On paper, a night featuring heralded underground soul songstress N’Dambi and local DC cause celebre with national trending aspirations Zo! (government name Lorenzo Ferguson) sounds like a recipe for success. The two artists represent the twin hopes for traditional rhythm and blues style in the 21st century. N’Dambi, a former backup singer for Erykah Badu, carries forth the Nona Hendryx meets Nina Simone style artistry of her mentor, music as art, art as music, a funky melange of rock and soul. Zo!, alongside his Foreign Exchange Records supported “Sunstorm All Stars” supporting cast is a producer, composer and songwriter par excellence, a little bit of Isaac Hayes, a little bit of Smokey Robinson, with a spoonful of Ramsey Lewis tossed in for good measure, a feel good sultry blend of adult contemporary music. He’s not concerned with popping bottles, he’s concerned with getting deeper into the heart of the matter. However, on this night in Washington, DC, what was drawn up on paper, failed to materialize, as a night with the best of intentions fell short of their destination.
This is not to say that it was a night that was without spellbinding performances. Zo and his Sunstorm All Stars are the best live act in soul music today. Having witnessed their live show twice this year, it’s easily the best ticket in the genre. It has everything you’d expect from the more mainstream side of R & B, just not wrapped in a broadcloth of tawdry behavior. This is classic music by extremely talented musicians who know what that means. Lead single from Zo’s latest album Sunstorm, “This Could Be The Night” is a sensual jam with a George Benson swing, meaning that for more modern ears, it recalls Montell Jordan’s “Get It On Tonight,” in that it’s grown and sexy without being debased. The set features the ever dapper Ferguson behind a dual decker keyboard and organ, a consummate band leader, leading his charges through a tightly produced set that highlights exquisite artistry. Though Monica Blaire was not present, Deborah Bond’s take on the 11 minute suite “Make Love To Me” was absolutely magical. The song is a moody jazz winner, allowing for a virtuoso female vocalist to improvise and reach an orgasmic peak under the blanket of restrained elegance. If not aware, it is the year’s finest soul performance, and absolutely worthy of consideration for achievement.
This is not to say that the performance by the Grammy nominated N’Dambi was by any means without merit. She’s a toned statuesque rock star with great presence and a glorious red dyed afro/mohawk. Her album Pink Elephant is a heartfelt, earnest and well meaning melancholy burner of a soul record. Owing a great deal more to a bohemian aesthetic than the uptown swing of Ferguson, the performance was not entirely well received by a crowd who had been inspired to move, groove, get turned on and turned out by the Sunstorm All-Stars. If she followed a more muted performer, the likelihood of an entire room being captivated by her would have occurred, however this was not the case. Opener “L.I.E.,” a tale of a cheating male who travels to his lady loves along both ends of the thoroughfare is excellent, as was the single most responsible for Pink Elephant’s success, “Can’t Hardly Wait.” In abiding by a performance standard that involves a loose band performance, and an insistence upon intimate discussion, for the N’Dambi loyalist, it was an ideal environment. However, if looking to be blown away by a performance, that would appear to not be her strongest suit as a live artist. Adopting some of the more captivating aspects of the live performance of her mentor Ms. Badu is an absolute necessity.
Overall, this was a phenomenal evening of diverse styles of soul music. However, in slotting the honed and crafted Sunstorm All-Stars in front of the thinking woman’s sensual bohemain jam session of N’Dambi, the night was a study in styles instead of a fully realized total night of complete entertainment.