Reuben James – ‘Tunnel Vision Mixtape’ – London Jazz News
Ruben James – Tunnel Vision Mixtape
(digital EP – review by Mark McKergow)
This highly anticipated release from the Birmingham-born keyboardist, singer and producer Reuben James is a treat, filled with warm vibes and high-level instrumental talent exploring a jazzy nu-soul R&B style with skill and panache.
Reuben James rose to prominence in his work with chart-topping singer Sam Smith, joining arena tours, Grammy awards and international fame in the pop world while quietly cultivating his jazz chops. He is interested in a wide range of music and has made a particularly bold move by being ready and willing to collaborate with other musicians ranging from global superstars like Joni Mitchell, Herbie Hancock and Stormzy to jazz drummer Chris Dave, rapper Jay Prince and his colleagues. Midlands alumni Tom Ford and Soweto Kinch.
James has been talking about this job for at least a year, and he’s rightly waited until summer and barbecues are an option again. He calls this set a “mixtape”, a nice, informal way to showcase a cohesive, well-blended collection of an hour’s worth of work with many co-performers, new material alongside a few choice previous releases. The opening Vegan Butter see american saxophonist Tivon Pennicott adding its soft color to a bass-filtered groove, which dives into Closer, James’ 2021 single featuring Sophie Faith’s beautiful vocals interweaving James’ own laid-back vocals and Jay Prince’s rapping. It’s quite a seven minute trip, moving in the sway you got me with a South Londoner Jaz Karis providing the choir.
The focus shifts to the lightly strummed acoustic guitar on Research with Vula Malinga join Jay Prince and multi-instrumentalist Conor Albert. The rhythm becomes a notch firmer for ruby smilesa keyboard solo by James leading to alto sax by Soweto Kinch. BBQ energyanother James song from a year or two ago, is introduced with Adam Flowers voice sharing and trumpeter in demand Cleon Harrold adding a coppery touch to the mix.
flute master Gareth Lockrane is featured on the new single what you need with the Chicago rapper Eric Wilson. All I want to do is totally cold, strings, piano and acres of space, while wings of a butterfly sees Vula return with vanessa butler singing. The title song Tunnel vision sees Frida Touray and Daley sharing vocals with James, maintaining the cool yet rich pulse of the set with by Tom Misch the guitar rolls to the end.
There’s so much to enjoy in this hour-long dream album adrift – plenty of performers, superb arrangements and production, and Reuben James at the heart of it with his vocal style and sensibilities for a hook. No, it’s not jazz but… I wonder if Reuben James isn’t becoming something of a Steely Dan for the R&B generation, producing engaging and enjoyable material that’s both accessible to a wide audience and yet endowed with a musical punch that belies its clear charms.
As far as I know, it is not possible to purchase this set as a physical product. It is streamed on all the usual services and also on Soundcloud. And there are videos to watch. you got me and Closer are available on double sided vinyl A. Check it out, stick it on your own grill and enjoy. And it’s about to be performed live – Reuben is headlining Ronnie Scott’s on May 12 and 13, 2022.
CONNECTIONS: Tunnel vision can be streamed on Soundcloud