing East," a Belgian project channeling John Coltrane.

The audience appeared to know all this. What wIth the threat of snow, the dress code was Best Sweaters and Jeans; but the room was packed with couples and neo-familial groupings of all varieties, ready to be led and responding fully to James as each track touched on another level of love.

Minneapolis-born James claims he joined his Catholic school choir to meet girls, but he shone at Vivaldi. His charm and skills soon catapulted him into the musician's life. Before the show, James said, "When the student is ready, the master appears." He was talking about No Beginning, No End's collaborators—R&B songwriter supreme Leon Ware, a frequent Marvin Gaye collaborator; guitarist Pino Palladino, who's played with D'Angelo, among others. (Voodoo is a touchstone for James's current feel.)

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