Monday, March 14, 2016

Concert Review: Alicia Olatuja at the Folly Theater

The scenes that depict a protagonist’s initial grappling with his or her newfound powers are my favorite parts of many superhero movies.  Alicia Olatuja’s superpower is her astonishingly beautiful, flexible and powerful voice. 

An audience of more than 300 watched her attempt to find the most advantageous applications of her wonderful instrument at the Folly Theater on Friday.

The young artist from St. Louis sometimes seemed to be tentatively trying cabaret, R&B, pop, jazz and gospel on for size during her appearance as the Spotlight Artist in the Folly’s venerable Jazz Series.  There’s no reason Olatuja can’t eventually master all of those forms, but Friday’s concert was hampered by stylistic inconsistencies. 

Olatuja was a world-beater on familiar material like a rapturous version of “Amazing Grace” and a silky reading of the Michael Jackson hit “Human Nature.”  Her version of Djavan”’s “Serrado” was also exquisite.

Several of the less successful selections constricted Olatuja’s voice and the talents of an outstanding four-piece band that included additional vocalist Rasul A-Salaam and pianist Jon Cowherd.

I was tempted to jump out of my seat every time she dipped into her lower register or hit a high note that seemed capable of shattering glass, but Olatuja usually opted for tasteful restraint.  She’s the rare vocalist who might benefit from being more ostentatious.

(Original image by Plastic Sax.)

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