Music Connection

Album:  Contigo

Review by Andrea Guy

Sometimes an album can be summed up in one word. Contigo by Jose Ned James is one such album, and the word that best describes it is “romance.” Contigo is an instrumental album whose focus is on the saxophone. The melodies are slow and smooth and very sensual.That’s as it should be as the album is a celebration of the 20th Anniversary of the album Romance by Luis Miguel as well as songs by artists that have inspired Ned James. Several of the songs on Miguel’s famous album also appear on Contigo.

The music can best be described as a mixture of jazz and Latin which rolled together is a nice smooth easy listening CD for when you want to kick back and just let the sounds of a wonderful instrument envelope you.

Jose Ned James plays Soprano, Tenor and Alto saxophone. The casual listener won’t be able to tell which he’s playing, but that doesn’t matter, because anyone’s ears can appreciate the talent he displays with the saxophone.

Songs like “Inolvidable” have a wonderful Latin beat and the sax is like a finger pointing to you, to come hither. The music wants to wrap you in its warm and loving embrace. OK, it isn’t embracing you, it is pulling you up off your chair and making you dance. The faster paced Latin beat makes this song super sexy.

Jose really displays his talent with the sax on “Historia De Un Amor.”  In the last minute of that song, he coaxes some notes out of the sax that will leave you breathless. “Solamente Una Vez,” is one of the album’s more romantic tracks, as is “Como.”  The slow saxophone and the beating of the drum set the mood for love.

Contigo is the album that will convince you that the saxophone is the most romantic instrument. The sweet strains of the sax will melt your heart. It is also proof that songs don’t need lyrics to convey a message. Each track on Contigo speaks of love, but not with words. The melodies urge you to move closer to that special someone.  If you don’t have a special someone, they’ll leave you longing for someone.

Anyone looking for an instrumental album would do well by picking up a copy of Contigo. Jose Ned James will wow listeners with his expert playing and seduce you with the melodies of the classic songs he plays.

This is the perfect album to relax and distress after a long day. Try “Contigo En La Distancia” and feel its relaxing powers! The saxophone works better than any pill at letting the worlds problems slip away. After a few minutes listening to Contigo and all your problems seem to slip away.

“La Puerta” is another slow sexy track that will have your body swaying in time to the music.

The album ends with the romantic “Que Sabes Tu.” This track has easy listening written all over it. It ends the album on a very lounge-y sort of note.

Contigo is an album for all seasons and all purposes. Stunning melodies, sexy beats, romance and relaxation. This album offers it all. The saxophone has never sounded any better than it does here. Jose Ned James definitely has a way with this instrument. He is a veteran performer, after all. He’s toured with artists such as, UB40, The Kinks, The Clash and even Richard Marx.

If you are looking for a wonderful collection of romantic instrumental songs, Contigo is the album for you. It is also a great addition to anyone CD collection. The songs Jose Ned James plays are timeless, as is this disc.

Review by Andrea Guy

Rating:  4 stars (out of 5)

Title:  Contigo

Reviewed by Bryan Rodgers

Panamanian saxophonist Jose Ned James has worked in bands ranging from reggae to jazz to R&B, but his solo album Contigo finds him focusing on the music that changed his life.  Blending elegant cocktail jazz with the percussive sound of his native country, James displays the sure hand and delicate touch that only a veteran can throughout the album’s ten tracks.  The ability to turn out original, highly emotive music like that found on Contigo is a convincing testament to the skill of a man who has found comfort in a wide variety of musical styles over his lifetime.  He’s released dance music CDs, performed with luminaries like Bonnie Raitt and Prince, played jazz at Carnegie Hall, and been inducted into the Minnesota Music Hall of Fame thrice, among many other achievements over the last 40 years.  Upon listening to Contigo, however, it becomes clear in which musical realm his true passion dwells, and that’s sophisticated jazz.

