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RANZIE MENSAH with REZA MOGHADDAS TRIO,Saturday, July 12 at Small World Music Centre. Rating: NNN
The Small World Music Centre's cabaret theatre-style seating was awkwardly intimate for Ghanaian "Princess Of Peace" Ranzie Mensah's performance, despite the video cameras present (the concert series will be broadcast online).
The Italy-based singer put on as big of a show as possible in the small space, singing, dancing and storytelling, backed by her Toronto-based collaborator, pianist Reza Moghaddas and his trio (bassist Oriana Barbato and ex-Cliks Morgan Doctor on percussion).
Mensah takes a singular, vibrato-heavy, nearly operatic approach to vocal Afro-jazz that takes some getting used to, but her voice also has the power to transport the listener to other places, as it did on Swing To The Beat.
The band debuted a couple of new pieces written specifically for the collaboration - including To Bebop - and Mensah walked off stage to let the band jam out on their own, finishing the encore with a total improvisation.
Mensah's message is of peace, love and emancipation, but a tremendous amount of that came through in the spaces between her lyrics and melodies, in the rhythm of the drum and bass and the constant movement of her hips. Crowd-pleasers included a handful of Miriam Makeba's songs, like hit Malaika (Mensah knew Makeba and translated Makeba's autobiography from English to French).
The audience was offered discounted entry to Seun Kuti's concurrent show at the Phoenix after; the scheduling snafu made me wonder what it would have been like seeing Mensah in a larger, standing-room venue instead.