JILL SCOTTExperience (Hidden Beach Recordings)
Is she? The real deal, that is. Or have our standards been lowered so much that we hype anything thats merely semidecent? Jill Scott is undoubtedly real: singer, songwriter and poet, all roles rooted in who she is -- a fierce Philly homegirl. And shes a welcome alternative to the current notion that female performers of color must look like white porn stars from the 70s. Still, even her fans have to admit that the media blaze that erupted from her slow-burn buildup (playing small clubs and coffeehouses, word-of-mouth buzz) was a tad out of proportion to her admittedly huge gifts.
Her debut album, Who Is Jill Scott?, would have deserved its modern classic billing with more rigorous editing, more variety and texture. The live sophomore CD, Experience, remedies some problems and amplifies others. The experimentation with arrangements, genres and tempos -- most notably on He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat), which evolves from a piano-driven ballad into a rousing house anthem -- adds colors that give her songs more emotional weight while underscoring Scotts wit and humor. (Her reading of folks who missed the point of her hit, Getting in the Way, is hilarious. We have this thinking, she quips, that as soon as we see somebody with a natural, they automatically positive. Cmon.) And her band, Fatback Taffy, is both airtight and capable of dazzling improvisational leaps. On the flip side, though, she too often indulges in scats and vocal contortions that exist only to show off her vocal prowess. The second disc, composed of new and previously unreleased material, includes a funky, beat-heavy ode to fucking, Gimme, that would have made her debut more solidly classic, plus a coquettish but winning take on the 4 Hero--backed Gotta Get Up and a live performance of her womanist poem Thickness.
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Heres hoping therell be a DVD of the show; Scotts facial expressions, interactions with the crowd and sheer exuberance make her a riveting presence. Her fans deserve the whole package.