Longtime collaborator Zsamé featured at party, on album
Wenso Ashby featuring Zsamé, premier Twin Cities neo-soul purveyors (Midnite Walkin’, Wenso Ashby Live and Love Is So Amazing) are in transition. Namely, on the newest offerings, The Moment of Truth and Signature, ace pianist-composer-producer Wenso Ashby goes solo. Sterling vocalist Zsamé Morgan and sax wizard Willie Moore put guest appearances on both with Morgan limited to two turns on each.
There’s been no statement issued to the press, so, we’re left to guess what’s going on. Whether Morgan, a fixture for years, is simply on sort of a hiatus from the recording side of things or is being phased out altogether is unknown.
However it eventually shakes out, September 7, at Hallie Q. Brown Community Center, Ashby invited roughly a hundred fans and friends to HQB’s reception hall for a listening soirée to introduce Signature; and it was a fine affair. Accompanied by prerecorded rhythm tracks, he and Zsamé Morgan laid down a smooth set locked in their characteristically sweet groove that kept all on-hand delightedly entertained.
By all accounts the evening was a class affair. It started with the listening session with guests gathering around tastefully appointed tables, dining on delicious food (courtesy of Sweets By Sheri) as they consulted a feedback sheet to note which cuts from Signature they liked more than others. Ostensibly this was to tell Ashby which song should be the first single — anyone who has ever dealt with the man is very well aware no one is going to make up his mind for him, though surely he took the sheets home after and looked them over with interest.
On the whole, it’s a considerably stronger outing than The Moment of Truth, an inexplicably static lapse for Ashby, whose stock and trade has always been suave, sparkling sophistication with an uncanny flair for old-school cool. Signature is not without a misstep or two — for instance, formulaic filler tunes “Closer” and “Indigo Blue” — but, in the main, it returns a fascinating artist to the form for which he’s well known.
You have to believe strong contenders are sensual opener “A to Z,” siren song “Be There” featuring Morgan, and “No Doubt,” a saucy strut on which Ashby flat out goes for it, tickling pure percolating hell out of the keyboard to a slightly funky backdrop of synth horns. Bottom line, the master musician admirably acquits himself.
With the official listening done, Ashby and Morgan treated everyone to a live set, about which folk likely went home and bent the ears of friends and family, swearing up and down, “Man, you should’ve been there!” And, truly, one had to experience it to believe how beautifully the performance went.
For one, Zsamé Morgan, she of the powerhouse pipes, is, hands down, the hottest front lady in Twin Cities music. She belts a song out with the best of them and is subtlety itself when it comes to shading notes in a radiant palette of colors, bending phrases with consummate skill.
As well, however arguably sexist it may be, a prerequisite in entertainment is that the performer upfront double as eye candy. It’s just a fact of life. Accordingly, Morgan is the last word in wowing a crowd. The woman is drop-dead gorgeous and, when she gets to moving that magnificent frame around — gals, hold on to your guy.
It was a set of mostly classic covers, artfully interpreted, with splendid originals, Ashby’s “Midnite Walkin’” and “Keep Dreamin” and “Closer” by Q’Aisha Morgan (who helped out with the singing on Wenso Ashby Live). As usual, “Another Sad Love Song” floored everyone with Morgan giving Toni Braxton a damned strong run for her money. Marvin Gaye’s “I Want You” saw a wonderful arrangement so velvet in texture, couples in the back of the hall got up and danced.
On the downside, there’s always one tone-deaf fan who insists on being heard. This one happened to be right behind me and knew the words to everything. At the close, an exquisite mini-concert deteriorated into tedium with a pair of tiresome a cappella numbers by friends Ashby and Morgan invited up from the audience. At this point there also were shout-outs about somebody doing this and that at someplace or other.
Otherwise, it was a night of winning, indeed state-of-the-art artistry.
Dwight Hobbes welcomes reader responses to P.O. Box 50357, Mpls., 55403.