CD review

James Hudson – ‘Tomorrow’

James Hudson – Tomorrow
(James Hudson Music. CD review by Mark McKergow)

Young British vocalist James Hudson arrives on the recording scene with this polished and exuberant collection of standards, smartly arranged and smoothly performed.

James Hudson comes from the East Riding of Yorkshire, the University of Warwick (where he was awarded the Vocal Music Scholarship) and the National Youth Jazz Orchestra (NYJO) in that order. His classical training shows through in his pure tone and precision of intonation, both of which are excellent places to start with singing jazz as anything else. He has already appeared at many international venues and festivals, with a residency at the Hôtel De Paris in Monte Carlo to boot, and presents a smartly dressed and well-coiffured persona on the album sleeve.

Tomorrow marks his recording debut, completed with crowd-funding support. It offers nine well-loved jazz songs put together with a small group of NYJO stablemates. The results are infectiously enjoyable, with Hudson’s voice showing real class and consistency as he and his friends romp through these numbers. James Hudson says that his influences include Mel Tormé, Nat King Cole and Harry Connick Jr, and we hear some classy and classic stylings in the performances.

Given that the songs are already (at least a little) familiar, a lot of focus comes on the arrangements. I am delighted to say that joint musical directors Joe Hill (piano) and Nick Fitch (guitar) have come up trumps between them with some delightful interpretations and twists in the music. Each song has something to take it forward – a rhythmic shift here, a modulation there, a written break, a stop or two – which make the album an enjoyable repeat listen. It reminded me of Stacey Kent’s work where her voice is supplemented with arrangements by Jim Tomlinson, a partnership which lifts the work of all involved.

The opener is Pennies From Heaven, with a neat introduction and the first verse taken pretty straight before the band gathers momentum and Hudson starts shifting the vocal around the beat. A short guitar solo from Fitch intervenes before the swingometer goes up yet another level and the tag coda is beckoning. It’s a worthwhile three minutes.

Hudson has chosen to sing It Had To Be You, which despite its 1924 origins is best known to modern audiences in the swaggering version by Harry Connick Jr from When Harry Met Sally. Alert to this, Hudson and Fitch have recast the song as a slow bossa with gentle guitar accompaniment which works very well indeed, with the band entering slowly and Hudson extending over a looping ending. Almost Like Being In Love is taken at a lick, with a Joe Hill piano solo found amidst the romping excitement and another neat half-time ending. Someone To Watch Over Me lets bassist Jack Tustin show his arco skills which seem to almost add a string section. Luke Tomlinson is neat and responsive behind the drum kit.

This album is well worth catching for fans of classic jazz singing and for those keeping an eye on the upcoming next generation. It feels like an early calling card, and I am hoping that we will hear more from James Hudson. Being a male jazz singer is not at all the easiest career option and many other avenues may be beckoning for this talented singer – it will be very interesting to see what he does next.

Tomorrow is released on 26 February

LINK: Tomorrow at James Hudson’s website

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