A little less than a month after joining Wynton Marsalis and Wendell Pierce at Lincoln Center to pay homage to the work of Billy Strayhorn, this evening was all about José James as he concluded the final show of his Blackmagic Tour at Littlefield in Brooklyn in conjunction with Giant Step. It may have been cold outside but the atmosphere inside Littlefield was anything but frigid.
Upon arriving to the show, we were greeted to the rich sounds being spun by DJ Ge-ology. His set, comprised of rare groove, jazz breaks, hip-hop and soul, proved to be the perfect precursor to the evening that lay ahead, bridging the old with the new and the classic with the progressive. Opening the show, was Ben Perowsky’s Moodswing Orchestra (MSO). The band, which consisted of Danny Blume on guitar and Ben Perowsky himself on the drums, was fronted by the electric MC, TK Wonder. Wonder, adorned in a strapless black cocktail dress and combat boots, took us on a lyrical mind trip. Perowsky’s MSO provided the dynamic audio landscapes of electronic and experimental rhythms for Wonder’s quick yet melodic cadences to take center stage. Wonder’s performances of the hypnotic “Fantasy” and the provocative “Love Me” definitely gave new comers to her music reason to pay attention through her dynamic stage performance.
But the man of the evening, whom Wonder herself even confessed to looking forward to seeing, left us waiting for little over an hour. Was the wait worth it? Indeed it was. José James took to the stage and was accompanied by a six-piece ensemble. Clad in a tailored black pinstripe suit and red tie, he sported a short haircut with patterns shaved into the back. Without having yet sung one note, his style alone, was an indicator of the juxtaposition of the classic and progressive, the old and the new that he he embodies through his music.
James opened his set with the Flying Lotus produced track, “Code”, and performed several more tracks off of his latest release, Blackmagic. During his set, there was an extra mic stand onstage, which signaled that a special guest would soon be joining him. Luckily, we didn’t have to wait long too find out. During his performance of “Electromagnetic” TK Wonder came back onstage to rhyme one more time. Soon after, James was also joined onstage by the soulful and sultry, Jordana de Lovely, to perform the Taylor McFerrin produced ballad “Love Conversation”. Their energy and chemistry onstage was unparalleled. She stayed onstage and accompanied James for several more songs, including, the title track, “Blackmagic”. Rounding out the guest list and the highlights for the evening was none other than, producer and vocal beat-maker, Taylor McFerrin. He joined James onstage for an encore performance of “Park Bench People” where they both riffed off of one another in their own distinct way.
As the night came to a close, James shared with us that Blackmagic is about a community of musicians coming together and supporting each other. And that’s the way it should be. We can’t grow and innovate in isolation and what was witnessed this evening, was a wonderful example of what continues to make jazz music so exciting and relevant.
Words by Terri Neal