Patti LaBelle

Bel Hommage

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Fifty-five years after Patti LaBelle scored her first hit, she released her first purely jazz album -- a surprise given the singer's roots in the genre and the diversity of her recordings since the early '60s. Co-produced with Jamar Jones, a fellow Philadelphian who has worked with Boyz II Men, Jill Scott, and numerous top-tier gospel artists, Bel Hommage features a smart selection of songs vigorously performed with over a dozen musicians including a horn section. Predominantly acoustic, the set is lively throughout, winding through fiery ballads like "Wild Is the Wind," the bluesier likes of "Moanin'," and rollicking culinary numbers such as "Peel Me a Grape" and "I Can Cook." (Perhaps Al Jarreau's "Sweet Potato Pie" would have been too funky and obvious.) LaBelle is expressive as ever. When she reaches the "And I know you cheat" line in "Don't Explain," she sounds like she might be holding a freshly sharpened knife behind her back. "Song for Old Lovers," a Jacques Brel/Gérard Jouannest composition that requires very specific life experience to be interpreted convincingly, is one of LaBelle's most restrained, pained, and affectionate performances. Those who just want to hear her let it rip get it on versions of "The Jazz in You" and "Go to Hell."

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