The album’s title translates to “with you,” and that’s an accurate moniker for the majority of the music found here.  Images of crackling fireplaces, wine glasses, lush boudoirs, and gorgeous people are conjured with ease.  James’ sexy sax work is set on a foundation of synthesized quiet storm-style beats replete with swooning strings.  A generous amount of Central American influences, such as salsa and calypso, are added to the musical structure, and the result is multicultural jazz that seamlessly makes its way from the lounge to the bedroom.  “Sabor A Mi” sets a sensual tone from the start of the album, introducing dramatic waves of keyboard underneath effect-laden alto sax from James.  Soon he begins playing in pure form, the strings breeze in underneath and a pulsing percussion section kicks in, moving the song from jazzy interlude to sultry slow-dance material.  “Historia de Un Amor” finds James’ lyrical playing augmented by expressive piano work and he takes full advantage of the instrument’s melodic movements, venturing into the highest and lowest reaches of his range.  “Sabor a Mi” and “Solamente Una Vez” are more restrained, with James sticking firmly to the song’s construction.  That’s the prevailing theme for most of the record.  The tempos are moderate to slow, the sax at the forefront of the experience, and love on the player’s mind.  He’s able to make sad sounds too, even without vocals.  “Como” sounds like a therapy session for depressed musical instruments – that’s how much feeling James wrings out of his songs.

The songs are fairly concise, but the relaxed mood still makes for a somewhat slow-moving experience.  “La Mentira” brings some appealing Latin-tinged acoustic guitar into the fold, but the plodding pace also starts to wear thin at that point of the album.  Some of the tracks are nearly laborious, like “La Puerta” and “Contigo En la Distancia,” the latter of which features a truly gorgeous intro before the same sort of slow groove takes over.  The tempo finally picks up during the energetic “Inolvidable,” and James puts a little extra sweat into his thoughtful playing.  Listeners who sunk into the bed or couch during the album’s first act will want to shake their blood a little when the song’s layered percussion and groovy bass creeps into their backbone.  But by the time the albums final two songs roll around, most listeners will be just about ready for a nap or, perhaps, the next phase of a romantic evening.  Contigo is an album with a narrow range of music, but a considerable amount of songwriting skill, ability and focus on display nonetheless.

Review by Bryan Rodgers

3.5 Stars (out of 5)

Album: Contigo

Review By: Dan MacIntosh

Panamanian multi-instrumentalist (as well as singer/songwriter and a producer) José Ned James has had quite the variety-packed career so far.  He grew up listening to calypso, cumbias, salsa, samba, R&B and rock N’ roll, and he’s learned to incorporate these varying styles into his challenging musical jobs. After moving to Minnesota and studying at University of Minnesota, he first joined with the popular Twin Cities R&B band, Willie and the Bees. Next, his attentions turned to jazz fusion/dance music, which he expressed within the group Top Secret. Later, he joined the rock-reggae outfit Ipso Facto. These days, however, he is mainly focusing his skills on writing and performing jazz music.

His most recent release is titled Contigo, which translated into English means ‘with you.’ This album is a fairly straight ahead Latin jazz effort. Although these 10 tracks were all composed by other musicians, James played many of the instruments on most of them. For instance, on the slyly sexy opener, “Sabora A Mi,” James plays soprano saxophone, electric bass, Latin percussion, drums and drum programming. The only other player on it is Sean Turner, who contributes piano and keyboard. Throughout the CD, James also plays tenor saxophone, piano and alto saxophone. Except for a little keyboard here, and guitar there, you might say James is a one-man-band. Especially when you consider how he also engineered the recording, helped mix it, produced it and assisted with the package’s graphic design.

The playing on this new effort is topnotch, probably because James has studied and played with some of the best. These jazz icons include Eddie Daniels, the late Bob Brookmeyer and Art Pepper.

Contigo is a fine slice of jazz music all the way around. While James’ playing is impeccable, and his tone pure, it is clear to all that he has learned well from his days as a pop and rock performer. “Como” is a prime example of this studied display, as it finds James digging into the tune’s romantic melody with great vigor. James easily stands on his own. However, he’s even better when able to bounce his saxophon-ic ideas off other players, as he does during “La Mentira” where he’s able to playfully trade notes with acoustic guitarist Juan Della Selva. This track’s lightly rolling rhythm allows James to build his soloing to slow burn.

With “La Puerta,” James also shows off his obvious pop instincts as a producer. The track opens with a chiming keyboard part that wouldn’t have sounded all that out of place on a ‘80s radio pop song. It might seem a little weird to a jazz fans’ ears. Nevertheless, James somehow makes it fit nicely – just when you thought it might devolve into a dull pop ballad.

