Recording information: Avatar Studios, NY; Digital Factory, France.
Photographer: Richard Pierce.
Arranger: Gast Waltzing.
Sings finds the great Beninese vocalist Ang‚lique Kidjo fronting the Orchestre Philharmonique du Luxembourg, conducted by Gast Waltzing. This is a studio offering that reflects the highlights of a series of now legendary 2011 concerts between them. Recorded at the Philharmonie Luxembourg, in New York, and in France, the program is a lively and unusual retrospective from Kidjo's career. Along with the orchestra, Kidjo is joined by her own band and guest musicians including guitarist Lionel Loueke, bassist Christian McBride, and backing vocalists. Arranged by Waltzing and guitarist David Laborier, the material comprises thorough revisionings of songs central to Kidjo's catalog, including dramatic presentations of "Malaika," "Loloye," "Kelele," the traditional "Otishe," "Nanae," and her gorgeous "Naima" (not to be confused with John Coltrane's tune of the same title). While the music is certainly far "busier" and more florid than the work on her earlier records, this presentation is thoroughly lovely and her big contralto gets right on top of the orchestra, while the rhythms sound as organic as ever. Two interesting covers on the set include a deeply soulful reading of Carlos Santana's "Samba Pa Ti," with a great flgelhorn solo by Waltzing, and Sidney Bechet and Ferdinand Bonifay's "Petite Fleur" arranged in a manner that pays homage to Kidjo's idol, dith Piaf. Perhaps the greatest asset of this particular recording is how it reaffirms what we already knew: that Kidjo can deliver any song in any setting and remain iconic. ~ Thom Jurek