December 16, 2007

Anita Baker Brings Sweet Love In Concert

“Bring on the love songs!” an ebullient Anita Baker proclaimed as the first notes of “Sweet Love” cascaded into soulful bliss. Marking her first-ever appearance at Clearwater, Florida’s Ruth Eckerd Hall on December 14, the incomparable songstress put on a commanding performance for a welcoming, sold-out audience.

As far as Baker's concerned, performing involves as much physical expression as it does vocal. A diminutive dynamo in stiletto heels, Baker sashayed and twirled across the stage to the rhythm of her 10-piece band, all the while singing with inspiration and might. And her voice, with its thick and sensual tone, sounded nothing short of exquisite.

Connoisseurs of Baker’s inimitable blend of jazz and soul recognize her 1986 breakthrough effort, Rapture, as a seminal achievement, one that undeniably facilitated her future success. Perhaps for that reason, Baker invariably referenced it throughout the night, ultimately performing the album in its entirety. Pop hits like “No One In The World” and “Same Ole Love (365 Days A Year)” sounded vibrant and fresh, the former drawing on a delectable groove, the latter packing an insatiable punch. Album cuts reserved for late-night quiet storms, such as “Mystery” and “You Bring Me Joy,” embodied sophisticated seduction.

Sadly, given the concentration on Rapture, only a few songs from Baker’s other albums found their way into the set. A breathtaking rendition of “Giving You The Best That I’ve Got,” which showcased Baker’s finesse with phrasing and inflection, was arguably the evening’s consummate highlight. And the encore featured the early hit, “Angel,” as well as a feisty take on “Fairy Tales.” Yet, a host of gems, songs like “Just Because,” “Body And Soul,” “Good Love,” “I Apologize,” and “Soul Inspiration,” never made the cut. Curiously, her most recent album, My Everything, didn’t yield any performances at all.

That being said, the songs Anita Baker did perform sounded spectacular. Her range, power, and versatility as a vocalist are astonishing and such was evident on this night. Thus, while the song selection could have favored more diversity, the oversight of some material only makes her fans eager to welcome her return.