The year 2000 was to so-called neo-soul what the year 1959 was to so-called jazz. In 1959, the world got albums like Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue,” Charles Mingus’ “Mingus Ah-Um” and Ornette Coleman’s “The Shape of Jazz to Come.” In 2000, the world got albums like D’Angelo’s “Voodoo,” Erykah Badu’s “Mama’s Gun” and Musiq Soulchild’s “Aijuswanaseing.”
In that transformative transition year that ushered in a new century, Jill Scott stood out among the slew of amazing Black music masterstrokes. Getting her first writing placement just a year before on The Roots’ Grammy-winning single, “You Got Me,” Scott unleashed her debut, “Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1.”
Twenty-three years later, Scott descended on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center (NJPAC) to celebrate with fans the enduring power and prestige of that debut. The singer-songwriter, affectionally known by her fans as “Jilly From Philly,” was an earthy and elegant vision as she performed “Who is Jill Scott” for her Newark, New Jersey, fans from front to back.
Scott launched the “Who is Jill Scott Tour” in the early Spring 2020, the album’s 20th anniversary. After only a handful of shows, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the tour. This winter, she relaunched it, thrilling loyal fans waiting to share the music with her.
Sharing is the optimal word for the “Who is Jill Scott” concert. After opening the show with the raucous, “The Real Thing,” from her 2007 album of the same name, Scott greeted the audience with this message: “Hello. I’m Jill Scott. I’m a writer. I’m also going to sing some songs for you tonight.”
Scott’s deft combination of singing and spoken word on “Who is Jill Scott” distinguished the album from its contemporaries. A lifelong poet, her command of metaphor, emotive expression and storytelling is as much of a draw to the album as her dynamic voice and infectious production.
Scott strolled onto the stage wearing a multi-colored silk robe over the head-to-toe silver lamé outfit she would display most of the night. In the context of the concert, she was sharing her life, words and stories with her fans, who had all walked the journey with her since 2000.
Throughout the evening, the singer left ample room for the sold-out crowd to sing the songs with her and to her. These communal melodic exchanges started immediately with the “Who is Jill Scott” opener, “Do You Remember.” Projected above her were images of Black love from various television shows and films, including “Claudine,” “The Wood” and “Poetic Justice.”
Scott’s band matched her multi-layered virtuoso artistry note-for-note and beat-for-beat. The seven-piece ensemble, not including her three background vocalists, recreated each song to remind fans of the power of the original versions while also providing more gravitas and authority.
The synergy between Scott and her band increased once they reached “Getting in the Way,” the album’s second single. In a song about confronting her boyfriend’s pesky ex-flame, a now 50-year-old Scott replaces the opening line of “sister girl” with “b**ch,” much to the audience’s delight. The band increased the BPMs to a fever pitch that matched the lyrical escalation expertly.
The concert reached its peak during the three-song run of “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat),” “It’s Love” and “The Way.” Not only did Scott show off her operatic range in the latter half of “He Loves Me,” but the audience singing back to her during its verses was a lovely ebb and flow. The funk of “It’s Love” brought the crowd of more than 3,350 to its feet as the drummer and percussionist doubled down on the go-go rhythms hinted at earlier in the show on “A Long Walk.”
Before launching into “The Way,” Scott asked her fans, “are y’all ready to sing?” Although the crowd had already been singing along to Scott’s songs, it’s long been a tradition that Scott provides the concert-goers designated vocal attention on “The Way,” particularly on its first verse. It’s a testament to the long relationship she and her fans have shared for over two decades.
Scott illustrated, as she often has, that she is among the most outstanding female vocalists working today. Her ability to bend notes at just the right time while using her body, the microphone, ballet dancers and sometimes her band members to accentuate her lyrics is peerless.
If there’s a discordant note in the “Who is Jill Scott Tour,” it is that Scott has not released an album since 2015’s “Woman.” While fans will continue to enjoy her tour, we can only hope Scott takes this momentum into the recording studio to bless the world with new music.
Matthew Allen is an entertainment writer of music and culture for theGrio.
*This article is an op-ed and the views expressed are the author’s own.
Image: Jill Scott/Instagram