In an era where the likes of The Voice and X-Factor have encouraged the notion that belting out a song with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer is the only way to prove one’s vocal ability, 27-year-old singer-songwriter Jessie Ware is a breath of fresh air.
Anyone who’s listened to her guest spots on the post-garage of SBTRKT’s self-titled debut and the kaleidoscopic dubstep of Joker’s The Vision will already be aware that Ware adheres to the less-is-more approach, but her solo material is just as much a welcome antidote to the brainless ‘fun in the club’ trance-pop that’s currently dominating the charts.
Ware’s first single, “Valentine,” a collaboration with smooth R&B vocalist Sampha, set the restrained tone from the outset. A short-but-sweet twinkling lullaby, its spacious production suggested she may turn out to be the female James Blake, but her output since then has been infused with a warmth and immediacy which her fellow Londoner severely lacks.
“Running” is arguably the most elegant pop song you’ll hear all year, a gorgeously sophisticated take on the quiet storm of 80s Anita Baker and Sade which even manages to shoehorn in an erotic thriller-style guitar solo. “110%” is an equally classy slice of skittering dub-pop which is so delicate it feels like it could float away at any moment, while “Wildest Moments” sounds like a Leona Lewis epic turned down a notch or five.
It’s an unusually unobtrusive and subtle sound from an artist who first came to attention on former pirate-turned-legal radio station Rinse FM, best-known for discovering hard-hitting grime acts such as Dizzee Rascal and Wiley. But that Ware should find such a platform is also a mystery in itself.
Growing up on the classic jazz standards of Cole Porter and George Gershwin, Jessie attended South London pro-arts school Alleyn’s, but lacked the confidence to pursue any musical ambitions, and after graduating with a degree in Journalism, followed in the footsteps of her father, Panorama reporter John Ware, by landing a job on the Jewish Chronicle.
However, after being invited on tour to perform as a backing singer by best friend Jack Penate, Ware began to realise her talents. Signed to PMR Records, she then teamed up with producer Dave Okumu, best known as one third of Mercury Music Prize nominees The Invisible, to record her full-length debut Devotion, which is scheduled for an August release and has the potential to be one of the defining albums of 2012.
Comparisons have since come thick and fast, with everyone from Tracy Thorn to Aaliyah to Katy B mentioned in the same breath. But possibly the only artist to name-check both Barbra Streisand and Big Pun as influences, Jessie Ware appears fully capable of finding her own unique voice.