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10/04/11

Somi
Live At Jazz Standard
Palmetto Records

If you’re familiar with the phenomenal TED (Technology, Entertainment & Design) program and its annual conferences in support of “ideas worth spreading,” then you’ll appreciate how tremendous it is for Somi to be named as one of only 20 2011 TED Global Fellows. The Illinois-born vocalist, who draws most of her musical inspiration from her East African roots, is the only musician on this year’s TED list. To appreciate why she is so deserving, you need venture no further than this 10-track live set, recorded at New York’s Jazz Standard this past March.

Raw at Jazz Standard might have been a better title, since the hour-long performance so vibrantly captures the unfiltered, unvarnished Somi freed from studio wizardry. Fans will recognize much of the material—eight of the selections are drawn from her two previous albums, 2007’s Red Soil in My Eyes and 2009’s If the Rains Come First—but will appreciate it anew thanks to the natural fervor and naked magnificence of these sessions. Consider, for example, her passionately ritualistic rendering of “Prayer to the Saint of the Brokenhearted,” the hushed, slightly chilled tranquility of “If the Rains Come First” that gradually builds to searing ferocity, and the roiling whoop and whirl of “Enganjyani,” seemingly driven by ghost-propelled winds.

To round out her playlist, Somi includes two stunning covers, wading into the bittersweet waves of retrospection that shape Abbey Lincoln’s “Should’ve Been” and closing with a gorgeously hypnotic reading of Bob Marley’s “Waiting in Vain.”

Originally published in October 2011
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