With his intoxicating blend of jazz, R&B and hip-hop, José James has become one of my favorite artists in recent years. He has a string of first-rate records to his credit, soaring highest on 2013’s “No Beginning No End” and last year’s “While You Were Sleeping.” For his latest project, James dips way back into the past and tackles the songbook of the late, great Billie Holiday, who would have turned 100 on April 7.
“My first clear musical memory is of Billie Holiday,” James writes in the liner notes to stellar new full-length “Yesterday I Had the Blues.” “Billie’s voice floated through our house — grand, warm, intimate, and wholly unique. Billie Holiday made me want to be a jazz singer and set me on the path that I’m walking today.”
James does justice to “Lady Day” throughout the nine-track, 49-minute platter and gets a boost from a superb backing band comprised of Jason Moran (piano), John Patitucci (bass) and Eric Harland (drums).
They tackle some of Holiday’s best-known tunes, managing to pay homage while at the same putting their own stamp on standouts “Good Morning Heartache,” “Body and Soul,” “Fine and Mellow,” “Lover Man,” “God Bless the Child” and “Strange Fruit.” This is a fitting tribute to one of the all-time greats. (Jeffrey Sisk)