James has also done some singing in his days, and it’s a bit of a shame that he doesn’t get to work out his vocal cords on this outing. Even so, one can sense from the way he plays his saxes that he’s also a singer. You can hear him phrasing his notes in the same way a singer enunciates song lyrics.

It is fitting James titled his album after a word that means ‘with you’ because this is, top to bottom, a romantic album. You don’t need a Spanish-to-English translator to get a feel for what these songs are all about. It all adds up to a combined theme of seduction. Some guys win a girl over with their good looks. Other guys apply a sense of humor. In Jose Ned James’ case, the key ingredient to getting his man-to-woman message across is the sensual power of his saxophone. This is a 10-song auditory foreplay tool, if you will, and James knows exactly how to use his instrument to get the job done.

Review By: Dan MacIntosh

Rating: 3 Stars (out of 5)

Album: Contigo

Reviewed by Matthew Warnock

There is always a risk that a jazz artist takes when they step in the “smooth” realm of the genre.  For some reason, when an artist decides to make a record in that area of the jazz tradition, they are immediately pegged as being something less or not as “hip” as their modern jazz cousins.  This may be the case in some instances, but the same can be said for many “modern jazz” releases at the same time, but with other releases in the smooth jazz genre the musicianship is very high, though it usually has a bit of a softer touch that makes it more accessible by a larger audience. When an artist brings a high-level of musicianship, and walks the line of tasteful production, to the smooth jazz sound, the results are often just as merited as any traditional jazz release.

Saxophonist Jose Ned James, is an artist that brings a strong sense of melody, musicianship and creative improvisation to the smooth jazz realm on his latest release Contigo.  Playing alto, tenor and soprano sax, James immediately makes it known to his listeners that while the tunes may be easy listening jazz, his playing is always at the highest level in regards to tuning, tone and the ability to improvise a convincing melody line to fit any given tune.  His solo on “Solamente Una Vez” is a good example of this approach.  Here, the saxophonist interacts with the underlying piano comping to create an improvisation that smoothly shifts from the tune’s main melody to improvisation and back again.  By staying true to the intent of the composition and arrangement with his soloing, James leads the listener along his musical statement, rather than try to win them over with flash, which he saves for the very last flurry of notes that ends the tune.

From an arranging standpoint, there is a strong emphasis on Latin grooves and rhythms, which have become a favorite of smooth jazz artists throughout the years.  Tunes such as the slow and sultry “Historia De Un Amor,” the up-beat montuno “Inolvidable” and the medium tempo “Que Sabes Tu” all present different approaches to Latin-flavored music.  By keeping things interesting with regards to tempo and the style of the Latin groove on each track, James links the tunes with a unified approach to groove, while providing enough diversity to keep things from becoming rhythmically monotonous.  This approach could have resulted in a low level of musical interest, but instead, James keeps the listener guessing as to what Latin interpretation will come next with each new track.

While the musicianship and sax playing is very strong throughout the album, the keyboard sounds and percussion sounds can sometimes come across as being a bit too produced in the recording process.  The lead-off track, “Sabor a Mi,” features very nice playing by James and the added trumpet, but sometimes the key sounds and percussion leave a little to be desired as far as tone and timbre are concerned.  This track is nicely arranged, but the synth instruments can be a bit distracting at times.  Though some listeners might be turned off by this approach, others will enjoy it depending on their tastes, so it is worth giving a listen to before one makes a decision on what side of the fence they lie with these sounds.

Overall, Contigo features strong playing from the multi-saxophonist James, as well as nice variations on different Latin-inspired grooves and rhythms.  While some listeners may not enjoy the synth sounds, others will have no problem with them, leaving the decision up to the audience as to whether they were the right choice or not.  For fans of smooth jazz, this is an album worth checking out.

 Reviewed by Matthew Warnock

Rating:  3 Stars (out of 5)

Title:  Contigo

José Ned James came to the United States looking to broaden his musical horizons.  The Panamanian-born multi-instrumentalist grew up on a blend of Rock and Roll, Salsa, Calypso, Samba, Cumbias and R&B, but while at the University of Minnesota he discovered Jazz.  Touring with Clark Terry, James also learned from folks such as Eddie Daniels, Bob Brookmeyer and Art Pepper.  After college, James made Minnesota his home base, going on to star in such local institutions as Willie and the Bees and Ipso Facto.  The latter went on to record four albums for Sony/Epic Records, affording James the opportunity to play with the likes of Tracy Chapman, Shabba Ranks, The Kinks, The Clash and Alexander O’Neal.  In the 1990’s, José Ned James struck out on his own, and has recorded a series of critically praised albums.  His latest, Contigo, celebrates the tradition of Latin Pop, as well as the 20th anniversary of James’ work on Luis Miguel’s 1991 album Romance.

