The progenitor, dare we say unofficial granddaddy/Quincy Jones, of the neo-soul movement that includes Erykah Badu, Jill Scott and D’Angelo is Raphael Saadiq, a.k.a. Raphael Wiggins, of the ’90s soul trio Tony Toni Tone. Whether he admits it or even knows it — and well he should, seeing as how he has as many Grammy nominations (five) as Norah Jones or Bruce Springsteen — Saadiq is looked upon by the current generation as the mystical guiding light of the movement principally because of his devoted studies of funk, R&B, hip-hop and gospel basics, all lavishly supporting his wistful, trembling tenor. But that studied approach may be the one thing that keeps Saadiq from breaking big time.
Saadiq is, indeed, the bridge that links the past to the future of funk. He has a true and sincere approach to the disparate elements of soul/pop. With the perfect album, Saadiq could rival Michael Jackson, but only by exploring the melodic boundaries of funk, hip-hop, rock and soul, rather than paying homage to the past by repeating it. Saadiq only needs to reflect on the elements that made Tony Toni Tone a well-respected entity that not only made memorable music but got everyone dancing, too.
As if paying tribute to the beginnings of soul, Saadiq’s father, Ray Wiggins, walked to center stage, apparently to introduce his son. Instead, Wiggins launched into a stunning, Clyde McPhatter/Johnnie Taylor-influenced a cappella version of Sam Cooke’s “A Change Is Gonna Come” to the roaring approval of the two-thirds capacity audience.
Saadiq’s band then opened with an instrumental piece that was truly reflective of the powerful combination of psychedelic soul and cutting-edge rock. For the next 45 minutes, Saadiq cruised through songs from his 2002 release, “Instant Vintage,” including “Be Here” and “Still Ray” (with ephemeral overtones from a tuba, of all things), and touched into the past with TTT cuts “It Never Rains in Southern California” and “Anniversary.”
Angie Stone and Musiq Soulchild joined Saadiq on “Excuse Me,” adding the counterpoint needed to lift the energy to a higher level. The too-short set closed with the bouncing, Prince-influenced “Get Involved,” with New Birth’s Lenny Wilson adding an electric charge to the underappreciated cut from “The PJs” soundtrack.
Rhian Benson opened with a jazzy, Beat-influenced set with strokes of reggae and R&B/soul. It’s laid-back neo-soul, with her dusky voice and lyrics the perfect instruments for her socially slanted approach.