In ‘95, the seductive moans of Billie Holiday look-alike Amel Larrieux seemed to float out of nowhere, so scarce was the advance word on her neo-soul duo Groove Theory’s self-titled debut album. Fact is, Larrieux and fellow groover Bryce Wilson didn‘t need the hype; their Groove Theory quickly charted gold, pushed by the single “Tell Me,” which, strangely, was one of the record’s weakest tracks. The hip-hop-brushed “Tell Me” wasn‘t bad; it just didn’t hold a candle to the underplayed, richer moments found elsewhere on the album. Mildly reminiscent of the Isleys‘ laid-back brand of R&B yet nursing a jazzy improvisational element in the arrangements, the duo’s music accented Larrieux‘s melodious, earthy croons like a love letter sealed with a kiss.
With her solo Infinite Possibilities, Larrieux leaves no doubt that her brief stint with Groove Theory served merely as a noteworthy prelude. On her own, the silky-voiced siren rapturously blends pan-cultural black-coffee soul topped off with generous dollops of African and Middle Eastern tones. But it’s Larrieux‘s unwavering love affair with jazz that anchors this set. Opening with “Get Up,” the singer kneads cool cocktail delivery into buttery scat while dusky keyboard and brushed cymbals shimmer in the background. Larrieux traverses the self-realization realms in “I’n‘I,” a song inspired by the infamous quote of a fashion editor several years ago who, when asked about the scarcity of black cover models, said she knew of very few who were “pretty enough.” Taking the definition of black beauty into her own hands, Larrieux caresses the melody with “They cannot define beauty to mesomeone else’s eyes don‘t see what I see.” She wastes little time on verbal payback, choosing instead to chart a sensuous and eclectic musical path across the rest of the eight tracks on the album.
Conjuring jazz greats and contemporary soul eclectics from Holiday to Les Nubians, other gems include the groove-savvy heartache of “Sweet Misery” and the lazy funk of “Searchin’ for My Soul.” Larrieux handles the gospel-washed “Even If” with a world-weary tenderness before a segue back into the familiar terrain of jazz with the fusion piece “Infinite Possibilities” and a head-boppin‘ scat fest on the Middle Eastern melody “Down.” Co-produced with her husband, Laru Larrieux, Amel Larrieux’s Infinite Possibilities boldly marks the entrance of a true singer, one of the best-ever stylists to emerge from the new school of soul.
Amel Larrieux performs at Vynyl on Friday, February 25.