Most R&B divas equate sexual confidence with self-empowerment; few do it as persuasively as Philadelphia’s Jill Scott. The Grammy winner’s sultry, synth-tinged grooves tell of endurance in life and exuberance in the boudoir. Or is it the other way ‘round?
Tuesday evening, at the dizzying opener of a four-night stand at Constitution Hall, it was hard to tell. Scott spoke repeatedly of her divorce, but tunes like “Crown Royal” and “Come See Me” from 2007’s The Real Thing album suggest singledom isn’t treating her too badly. In the hands of her airtight 10-piece band, both became epics of prurience. Note to the abstinence-only crowd: Never, ever go to a Jill Scott gig.
The 2.5-hour show offered multiple, er, climaxes. The defiant “Hate on Me” got the last of the crowd out of their seats, waving their hands overhead. Then local legend Chuck Brown dropped by, prompting Scott’s two drummers to launch into a go-go beat while he riffed on the Ellington/Mills standard “It Don’t Mean a Thing.” Scott grooved along, smiling like she was just a lucky fan pulled from the crowd to dance on his stage.
In fact, she’s as natural and authoritative a soul songstress as any of her generation. Perhaps because Scott performed poetry before venturing into music, she has an approachable, conversational quality (patter: abundant, hilarious, largely unprintable in a family newspaper) that gives her mighty pipes all the more impact when she decides to let loose.
The show featured that rarest of treasures, the Truly Spontaneous Encore. As the spent crowd pulled on their coats, Scott reappeared to share a piece she’d said she scribbled on a hotel notepad only that day. “You seem to have a mystery of me,” she began, “And I am here to broach it.” But Scott’s mystique remained, despite the candor with which she sang, and spoke, of past jobs, relationships, and struggles. And despite the mid-show “pinky toe” rap that summoned two stagehands to replace Scott’s gold spike heels with gold flip-flops.
That’s one down-to Earth-diva, even if her show was out of this world.
A shorter version of this review appears in Thursday’s Paper of Record.