No Beginning No End (Blue Note)
A hand adjustment on a drum kit, a suggestive slow bass-snare groove, a rubbery bottom-strings jive and then the voice—all late-night, hushed and come here, girl—before the sinewy trumpet lines lock it in. So begins the drawers-on-the-floor neo-soul of José James’ fourth album, his first on Blue Note, and the one primed to make the Minneapolis-born, very New York-rooted crooner a household name.
Sexy and laidback, No Beginning feels like a righteous placeholder for those pining for the long-awaited D’Angelo comeback album. James seems to acknowledge as much himself, employing the ever-ripped, R&B-er’s bassist, Pino Palladino, to produce and lay out his brand of sophisticated slow jams, and back his butterscotch baritone. There’s a sprinkling of dusty Hammond B-3 organ; the inevitable pop-ish misstep or two (“Come To My Door”); equally lascivious female guest turns (Hindi Zahra and longtime collaborator Emily King); and an overlaying nod to the likes of Marvin Gaye—especially in the belief that there is no greater tool to transcend injustice, “Trouble” and the word “no” than a sultry, Adam’s apple-buzzing purr.
It could easily be called “crossover.” Some might say it’s just a welcome dab of maturity on the finger-wagging, misogynistic swaggers of hip-hop. And with Palladino’s sparse production—spacey, bass-y—it would be easy to see No Beginning as less a batch of songs than an album-length vibe. But it’s one so chill that neo-jazzers and hip-hopers will have little to argue about, and should be unified in head-nodding, toe-tapping, hip-popping agreement. “It’s all over your body,” indeed.