Jose James – Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music Of Billie Holiday (2015)
FLAC (tracks) 24 bit/96 kHz | Time – 00:49:32 minutes | 984 MB | Genre: Jazz
Official Digital Download – Source: HDTracks | © Blue Note Records
Acclaimed vocalist José James has released Yesterday I Had The Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday, a tribute to the legendary singer in honor of Holiday’s 100th birthday. The stunning set of 9 songs written or popularized by Holiday was produced by Blue Note president Don Was and features a stellar band including pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci, and drummer Eric Harland.
José James has a reputation as a 21st century musical renaissance man. He’s issued a remarkably consistent series of records that blur the lines between soul, funk, dance music, jazz, and rock. In addition, in 2010, he released For All We Know, a fine collection of jazz standards in duet with Belgian pianist Jef Neve. It is from this place that James releases Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday. In his liner essay he cites Holiday as the artist who made him aspire to be a jazz singer. Accompanied by pianist Jason Moran, drummer Eric Harland, and bassist John Patitucci, James delivers a program of beauty and restraint for the centennial of her birth. James, who has the ability to accomplish startling vocalese and scat techniques, brings none it. He offers these songs with nuance, subtlety, and grace, allowing his considerable discipline to inform his readings. He doesn’t imitate Holiday — because no one could, though many have tried — but instead showcases how she opened herself to the songs themselves, and imbued them not only with sophistication but the cavernous honesty of emotional experience. “Good Morning Heartache” is elegantly paced and sparsely articulated. It emerges from the shadows just enough to reveal how deep these blues go and James responds to them with his own inimitable phrasing. In “Body and Soul,” passion simmers with longing and disconsolate heartache as Moran layers his chords with gentle fills. They anchor James, keeping him from slipping beneath the weight of the emotional waves. In return, he allows the material to speak through him with slight skillful improvisational touches. In “What a Little Moonlight Can Do,” this fine band flexes its muscles. Moran sprints through harmonically inventive runs atop Patitucci’s frenetic comping as Harland adds elastic syncopation to bop. James doesn’t enter until halfway through and glides through the lyric, creating contrast — without limiting the swing. The slow, simmering “Lover Man” builds and dissipates tension several times in coming from the blues’ deep well. On “God Bless the Child,” the pianist opts for a Fender Rhodes. James uses this change to the song’s advantage. He finds the seam in the lyric — just as Holiday did — and allows it to carry him inside the gorgeous melody, and everything gels. “Strange Fruit” is a song covered and badly interpreted so many times it’s nearly painful to hear any version but Holiday’s. Until now. Accompanied only by trancelike handclaps and a chorale of (his own) hummed backing vocals in four-part gospel harmony, James imbues his haunted reading with moral authority and harrowing impact. James’ phrasing is chilling. His accusation, like Holiday’s before him, comes through the painful bewilderment of delivering the lyric, not overdramatization of it. On Yesterday I Had the Blues, James stays exceptionally close to the spirit of Holiday’s work. He does so without embalming her music as a museum piece or smothering his own voice, thereby adding a real contribution to her legacy. This is his most intimate, powerful, and masterful date. –Thom Jurek, AllMusic
There are many reasons why singer Billie Holiday is so admired—her captivating beauty, crafted phrasing, and the singular way she imbued emotion through each note. Yet the jazz legend known as “Lady Day” not only sung the blues, she lived it. In a storied life filled with heartaches, hardships and personal demons that included a long struggle with substance abuse, she eloquently articulated and expressed many of those sentiments in albums such as Lady Sings the Blues (1956, Verve) and enduring songs like “God Bless the Child” and “Lover Man.” In celebration of her 100th birthday—April 7th 1915—singer José James provides a heartfelt and engaging homage to his “musical mother” with Yesterday I Had the Blues: The Music of Billie Holiday.
James’s rising career has shown impressive versatility drawing from R&B, Hip Hop, Indie pop and electronic music; influences heard in 2014’s While You Were Sleeping (Blue Note). Yet make no mistake; he’s proven his merit as a jazz singer in The Dreamer (Brownswood, 2008). His burgeoning love for Billie Holiday came early in life as he recalls, “I discovered Billie during a difficult period of my teenage years…and as much as I loved Nirvana, De La Soul, and A Tribe Called Quest, her music spoke to me on a much deeper level.”
With his smoky baritone and elegant phraseology, James is backed by a superb trio of jazz stars—pianist Jason Moran, bassist John Patitucci and drummer Eric Harland—who each recalls the extraordinary vibe during the recording session, in the release’s video album trailer. While it’s near impossible to channel the true essence of Billie Holiday the trio’s consummate musicianship and singer’s heartfelt handling of the revered material makes this a rewarding listening experience.
The straight forward yet fresh approach to these classics plays out well and while there are a few artistic liberties taken, they simply enhance the recording’s deep aesthetic of music, vocals, and lyrics. When James breathes into the timeless “Good Morning Heartache” his voice articulates the feelings of a lover who’s all too familiar with loss. Moran’s empathetic arrangement of “Body and Soul” is similarly fascinating; the perfect balance of quietude, exploration and James’s honey toned words. Additional highlights include a rapturous version of “Tenderly” and duologue between James and Moron in “I Thought About You” with a creative interlude and soulful refrain at the song’s end.
The program concludes with one of Holiday’s most remembered songs, “Strange Fruit.” Its lyrics originated from a poem written by New York teacher and writer Abel Meeropol in the 1930’s; an anti-lynching protest inspired by a photograph he had seen of an African American hanging in the South. It was recorded and sung by Holiday in 1939.
Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black body swinging in the Southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.
Pastoral scene of the gallant South,
The bulging eyes and the twisted mouth,
Scent of magnolia sweet and fresh,
And the sudden smell of burning flesh!
Here is a fruit for the crows to pluck,
For the rain to gather, for the wind to suck,
For the sun to rot, for a tree to drop,
Here is a strange and bitter crop.
James adds a unique spin and performs the work a cappella, similar to a Negro Spiritual or African chant, threaded by a loop of soulful moans and harmonies as he beautifully sings the haunting verses which are still relevant today. Among the numerous Billie Holiday centennial celebrations, concerts and recordings, James’s Yesterday I Had the Blues is an excellent tribute. –Mark F. Turner, All About Jazz
1. Good Morning Heartache 05:54
2. Body And Soul 05:58
3. Fine And Mellow 05:13
4. I Thought About You 05:28
5. What A Little Moonlight Can Do 05:40
6. Tenderly 03:27
7. Lover Man 06:44
8. God Bless The Child 06:20
9. Strange Fruit 04:48
José James, vocals
Jason Moran, piano
John Patitucci, bass
Eric Harland, drums