Jessie Ware is a surprise package. Going to see her perform live in Philadelphia last weekend, I didn’t really know what to expect from the South London local who, she recognised herself, had come to the city and to the forefront of music very swiftly. ‘Philadelphia was where it all started’, Ware suggested, having visited the city with Jack Penate a couple of years back. It was the first stop on a US tour that was Ware’s introduction to the world of professional music after she quit her 9-5 job, which, she claimed coyly, ‘I quite liked’, and she was glad to be back where it all began. Needless to say, it’s unlikely Ware would have imagined she’d be headlining a show in the same city a few short years later but the effortless charm and relaxed performing manner she displayed on Friday night made the transformation seem inevitable. On record, Ware is a bit of an awkward proposition. Falling somewhere between the post-dubstep vibes of the very artist she rose to fame with (SBTRKT) and the more mainstream RnB jams that characterise the back-catalogues of artists like Janet Jackson, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige, it’s never readily apparent where Jessie wants to sit as regards the divide.
In person, all of that second-guessing and genre-pigeonholing becomes irrelevant as Ware oozes a comfortable self-awareness and a showmanship that appears rehearsed but in reality, is more likely a product of the fact that she’s genuinely enjoying what she’s doing. While long-player ‘Sweet Devotion’ is yet to be released in the States (or rather, was and then was pulled for unstated reasons reasons), an EP titled ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ has got the green light in the US after some wrangling over a Big Pun sample which lies at the heart of the title track. The Big Pun line reads ‘Carving my initials on your forehead’ and is slowed down to provide an opening for Ware’s sublimely sweet falsetto verses. That the sentiment of that particularly thug-like line is not replicated across the rest of the track (where the most comparatively aggressive lyric is ‘We can play hard, hard’) is evidence of Ware’s ability to meld genres, take parts of dance, RnB, electro and more, and still come away with a track that sounds polished and refined. If it’s unclear where Ware is attempting to position herself in the realm of contemporary music, she exploits that uncertainty to her advantage in this song and across the Australian-released Devotion.
As part of that eponymous five-track EP (one track of which is a remix of this one) which is the only CD I currently own to play in my car’s CD player, ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ has been on high rotation of late. The trick to really ‘getting’ Ware is to understand that even when breathy vocals and a spare drum beat make up the best part of the first 1’20” of the track, she is never boring. I have friends who will deliberately cut the first 30 seconds off a track on their iTunes in order to avoid the ‘boring’ intros to songs. ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ is not for them. But it is for you if you can invest in Ware’s interest in fashioning songs that breathe, that interrogate the intricacies behind the themes she explores and that tend to dwell on those themes rather than going for the jugular at any one moment. In concert and on record, Ware is unassuming. ‘If You’re Never Gonna Move’ is similarly modest in its ambition. But it’s by curbing her aspirations that Jessie offers (with the help of a production team including the revered Julio Bashmore) a well-considered and ultimately enriching piece of Bristol soul – no matter what she has to legally call it.
Jessie Ware – If You’re Never Gonna Move