Jose James mixes it up. And he's bringing that great mix to World Cafe Live Tuesday evening.
His first independent release, 2008's The Dreamer, was filled with sauntering originals and Rahsaan Roland Kirk covers. James also has done collaborations with jazz pianist Junior Mance and drummer Chico Hamilton.
In his work, the 33-year-old singer summons the earthiness of hip-hop, the lofty swing of jazz, and contemporary recording techniques for a bold, individual sound. And he will not be pigeonholed.
"I'm guided by the spirit of music, period," James says. "I love jazz, hip-hop, rap, rock, soul, electronic - whatever is good, I'm into it. What's most important for me is keeping the spirit of creativity and innovation, stretching and reaching for something new. Junior and Chico definitely devoted their lives to that cause."
Whether it's hip-hop instrumentation, jazz vocalese, or more aggressive techniques and sound palettes, James (who now records for Blue Note) has emboldened each of his albums with snap-brim cool and street romanticism. If 2013's No Beginning No End didn't grab you with its raps, jazz soliloquies, silken ballads, and electro-laced soul workouts, you were asleep.
Which brings us to his coming album While You Were Sleeping, which continues James' radical jugglery of jazz-hop, blues, indie rock, and singer-songwriter genres. "I wanted to be true to the songs . . . " he says. "I have experiences, ideas, and emotions, and the songs form from that. I always want to be honest with myself musically, and I was able to use some amazing new colors producing this album. It's good music."
Ask him how good Sleeping is, and he points to the title track, a simmering cut he considers both his best overall song and most ambitious production to date. "My vision is there in the lyrics and the harmonic progression," he says. "At the same time, the vibe is very intense and sensual, but still conversational and intimate."
Don't sleep on this.
8 p.m. Tuesday, at World Cafe Live, 3025 Walnut St.
Tickets: $22-$25. Information: 215-222-1400 or www.philly.worldcafelive.com