José James is the embodiment of smooth raw organic chocolate in your ears. His show at the Melbourne International Jazz Festival was an ode to the music of Billie Holiday. While his musical arrangements of Billie Holiday’s songs demonstrated influences of R&B and blues, Prince to Sinatra, he segued from song to song seamlessly, truly shining when he returned to the traditional jazz standard format.
He honoured his band and gave them plenty of stage time for extended solos. The flow of the songs performance at times felt disrupted when James moved into a signature vocal trick of remixing the song like it was a skipping record. While the first few times it was clever, it did start to distract from his skill as a singer.
A personable performer, James wove the story of his musical evolution between the songs and telling the history of Billie Holiday’s own musical journey.
The highlights of the concert for me was his simple rendition of ‘Embraceable You’ with the band; and for his encore, a performance of ‘Strange Fruit’, performed powerfully, alone on the stage, with his own voice looped live to create the backing track for the performance.
Emmanuella Grace is a voice and performance coach, singer and founder of Find Your Voice Australia.
The Melbourne International Jazz Festival runs 3-12 June 2016. Read our guide to the best of the fest. You can learn more about Jose James via his website.