Somi Preview

The singer Somi, who will be performing at the Dakota tonight and Thursday, is like a cool glass of pink lemonade, a titch more sweet than citrus, yet still refreshingly tart on the tastebuds. Born in Illinois to parents of Rwandan and Ugandan heritage, Somi (actual name L. Kabasomi Kakoma) is a smooth cultural-musical polyglot, sinuous like Sade, with some of the breathy restraint of Cassandra Wilson, yet cognizant of the African vocal tradition of long, extended coos that gradually fade in the ether.

Last year’s Red Soil In My Eyes, her second full-length disc, is better than her debut at showcasing her range. The opener "Ingele" is a beguiling reminder of Sade with a bossa nova pitter-patter that both singers borrowed from Astrid Gilberto. "African Lady" is a slab of Afro-beat based on a Fela tune and has his dank horn voicings. "Natural," performed as a duet with breakthrough Blue Note guitarist Lionel Loueke, may be her most impressive vocal, providing us with depth and sheen as she roams the musical scale, while the music straddles the still pool of folk and the agile improvisation of jazz. Red Soil contains some duds, of course — "Day By Day" is a compound cliché, the lyrics and the pat rhythm, and "Mbabazi" strains too hard, down to its heavy-breathing denoument. But it demonstrates that Somi is talented and able to vary the mood without a clumsy drop in quality control.

I’d expect more jazz at the Dakota gigs, not just because it’s a jazz club, but because Somi’s current touring ensemble includes a backing trio with extensive jazz chops. Guitarist Herve Samb is a Senegalese native last at the Dakota with David Murray’s Gwo Ka Masters. Samb’s own music leans toward hip-hop inflected neo-soul, so he too is a polyglot. He’s also scheduled to perform in France later this week so I’m not positive he’ll make the Somi gigs. Pianist Toru Dodo is a Japanese native schooled at Berklee who has played with jazz heavyweights like Kenny Garrett and Benny Golson. And percussionist Daniel Moreno has gigged with George Benson and Roy Haynes, appeared on Roy Hargrove’s Rh Factor world-jazz fusion disc, and collaborated with Angolan singer-guitarist Waldemar Bastos who put on a fabulous (and obviously memorable) performance at the Walker nine years ago.

In the past year or two, the Dakota has increasingly supplemented its jazz calendar with kindred music from New Orleans and Africa in particular, ranging from Dr. John and Irvin Mayfield to Toumani Diabate and Dee Dee Bridgewater’s Red Earth project. These next two nights with Somi have a chance to further buttress that breadth.