Live review: Jill Scott at the Gibson Amphitheatre
"What you so scared of me for?" Jill Scott asked an imaginary lover Wednesday night at the Gibson Amphitheatre. "I’m just a woman." Strictly speaking, this was true: Throughout the course of her 90-minute set -- the final act in a multi-artist R&B concert billed officially as Budweiser Superfest Presents Jill Scott’s Summer Block Party -- Scott dug deeply and nearly exclusively into the female condition, celebrating its joys and pondering its challenges in unsparing detail.
But there isn’t much "just" in her approach to this womanly business. A former spoken-word performer who first emerged as part of Philadelphia’s neo-soul scene, Scott draws from a remarkably expansive skill set, one that includes singing and rapping as well as acting, sermonizing and, as she described it Wednesday in a rundown of hip-hop’s constituent parts, "the old aunt of storytelling."
Even when she stuck to singing at the Gibson, her technique ranged wildly, from soul holler to jazz murmur to a kind of light-operatic trill. In "Le Boom Vent Suite," from her new album, "The Light of the Sun," Scott used her voice to approximate the sound of a bell, setting down a skeletal pulse that her 11-piece band eventually fleshed out into sly ’70s-style funk.
"The Light of the Sun" is Scott’s first studio album since 2007; it follows a period of intense personal and professional action in which she gave birth to a son, ended a relationship, left a record label and established herself in Hollywood. (She’s appeared in several Tyler Perry films and top-lined HBO’s adaptation of "The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency.") So you could understand why Wednesday’s show, which pulled heavily from the new record, covered so much ground. Here was a lady with a lot to say and no shortage of ways to say it.
For all her formal virtuosity, though, Scott maintained a street-level affability, even during "Shame," where she referred to herself as "a queen on the throne," and "Hate on Me," a vinegary kiss-off featured recently on "Glee." She got the audience to see things from her perspective (rather than that of the "you" being addressed), enlisting her fans as sharers of her grief and indignation. And she regularly offset the floweriness of a spoken-word piece such as "Womanifesto" with seemingly casual asides designed to draw the crowd in closer.
The most memorable of those occurred near the end of "So in Love," a twinkling duet with the great Southern soul man Anthony Hamilton, who also performed Wednesday, along with Mint Condition, DJ Jazzy Jeff and Doug E. Fresh. Laying out the dimensions of her devotion, Scott made an offer that appeared even to surprise Hamilton: "I’ll pop the pimples on your back," she promised, and her voice left unclear whether this represented a challenge or a joy.
-- Mikael Wood
Photo: Jill Scott and Chris Farr, on saxophone, onstage at the Gibson Amphitheatre on Wednesday. Credit: Brian van der Brug/Los Angeles Times