JOSÉ JAMES: 1978 (Rainbow Blonde Records)

Acclaimed soulful jazz singer José James releases his long anticipated new album, ‘1978’, today, Friday,  5th April. It’s his 12th long player and it was flagged up as long ago as November when José released the single, 38th & Chicago’. The song was/is named for the intersection in James’ hometown, Minneapolis, where George Floyd was tragically murdered in 2020. It’s a deep, socially conscious, soulful groove that explores faith, sorrow and perseverance in the face of police brutality against the (mainly) Black community.

That release was followed in January by another single  and ‘Saturday Night (Need You Now)’ proffered something quite different. Like ‘38th’ it was jazzy with a soulful undertow but it was optimistic –  an up-tempo, club friendly cut that José’s team told us was a  sort of homage to  his musical heroes Marvin Gaye, Quincy Jones and Michael Jackson.

In the context of the album, both those cuts still deliver, representing the mood/sonic/lyrical extremes of the set. The opening track, ‘Let’s Get It’ is insistent and, though, nothing like ‘Let’s Get It On’, given what we’ve learned, the Gaye link is clear. It’s sensual and soulful. The lengthy and ethereal ‘Isis and Osiris’ is another romantic affair while the spacey ‘Planet Nine’ is cleverly up-tempo. Ditto the head-nodding, foot-tapping  ‘Black Orpheus’.

Things get deeper when Belgian rapper Baloji joins James  halfway through ‘Dark Side of the Sun’ while  Brazilian vocalist Xenia França adds her voice to ‘Place of Worship’. Deeper still is the sombre ‘For Trayvon’ – which, we’re assuming, was inspired by the 2012 murder of 17 year old Trayvon Martin.

Thus across the concise 9 tracker you can enjoy things that are deeply personal, intimate and seductive, songs that  socially minded and message-driven alongside feel-good grooves. Indeed, much like the sonic landscape of 1978. José James sees 1978 as a banner year in music: He sees that year in music as “a meeting and merging of styles, soul, R&B, funk, rock, disco and jazz all freely intermingling on radio waves and dance floors.” He adds, “It was also a year when music from other shores—reggae and African music — made significant inroads into the American scene, and an entirely new way of music-making, fresh from the streets of The Bronx, was just starting to be heard hip-hop was its name.”. 1978 was also the year our man was born!

Jose James’s ‘1978’ is out now and comes recommended and you can catch him live @ Ronnie Scott’s  31st May – 1st June 2024.

(BB) 4/5