Jill Scott | Jazz Cafe, London

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The Independent Culture

Something is not right here. Jill Scott, writer-poetess, octave-vaulting vocalist, is halfway through a song that is not on her acclaimed debut album Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds Vol 1. Drawing on the spoken-word side of her many talents "The Thickness" leaves little to the imagination as Scott describes the lascivious thoughts of prospective customers eyeing a large 14-year-old girl standing on a street corner.

Something is not right here. Jill Scott, writer-poetess, octave-vaulting vocalist, is halfway through a song that is not on her acclaimed debut album Who Is Jill Scott? Words And Sounds Vol 1. Drawing on the spoken-word side of her many talents "The Thickness" leaves little to the imagination as Scott describes the lascivious thoughts of prospective customers eyeing a large 14-year-old girl standing on a street corner.

Jill herself is a larger-than-life character - turban, hooped earrings, lots of big, warm smiles, low-cut bulging bodice. As her redoubtable band lay down a fat looping groove, she wanders all over the curves of the despoiled street-corner ghetto teen, her theatrical gestures and timing adding to her already bulging artistic armoury. But, even the packed, partisan house is unsure how to react; her vivid descriptions of paedophile fantasies are punctuated with nervous laughter.

There is a pay-off, of course. Jill is, among other things, a hip-hop earth-mother with a healing agenda and, as the song enters a new becalmed and prayerful realm, her voice takes flight. Beseeching a higher power to "let her be elevated", she shifts the focus from the child's physical attributes to her spiritual growth, but the transition feels forced. It is not the first or last time that a sense of calculation bears down heavily on the song.

Scott may be moving in a space cleared by Lauryn Hill, Macy Gray and Erykah Badu, but her individuality shines through the 70-minute set. Nurtured in the hothouse of creativity that surrounds her North Philadelphia jazz-inflected cohorts, The Roots, Scott has turned identity into an end in itself.

There's no denying the strength and depth of her six-piece band or her ability to ride with them. Together they embrace a lightness of touch on the poetic interludes and often strike into the hard driving rhythm which draws deeply and laudably from the Philly groove patented years back by Gamble and Huff. She does things and goes places other modern soul sisters can't reach.

Scott is a formidable talent, an ever-changing character ready to take on all-comers, even if she is sometimes limited by an overriding sense of self-absorption.

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