Paul Lester 

Jessie Ware (No 1,207)

Initially posited as a downtempo Katy B, this soulful singer now shows even greater promise – as a British answer to Aaliyah
  
  

Hometown: London.

The lineup: Jessie Ware (vocals, music).

The background: Running, the forthcoming single by Jessie Ware, is one of the best things we've heard all year, and shame on us for not noticing her before. How could we have missed her? For a start, she used to work at the Jewish Chronicle (we thought she rang vague bells), she's toured with Jack Peñate, and she's made cameos on records by everyone from Sampha to SBTRKT. But now she's going to be unavoidable, because she has made the transition from backing vocalist to singer and songwriter in her own right, and the results are stunning.

Her debut single actually came out last November, and we missed that, too – Strangest Feeling got rinsed by Rinse FM, and it posited her as a downtempo Katy B. On it, her vocals sounded pleasingly unobtrusive and she was the soul of restraint – singing with the restraint of the best US soul/R&B. Given her involvement with the likes of Bristol DJ Joker it was hardly surprising that the sonics paid allegiance to dubstep, and the pace was trip-hop slow, but it was a highly promising start.

Running, the first fruit of her studio sessions for her debut album (due this summer) with Dave Okumu of the Invisible, is better still. It's more heavenly than Emeli Sandé singing Heaven in heaven. Soul tropes ("Never give up") are interpolated sublimely as Okumu finds the perfect electronic setting for Ware's forlorn navel-gazing. "Running is about the darker side of falling for somebody and being so entrapped by your feelings for them," she has explained. As for Okumu, we always knew he had this exquisite sort of liquid Britfunk in him. It reminds us of such past glories as Loose Ends, or 52nd Street, from that period in the mid-to-late-80s when UK soul boys began to rival Americans for shimmery expertise. Other tracks we've heard by Ware, mostly demos, range from the pedestrian Nightlight and Wildest Moments with its semi-industrial beat to Sweet Talk, which is a lovely, bouncy piece of pop, the sort of track you might imagine appearing on an old Whitney B-side or album, and Devotion, which despite the "soul-y" title, with its intimations of the churchy and hymnal, is actually not the ponderous bleat-fest we dreaded. In fact, like most everything with Ware's name on, it's lighter than air. The UK Aaliyah, at last?

The buzz: "In 2012, we will see more soul and less dubstep from the solo sounds of this exquisite Brixton-based singer and songwriter" – i-donline.com.

The truth: She's cool as ice.

Most likely to: Win a Brit.

Least likely to: Sound like she's gargling grit.

What to buy: Running is released by PMR on 26 March.

File next to: 52nd Street, Loose Ends, Emeli Sandé, Shara Nelson.

Links: facebook.com.

Wednesday's new band: Hospitality.