Bilal, Jazz Café, London

4.00

There's a definite sense of anticipation ahead of 25-year-old Bilal's first UK gig in three years (part of the Jazz Café's festival celebrating Philadelphia's avant-soul scene).

There's a definite sense of anticipation ahead of 25-year-old Bilal's first UK gig in three years (part of the Jazz Café's festival celebrating Philadelphia's avant-soul scene). This is largely because all the indicators suggest Bilal is a genuine prodigy: he has produced, written and performed with the leading luminaries of the "city of brotherly love", including Erykah Badu, Jill Scott, and Joss Stone's sometime drummer Ahmir Questlove Thompson (of The Roots), and the conscious rappers Common and Mos Def.

But, soul pedigree aside, and this is where it gets interesting, Bilal has formally studied music - jazz and its associated forms, big band, swing and trad, as well as classical and opera - at New York's Mannes College of Music, where he was tutored by Reggie Workman, one-time bass player with John Coltrane.

Tonight nobody knows what to expect, as it's three years since his remarkable debut LP, 1st Born Second, which somehow pulled these myriad influences together into an utterly individual calling card.

Bilal sidles on stage wearing a hat that looks like a 1970s lampshade and which casts a shadow over his eyes. He's also sporting shades. An unbuttoned suit jacket reveals a bare chest save for a necklace of beads - Bilal's going for the boho chic look, and he pulls it off. The band - keyboard, drums, bass, percussion and two backing singers - launch into Bilal's best-known and most radio-friendly single, the Dr Dre-produced "Fast Lane". Live it's devoid of the super-producer's trademark warm squelchy bassline, becoming a drawn-out freestyle showcase for Bilal's octave-leaping as he recounts the highs, lows and ultimate anguish of living fast and dying young. It feels more honest than the LP version. "Sometimes" is longer live than the seven-minute album version. Instrumentally, it's a low-key ambling funk work-out, vocally it's spectacular ("I wish I was drug-free sometimes/ I wish I saw the exit sign first sometimes"). The song is embellished with Bilal's hyper-active but in-tune whispers, squeals, wails and shrieks.

Lighting a cigarette and gulping down some wine, Bilal disappears from the stage. Heads crane and necks arch to see where he's gone. He performs from offstage, then hops onto the piano for a couple of scatty jazz numbers. He's in his own world, and has yet to make eye contact, his face contorting as if he's experiencing each emotion he's expressing. Some might call it histrionics, but it's refreshing to be drawn into a performance with feeling and real drama.

He sits cross-legged and sings, then lies down and continues - Bilal's showing off. We're treated to a bluesy, heartbreak lament, "When Will You Call", before a tumultuous encore with "Soul Sista". Bilal launches into another song, then another, and the gig's run way over time, but he's oblivous. Bilal does things his way.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Affleck as Nick Dunne, seated next to a picture of his missing wife Amy, played by Rosamund Pike

film
Arts and Entertainment
Rachel, Chandler and Ross try to get Ross's sofa up the stairs in the famous 'Pivot!' scene

Friends 20th anniversary
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Dunham

books
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey

There’s revolution in the air, but one lady’s not for turning

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Chloe-Jasmine Whicello impressed the judges and the audience at Wembley Arena with a sultry performance
TVReview: Who'd have known Simon was such a Roger Rabbit fan?
Arts and Entertainment
Nick Frost will star in the Doctor Who 2014 Christmas special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
A spell in the sun: Emma Stone and Colin Firth star in ‘Magic in the Moonlight’
filmReview: Magic In The Moonlight
Arts and Entertainment
Friends is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year
TV
Arts and Entertainment
Ben Whishaw is replacing Colin Firth as the voice of Paddington Bear

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Actor and director Zach Braff

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Maisie Williams plays 'bad ass' Arya Stark in Game of Thrones

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Liam Neeson said he wouldn't

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Meera Syal was a member of the team that created Goodness Gracious Me

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The former Doctor Who actor is to play a vicar is search of a wife

film
Arts and Entertainment

music
Arts and Entertainment
Pointless host Alexander Armstrong will voice Danger Mouse on CBBC

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Pharrell dismissed the controversy surrounding

music
Arts and Entertainment
Jack Huston is the new Ben-Hur

film
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Cara Delevingne modelling

film
Arts and Entertainment
Emma Thompson and Bryn Terfel are bringing Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street to the London Coliseum

theatre
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Secret politics of the weekly shop

    The politics of the weekly shop

    New app reveals political leanings of food companies
    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Beam me up, Scottie!

    Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
    Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

    Beware Wet Paint

    The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

    Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    Sanctuary for the suicidal

    One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
    A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

    Not That Kind of Girl:

    A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

    London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

    In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

    Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

    Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
    Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

    Model mother

    Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
    Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

    Apple still the coolest brand

    Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
    Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

    Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

    Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
    Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

    Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

    The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
    The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

    Scrambled eggs and LSD

    Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
    'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

    'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

    Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
    Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

    New leading ladies of dance fight back

    How female vocalists are now writing their own hits