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Any appreciation of soul singer Fontella Bass, who died Wednesday at age 72, must first acknowledge “Rescue Me,” the propellant 1965 R&B banger that became her signature. But equally vital in her -- and the American -- pantheon is “Theme de Yoyo,” her rousing vocal turn during the free jazz collective Art Ensemble of Chicago’s 1970 album “Les Stances a Sophie.”
The two works illustrate the range of the singer’s power: One is a gut-busting soul cry, the other a nine-minute thrill ride that drives funk and boundary-busting jazz through one instrumental climax after another.
Bass died in her hometown of St. Louis after suffering a heart attack this month, and though she never achieved the fame that fellow belter Aretha Franklin did, she charted a fascinating course with music. Bass’ stubborn vocal insistence in early soul hits “Rescue Me,” "Leave It in the Hands of Love" and "Our Day Will Come" was mirrored in her artistic temperament, which chose aesthetic expansion over pop music success as she matured as an artist.