- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 13, 2008

Philly-based songstress Jill Scott raised a fine question with the title of her 2000 debut album, “Who is Jill Scott? Words and Sounds Vol. 1.”

At the time of its release, we may have answered by saying she was a talented neo-soul innovator with an impressive voice and slick style and left it at that.

Now, after three stirring studio albums and some of the fiercest live performances in the game, those words don’t seem to scratch the surface of just who this woman is.

As she proved Tuesday — kicking off a four-night engagement before a packed house at D.A.R. Constitution Hall — Miss Scott is a dynamo, an entertainer of the highest level who doesn’t need to rely on showy sets, costume changes or back-up dancers to keep her audiences rapt.

She has enough going on already as a vocal powerhouse, a gifted storyteller, a wise sister and friend with lessons to share; an artist who’s as versatile as they come; and a woman whose confidence runneth over.

Clearly, Miss Scott knows exactly who she is, as both an artist and an individual, and during the concert, she made sure that her audience knew, too.

Clad in a flowing brown frock, supersexy heels and shoulder-scraping gold earrings, the artist showed off her full figure and formidable vocal range. Throughout the two-hour set, her pipes swooped from the operatic heights of “He Loves Me (Lyzel in E Flat)” to the aggressive, growling lows of “Hate on Me,” from the beat-boxed opening of “Slowly Surely” to the gentle pleading of “The Fact Is (I Need You).”

Backing Miss Scott was a tight 11-piece band infusing her tunes with vitality though never overwhelming her.

Between (and sometimes during) songs, the star regaled the audience with tales of her career, her exploits in the bedroom and topics falling somewhere in between. With all the candor of a best friend, she discussed the “day jobs” she took before making it as a Grammy-winning artist as well as a recent divorce that resulted in some of the darker material on her latest album, last year’s “The Real Thing: Words and Sounds Vol. 3.”

This recent effort has received an icy response from some longtime fans who have grown accustomed to the feel-good vibe that pervaded Miss Scott’s previous recordings. Had those folks been in Tuesday’s audience, though, her heartfelt explanations and live renditions of the new tracks most likely would have melted their resistance. Miss Scott isn’t afraid to be “The Real Thing” — a person who keeps it real by telling it like it is, warts and all. She’s human and unafraid to show it. And that deserves respect.

Still, brokenhearted material aside, the prevailing mood of the evening was love. Miss Scott sang and talked about it, her audience expressed it toward her, and the performer showed the locals some of it by bringing out hometown go-go legend Chuck Brown for an electrifying medley.

Who is Jill Scott? Last night, she was the one responsible for throngs of glowing people wandering love-drunk over the sidewalks of downtown Washington.

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