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POP MUSIC REVIEW

Latifah shines, but it's not jazz

July 13, 2007|Don Heckman | Special to The Times

What can you say about an event billed as a jazz concert at which the most authentic jazz was the recorded music played before and between the live sets?

It probably wasn't a good idea to program Ella Fitzgerald songs in the open spots at the Queen Latifah/Goapele appearance Wednesday at the Hollywood Bowl. The comparison -- especially when the entrancing Fitzgerald numbers were in direct association with the onstage performances -- was pretty much a slam dunk for tradition.

That's not to demean either Queen Latifah or Goapele.

Latifah, whose successes reach from music and films to books and entrepreneurship, made it clear -- from the first notes of "I'm Gonna Live 'Til I Die" -- that she intended to display equally impressive vocal accomplishments. Her set was a patchwork of styles and attitudes: Joe Zawinul's "Mercy, Mercy, Mercy"; Screamin' Jay Hawkins' classic, "I Put a Spell on You"; the Billie Holiday torcher "Travelin' Light"; the Mamas & the Papas' "California Dreamin'." That's a demanding list, but Latifah delivered, matching her big-voiced, ebullient style to material ranging from soul jazz and the blues to '60s rock. She did it all with an amiable, outgoing manner and impressive musicality, solidly supported by a fine instrumental ensemble and three first-rate backup singers (none named in the program).

Goapele, an Oakland-based singer-songwriter and social activist, also impressed with her big, penetrating sound and warm presentation. But her decision to emphasize numerous unfamiliar originals diminished the impact of her set. Ultimately, it was Goapele's roots in blues, gospel and soul that brought a sense of vitality to a collection of lyrically and musically monochromatic material.

The program's real problem traced to the matter of truth in labeling. As the first event in the Bowl's summer jazz series, it was a flat-out misnomer. Whatever its pop pleasures were, it was a lost opportunity for jazz.

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