Contigo opens with “Sabor A Mi”, with sax and clarinet trading melody lines in a solid bit of Lite-FM jazz.  Elements of Kenny G are notable here in James’ riffs, blended into a Latin pop and jazz framework.  “Historia De Un Amor” is pure easy listening jazz/pop, with the emphasis on the pop side of the spectrum.  James shows, perhaps, a bit of Sting-era Branford Marsalis influence here, presenting a charismatic and forceful melody in an arrangement that is surprisingly neither.  James slows things down a notch with “Solamente Una Vez”, a down tempo piece that sees the piano step out to the forefront a bit, keeping pace nicely with James’ co-lead on the saxophone.

“Como” comes across as a bit bland.  The song is too forward to be allowed to relax in the background as elevator or medical office music.  There’s too much going on, and James’ personality shines through the song in a big way.  Unfortunately the song itself just doesn’t keep with the energy that goes into it and falls somewhat flat in the process.  “La Mentira” is more of a Latin swing number, with guitar and saxophone complementing each other on a shared theme.  This is one of the most sonically pleasing tracks on the disc; never truly a stand-out, but always quietly pulling at your attention.  “La Puerta” finds James stepping back into the 1980’s for a David Foster-style keyboard instrumental buoyed by an affable and musically contrite saxophone.  Like much of Foster’s work from that era, the song grabs your attention initially but quickly fades.

“Involvidable” is an upbeat and danceable number that features some of James’ best saxophone work on the album.    A catchy pop tune with a life of its own, “Involvidable” will have you hitting the repeat button a time or six.  “Contigo En La Distancia”, in spite of lending the album its name, is uninspired and bland.  Like a novel built on great ideas but never really mapped out, this song never finds a coherent center and drifts rather than taking the listeners somewhere.  “Cuando Vuelva A Tu Lado” is a solid effort at easy listening jazz/pop.  James closes somewhat weakly with “Que Sabes Tu”, an uninspired curtain call that ends the album on a careless whisper.

José Ned James is a wonderfully talented instrumentalist and composer; his discography is full of albums that deserve much more attention on a national, and perhaps, international level than they have ultimately received.  Contigo does nothing to put a dent in that impression.  It does, however, remind the song-writers out there that themes, concepts and covers are not always your friend.  The energy just isn’t there at times on Contigo.  Additionally, for an album presented as a celebration of Latin Pop, Contigo contains a fair amount of the sort of bland, easy-listening jazz/pop that constitutes the genre of Lite Jazz nowadays.  Even with all of that said James is a fantastic instrumentalist with a feel for a melody line that few have.  His phrasing is epic, and he manages to snare some beautiful musical moments even in the midst of songs that are less than inspiring.  Contigo turns out to be a mixed bag, but should encourage listeners to check some of José Ned James’ other work.

Rating:  3 Stars (Out of 5)

Review by: Wildy Haskell

WITH FAITH

José James and I met in Panama, many years ago. I have a vivid memory of a young, very thin, flute player, always enthusiastic, and eager to learn, with a wonderful smile and a gregarious disposition.  He possessed a tremendous amount of confidence in his playing, and would try anything in the way of experimentation, never afraid of the new, always challenging the established.  Almost a lifetime later, here’s José again, his curiosity intact, his energy and disposition as strong as ever, on the road he never abandoned, always searching, always trying.  José is my friend, always has been.  But he’s also a peer, one I’ve always respected and admired.  An original, Jose’s music speaks from the heart.  Adelante José, salud y suerte siempre.

 -Rubén Blades

Minneapolis Star Tribune

Review

 Jose James / With Faith / Con Fe

 Adventurous new CD, “With/Faith,” showcasing a mixed bag of styles and James’ soulful voice!

