Alicia Keys : London Hanover Grand

The latest soul sensation lives up to the hype with a beautiful performance of older-than-her-years virtuosity...

In answer to the ‘what’s the dilly on this new talent?’ poser, Alicia Keys is set to become this year’s Jill Scott.

Despite the negative connotations of comparisons, to truly comprehend Alicia Keys, her musical originality and the acclaim currently raining down upon her, you really [I]do[/I] have to compare her to her predecessors. Keys’ debut ‘Songs In A Minor’ reeks with the assimilated vocals of En Vogue’s Cindy Heron and Amel Laurrieux; her music veers from classical piano to Rhodes inflected gospel; she sounds like she’s been studying Aretha Franklin vocal arrangements (a la ‘Rock Steady’) and supplanted them into her songs of mature compliant and idealism. Keys is real. And live she proves to be a honourable student of the aforesaid schools of music. Added to which she is vocally pitch perfect. She is rap savvy. Unquestionably slick, assured and self aware. Oh. And she just turned 20 years old.

Odd, then, that tonight’s gig should unfurl so quickly. ‘Piano & I’, ‘Rock Wit U’ and the Prince cover, ‘How Come Your Don’t Call Me…’ arrive emblazoned with hastened hiphop basslines and the raucous accompaniment of her backing singers. It’s stunning stuff, reiterated by the fact that she looks like she’s not even trying. But when Keys initiates her audience parlance – “throw yo’ hands in the air-yah!” – and interrupts her material with her personal faves, she obscures the very thing that’s makes her hot – her instrumental articulation – by choosing rap ([a][/a]’s ‘One More Chance’) and Mary J. Blige and Faith Evans’s hiphop soul.

Such conformity is unnecessary and, one suspects, more than a little ingratiating, but when she finally returns to her keyboard and you’re pulled back into the slipstream of her genius via her current US and forthcoming UK single ‘Fallin” you’re reminded of the stark fact that soul music hasn’t witnessed a piano-driven talent of such breadth since Nina Simone. And look how long she’s been around.

Jacqueline Springer

For more information on Alicia Keys, check out her official website,