Somi

The Lagos Music Salon

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The Lagos Music Salon is jazz hybrid singer and songwriter Somi's fourth studio full-length, and her debut for Sony's OKeh imprint. Sometime after her Live at Jazz Standard set in 2011, she moved from New York to Lagos, Nigeria, searching for a mercurial "something" that would open new directions for her voice. Keeping a diary there, she wrote down her experiences and observations, and stories she gathered. Here, she weaves them wholesale into song form. Recorded in Nigeria and New York City, the album features her American band -- guitarist Liberty Ellman, pianist/keyboardist Toru Dodo, Nigerian bassist Michael Olatuja, and drummer Otis Brown III -- and numerous African musical guests. Though Somi's music has always employed African influences, it's never been to this extent. These songs seamlessly integrate jazz, classy soul, and sophisticated pop with African melodic and modal themes, styles and rhythms. Their narratives are often delivered in griot-like manner. Opener "First Kiss: Eko Oni Baje" is a field-recorded dialogue with a Nigerian customs officer at the airport. It's one of several such bits here. "Love Juju #1" is a slippery, seductive number that enacts the "spell" of seduction through contemporary jazz, highlife, and King Sunny Ade's signature juju music. Angélique Kidjo guests on "Lady Revisited," which extrapolates Fela Kuti's original; its Afro-beat rhythms and pulsing modal vamp -- as well as a killer saxophone break -- are refracted through modern creative jazz. "Brown Round Things" relates the story of a young prostitute. Somi's delivery is heartbreaking in its restraint yet confronts the listener with the woman's side of the story, daring the listener to remain unmoved. Trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire delivers an accompanying fill, underscoring the meaning in each line and spiraling it out. "Akobi: First Born S(U)N" is funky, horn-driven jazz with a stretched-out bassline and an electric piano functioning like a kalimba; its group chorus is sung in Yoruban -- one of several dialects utilized here. "Four African Women" is gloriously militant in its sociopolitical statement (as are "Still Your Girl" and "Four.One.Nine"), but is delivered with bluesy phrasing -- à la Abbey Lincoln -- driven by Olatuja's infectious bassline, Dodo's spacy Rhodes, a serpentine Ellman solo, tight syncopated snare breaks by Brown, and a layered female backing chorus. The sultry, soulful quiet storm ballad "Last Song," is the set's first single, but is far from predictable as the drum kit and bassline pick up the tempo and break the melody open, transmuting the song's form without sacrificing its elegance. The Lagos Music Salon is not only Somi's finest recording to date, but stands with Dee Dee Bridgewater's classic Red Earth as an album that expertly explores the symbiotic relationship between American evolutionary music forms and their mirror image in modern African pop. It does so with a passionate conscience, a maestro's discipline, and the wide-angle vision of a true artist.

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