For All we Know (Impulse Records)

José James & Jef Neve

Released May 11, 2010

Prix du Jazz Vocal de l’Académie du Jazz 2010




Often referred to as a jazz singer for the hip-hop generation, New York City-based vocalist José James combines jazz, soul, drum’n’bass, and spoken word into his own unique brand of vocal jazz. While he states his main influences as John Coltrane, Marvin Gaye, and Billie Holiday, his sound on early 12″ singles and in live performances brought to mind such icons of ’70s jazz-soul as Terry Callier, and his music felt more like an update of the fluid crossover approach of Gil Scott-Heron, while also being distinctly his own.

James released his full-length debut album, Dreamer, in 2008 on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint. The album ended up earning him accolades worldwide for its blend of jazz, electronic, soul, and pop styles. It placed at number 21 in Jazz Times’ Top 50 for the year. Consequently, James played on prestigious stages all over the world, including those at the North Sea Jazz Festival, the Victoria Jazz Festival, Billboard Live Tokyo, Centro Cultural São Paolo, the Hermitage in St. Petersburg, Central Park Summerstage in New York, and London’s Royal Festival Hall. James made numerous guest appearances on recordings by the Junior Mance Trio, Jazzanova, Nicola Conte, Basement Jaxx, and Chico Hamilton, to name a few.

He followed Dreamer with Blackmagic in February of 2010.

Pianist/composer Jef Neve (1977) has become a prominent figure in his homeland Belgium and his reputation is rapidly spreading to the rest of the world. He studied at the Lemmensinstituut in Leuven and graduated in 2000 as Master of Music in Jazz and classical piano, both with great distinction. In 2001 he specialized in Chamber Music and was rewarded the diploma ‘cum laude’. He followed master classes with Brad Mehldau, Martial Solal, Lew Tabackin, Billy Hart, Bill Carothers, Kenny Werner, Bruce Barth and others. Jef Neve met with José James at the end of 2008 when he was invited to his live radio-show and the duo decided on the spot to record some standards together one free afternoon. The recording resulted to be magical.

Track Listing:

1. Autumn in New York (Vernon Duke) 3:21

2. Embraceable You (George Gershwin / Ira Gershwin) 6:15

3. Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good to You (Andy Razaf / Don Redman) 5:21

4. Body and Soul (Frank Eyton / Johnny Green / Edward Heyman / Robert Sour) 6:26

5. When I Fall in Love (Edward Heyman / Victor Young) 5:15

6. Tenderly (Walter Gross / Jack Lawrence) 7:27

7. Just Squeeze Me (Duke Ellington / Lee Gaines) 4:17

8. Lush Life (Billy Strayhorn) 7:28

9. For All We Know (J. Fred Coots / Samuel M. Lewis) 5:12


José James: vocals

Jef Neve: piano

Recorded November 18th, 2008 and June 11th, 2009, at Galaxy Studios

Produced by José James and Jef Neve

Executive producer: Dahlia Ambach-Caplin

Mixed by Scott Jacoby

Assisted by Alex Bilowitz

Mastered by Gene Paul and Jamie Polaski, at DB Plus Studios, NYC

Photography: Nathan Gallagher, at Hoxton Works, London

Styling: Gemma Kane

Art Direction: Matt Read

Design: Swifty


Fans of vocalist José James have hardly had time to catch their breath in 2010. His new-school R&B album Blackmagic (a sophomore effort released in March 2010 on Gilles Peterson’s Brownswood imprint) was still being fired by DJs in clubs and on European and Japanese radio, while garnering acclaim globally. Barely two months later, James popped this set out in May. For All We Know is a duet recording with Belgian jazz pianist Jef Neve. It’s James’ first album to be released in the United States — his home country — and the first of newly recorded material on Impulse! Records in six years. Musically, this set couldn’t be more different from his two preceding offerings. There are no star productions by Flying Lotus, Nicola Conte, Moodymann, or Jazzanova this time out. This intimate nine-track collection of standards from the Great American Songbook was produced by the duo who made it. All but one cut was recorded in a single six-hour session, and the majority of these performances are first takes. This is a “pure” jazz recording. James and Neve pull out heavy hitters from the repertoire, “Autumn in New York,” the Gershwins’ “Embraceable You,” “Body and Soul,” and Duke Ellington’s “Just Squeeze Me” among them. James — who studied and played with jazz greats Chico Hamilton and Junior Mance– is not overly reverent, but he is disciplined as well as innovative. Neve’s pianism pushes that envelope a little further still. His light touch, elegant harmonics, and subtly innovative fills and solos give James all the support and room he needs. Listen to this version of Billy Strayhorn’s “Lush Life.” At over seven minutes, its graceful melody is taken deeply inside his rich, warm, sometimes arid baritone (the same way John Coltrane took it inside his horn — this tune is a tribute to him) and brought out again as a compact universe of mystery, imagination, and marvelously diverse ethereal textures with Neve creating enough intuitive space around it to make it possible. The duo’s reading of “When I Fall in Love” is downright moving. It holds no trace of the nostalgia usually associated with its many interpretations. James is able to express the deep yearning in the lyric and melody without over-emoting. For jazz fans who’ve not heard him, this album is a very new turn on some well-worn music by a major talent. For James’ fans — who all knew he could sing like this — For All We Know adds a different kind of depth and dimension to his established recorded oeuvre thus far.

Thom Jurek (AllMusic)