Just in case you have not heard, a new category of jazz has begun to gain prominence amongst a multitude of jazz beginners and connoisseurs. Although it is rather questionable whether this new style of jazz is what popular belief says it is, the music is more closely aligned with smooth jazz ideologies. The style of music commonly known as gospel jazz is gradually garnering support as a viable form of entertainment. In recent years, artists such as Jeff Majors, Tim Bowman, Ben Tankard, Jeremy Scott, Ramsey Lewis and a host of others have all recorded albums of this type at various times. Recently, another musician by the name of James E. Wall entered the arena as a 4th generation gospel minister and former hip-hop artist. He has also recorded an album with a religious influenced theme attached. As a musician based in Houston, Texas, he worked as a rapper, as well as in R&B and gospel music before undertaking this newest project. His latest release entitled Warm Embrace has been described as "a gentle recording of instrumental music that focuses upon relaxation, healing and awareness using James’ deep feelings about a Higher Power as inspiration."
In 2004, James Wall experienced the pull towards music that was subtler in approach. Like so many other musicians of his generation in the rap and hip-hop arena, day-to-day life was often hectic and out of control. Because his emotional and mental sanity was at stake, James decided to relax his spirit and push his music in another direction. He wanted to do something that he thought would be: "melodic and passionate enough to motivate him to try and make his life and his world better." He was tired of hearing lyrics that reflected negativity and stressed out situations, or had little if any value artistically. His first big test would be to make the transition from drummer and hip-hop artist to what would soon become Warm Embrace, an album that was totally out of the range of what he was accustomed to writing and producing. James hoped that his finished product would be beyond that of anything he had accomplished during his previous endeavors. In the end, James Wall wanted music that would not only contain subtle rhythms, but would also provide a universal therapeutic outlook.
Warm Embrace is a CD that is far removed from James Wall’s hip-hop beginnings. He has taken the chaos of that style of music and transposed it into melody infused grooves that have been filled with mellow guitars, saxophones, flutes and other instruments. He has drawn upon the influences of classical, smooth jazz, new age and tinges of R&B music to make this CD something worth a listen. Although James’ original intent was to provide music that was subtler in approach, Warm Embrace hits the ground running with intense melodies and condensed ensembles containing sensuous sounds rooted in acoustic and electronic underlayments. Reflective of his hip-hop origins, Wall’s convenient use of strong percussive bass rhythms adds flavor of a different sort; however, these dynamics are not intrusive upon the album’s overall intent. In fact, the idealized theme of Warm Embrace leans more toward massaging moments of meditation, picturesque drives and intimate encounters of the best kind. What can also be said about this release is its tone, one that Wall says is: "inspired by love, nature and spiritual healing beliefs.
When listening to this aesthetically pleasing recording, the overall theme of Warm Embrace is rather consistent. Seemingly, James Wall has decided to embrace the healing philosophies of a Higher Power, edification of love principles and making everyday life better than the one before. In my mind, James E. Wall has accomplished his original intent by providing music that contains therapeutic melodies. He has also introduced yet another side of gospel influenced smooth jazz. Although religion and music has been traditionally contained within the church, James Wall does an excellent job of continuing an ever-evolving process of introducing music that is beyond the boundaries of traditional containment, a style of music most commonly referred to as gospel jazz.