True Story: I trampled a stripper to find out Jill Scott's name.Naked girl on the stage, swaying near a pole. DJ babble; second song coming up. Show her love, she works hard for you, let her know you appreciate it yada, yada, yada. A speech I've made myself numerous times in a past professional life. It's almost unfortunate that the vision of the dancer's body had at that point in my life become such a non-surprise, such an accepted inevitability that I was more entranced by the song than by anything she was doing.
Jill Scott's first album was poetry. The grooves, the space between the notes and the lyrics. There was a unity, a feeling of an artist and her collaborators being on the same page. It was sexy, soulful, funny in places; yet touching and vulnerable. Crafted with the polish of classic jazz yet sprinkled with the hot sauce of street poetry, there was something new in almost every song to hold on to.But it wasn't just the tune.
There are hardly any guitars on the tracks. Mostly Rhodes piano, pocket groove drums, and a bass player who's deep tone and careful selection of notes made the whole thing just ..swing in a unique way.It was glued to my CD player for months.
And above it all -- Jill's voice. Youthful and vulnerable, yet at times ranging from sultry to downright dirty. The character that followed through the lyrics loved making love, loved being in love, loved boasting over her love, and what it gave to her. So much of it in a sing-song spoken word style that took the feel of hip hop and molded it into something else, like a potters hand on clay.
On Who Is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds, Vol. 1 she sang, she laughed, she gushed to the point that you were reminded of the times your friends were too much in love and it became a chore to listen to them drone on and on about just how much happier they were than you.
In later albums, at least for me -- Jill lost focus. Somewhere along the line she got too caught up in being the best singer, in keeping up with the Jones' (or the Alicia Keys, or the Mary J. Bliges), and to my way of thinking has put out work that shows occasional signs of brilliance, but all too frequently seems well.. derivative.
I used to put that first disc on and just play guitar over it. Copy vocal melodies, try to match the feel of the keyboards, or solo inappropriately all over the music. It was almost as if I was peacocking for the girl singing the words. A voice that in so many ways did not initially match the face, or perhaps better said a voice that I surely projected upon as it spoke of connections both past and present, of hungers and desires that I was myself so wanting for at the time.Especially in the light of all that she'd done before.
I'm not usually a fan of these montage videos, but there's something about this one that goes really nicely with the mood of this track. And then when you add the unique quality of Mos Def into the mix you get a result that is hard not to listen to again and again.Here's one of my favorite tracks from the disc, Love Rain.
It's weird to say it -- but that dancer on that pole so many years ago is in a lot of ways a metaphor for what I think about roughly every five seconds, and where that comes from. But the girl in this song, the mood that floats over it like steam drifting slowly over the rim of a coffee cup?
..That's the girl I think about all the time.
[Listening to: Greg Howe - "In Step" ]