-Mpls. Star Tribune

 

La Prensa

Ahora José regresa para entregarnos su tercera grabación “With Faith /Con Fé. El álbum contiene 10 canciónes entre ellas temas como, “Love Hurts/El amor duele”,”You just can't wait/No puedes esperar”, “Angelitos Negros”/Black Angels”, “Pura Vida/Pure Life”, “Faces/Caras”. Algunas son para escucharse y gozar de su melodía y otros son para bailar y gozar de la vida! Rubén Blades al referirse a este joven talento dijo “ José es muy original y su música habla desde el Corazón”.

-Mario Duarte/La Prensa

 

Jose' James is a versatile veteran performer whose skills unfold on this recording like the petals of a jungle flower. A 43(ish) year old native of the Paraiso region of the Panama Canal, James' music much like his speaking voice, is flavored with the Latino/Caribbean accent he uses so crisply. Released in 2001, Jungle to Jungle is a feast of percussion delight, showcasing James on timbales, doumbeks, talking drums, congas and berimbao as well as flute, bass guitar, synthesizers and vocals. Conspicuously missing though from this disc were healthy palatable servings of Jose' saxophone work. But then, maybe I'll just have to get my traditional-sax jones satisfied by his live performances. And in the last 25 years, he's had plenty of stage time, ranging from work with Willie & the Bees, Bonnie Raitt, Shangoya, Ipso Facto and Lorie Line to touring with national acts UB40, Tracy Chapman and Ziggy Marley.

Jungle to Jungle is released on James' own label, JNJ Records and offers 8 tracks that link the urban jungle to it's primeval predecessor. The Latin-techno dance cuts (Just Be Good and Electro Slap) put you very much in the middle of a sweaty pulsating urban singles scene. Eternity! With its delicate flute and talking drum transports Jose' and the listener from familiar surroundings back in time to the mystery Goddess religions of the Middle East. Eternity! Jungle to Jungle is a fine example of what a multi-faceted performer like Jose' James can do. Listen to the CD recording of  "Jungle to Jungle" but stand in front of the stage wherever (and with whomever), Jose' James is playing and listen as he transports you back to a time when the wind flowed free and there were no concrete jungles.

By

Jacquie Maddix

Rollin & Tumblin

KFAI Radio - Mpls

90.3FM & 106.7FM

 

 

Review

Jose James / With Faith / Con Fe

I must say I was pleasantly surprised when I put on your CD. You are a seasoned professional. I think “ Love Hurts” is a terrific song and a terrific record. I love how you so effortlessly combined elements of salsa, jazz and pop to create a hooky, danceable record that for my money, could go on the pop charts tomorrow without breaking a sweat. The production is good, the arrangement is excellent – you seem to have all the bases covered. Afro-Latin jazz-influenced pop- a wonderful, original and fresh hybrid!

-TAXI

Panama Cyber Space News

 

Panama Cyberspace News              Sunday June 1, 2003

José James, outstanding Panamanian flutist, saxophonist, and multi-instrumentalist recently released his first CD of electro/acoustic percussion dance music called Jungle to Jungle. José, born and reared in Paraíso, Canal Zone, was voted Best Brass/Reed Artist at the Minnesota Music Awards in 1994. He began playing the alto saxophone from age 12, and at age 14 he started playing with the "Combo" The Scepters. He studied music theory and classical flute at the Conservatory of Panama.  In 1975 he moved to the United States, where he attended the University of Minnesota and with the Jazz Ensemble, he performed with Art Pepper, Eddie Daniels, Bob Brookmeyer and toured with Clark Terry, finishing with a performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City. In 1987 he joined Ipso Facto and in 1989 Ipso entered the Yamaha Soundcheck Band Competition, winning the Platinum Prize and subsequently signed a recording contract with Sony/Epic Records. In 1992, José formed his own band opening shows for artists such as Jimmy Walker, Nipsy Russell, George Wallace, Larry Miller and performed with Doc Severinsen, Bonnie Raitt, Tracy Chapman and UB40 to name a few. In early 1998, he joined Lorie Line & her 14-piece Pop Chamber Orchestra playing World Percussion and has been touring the United States for the past six years. In addition he has been writing, performing and producing for various projects for his own label JNJ Records. CDs can be purchased through his website, www.amazon.com and www.cdbaby.com Read more about José at the following Web site: http://www.josejames.com/