The Japan-only original version of Live at the Jazz Cafe, London was released in 1996 as a stopgap between D'Angelo's first and second albums. Eighteen years later, it was expanded and widely reissued as a stopgap between the artist's second and third albums, the latter of which had yet to materialize. The 1996 release consisted of roughly two-thirds of the September 14, 1995 performance, with the selections presented out of sequence. The 2014 release contains the whole set, from the introduction to the rapt applause at the close of an 11-minute "Brown Sugar." In the U.K., D'Angelo's first single was three weeks away from release, yet the audience knew it from the first notes. In the States, the debut album from the 21 year-old was only two months old, on its way to platinum status. In the liner notes, manager Alan Leeds recalls that D'Angelo had done only a few gigs. Indeed, the early portion of this set sounds tentative. It begins with two-minute versions of Mandrill's "Fencewalk" and Ohio Players' "Sweet Sticky Thing," in which D'Angelo's trio of female background vocalists -- including collaborator Angie Stone, between pioneering rap group Sequence and her solo career -- are more prominent. From there, D'Angelo and his band roll through over half of the debut's songs, including an uptempo version of "Jonz in My Bonz" (co-written by Stone) and a livelier "Lady," greatly enhanced by the extra voices. There are other covers, not just one of Smokey Robinson and Marv Tarplin's "Cruisin'." Al Green's "I'm Glad You're Mine" includes a showcase for guitarist Mike Campbell, an essential player in Voodoo, while a joyously reverent "Can't Hide Love" -- written by Skip Scarborough for Creative Source, made more popular by Earth, Wind & Fire, and practically a standard -- gets another instant crowd reaction. This is a fascinating and satisfying document of a path-clearing young artist who had just gone supernova.
Share this page
AllMusic Review by Andy Kellman