Angélique Kidjo ‘Spirit song’ (Wrasse/WGBH) 4/5

Benin born, but now long time Paris based, Angélique Kidjo has become both an established and well respected singer and one who is versatile enough to handle both a pan-African repertoire as well as some old and contemporary standards. On her latest release, which is a live studio recording before a select audience in Boston, she demonstrates just what a well rounded musician she has developed into. On board for proceedings are a crack regular band that on this occasion includes jazz bassist Christian McBride with Richard Bona and Branford Marsalis guesting on individual numbers, and the substantial vocal talents of Dianne Reeves who duets with Kidjo on three songs. Of her regular songs, which the singer tends to write or co-write, the mid-paced rhythm guitar and brass on a southern African flavoured ‘Kelele’ works extremely well as does the gospel-laden ‘Afrika’. Kidjo even hints at the great Miriam Makeba on ‘Batonga’ which is the most convincing of the uptempo pieces. However, where Angélique Kidjo really comes into her own is on the thoughtful and extremely creative interpretations of some classics that are imbued with new African flavours. This is the case of the Gershwin brothers ‘Summertime’, which here is utterly transformed into a call and response number in the first part with an African female choir and starts off with minimal accompaniment before evolving in the second half into a gentle mid-paced song. This makes a pleasant change from the usual interpetations. Equally impressive is a take on the Western classical ‘Bolero’ by Ravel here renamed ‘London Ravel’s bolero’. It is sung partly in one of the African languages that Kidjo is conversant with before Marsalis adds some gorgeous soprano saxophone. If anyone believed that world roots and jazz beats cannot combine, they ought to give this album a serious listen. Bob Marley’s ‘Redemption song’ receives a southern African gospel take which builds from acapella vocals from Kidjo into a fully orchestrated piece while Curtis Mayfield’s ‘Move on up’ is sung in African vernacular in the chorus and in English for the rest. Dianne Reeves and Kidjo come together for an uptempo Afro-groove version of the Stones’ ‘Gimme shelter’, which is an unusual setting for Reeves, but she is more than up to the task. Elsewhere Kidjo duets with pop singers Josh Gruban and Ezra Koenig to good effect. There is an imminent single UK tour concert in mid-May at the RNCM in Manchester with two July dates in London as part of the River of Music festival. If this album is anything to go by, the live performances promise to be something special. An artist at the top of her craft. Tim Stenhouse

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