Do not dismiss this collection as replays, especially if you think you know all the songs. Even the most ardent follower is in for a few surprises. Despite re-releasing this varietal cull of hip-hop, jazz, and R&B duets, none of these songs seem tired. Most may have been heard before, but on this divergent anthology you start to recognize. Each of the artists featured has rightfully been accorded their own "diva" label. Here, however, Scott has tempered and polished their distinctiveness. Like Michael Jordan, she makes all her teammates perform better and the result is a win for us.
Trying to find the weak link in this line-up is fruitless. Jill Scott adds appropriate yang to the ying that is Mos Def (apropos in all he does), Will.i.am (of Black-Eyed Peas fame), Bilal (the Lenny Kravitz of hip-hop), Common (who is anything but) and Will Smith (Hollywood big baller refusing to forget his roots). All these cuts hold water like a riverbank, (Common is a particular favorite in "8 Minutes to Sunrise" and Bilal surprises in "Funky for You"), but liquidity is thematic in the best of these hip-hop offerings. "Can't Feel the Rain," reveals a thoughtful Will Smith in a self-reflective and cautionary rap that still entertains. With her def poet partner, Mos Def, deftly adding imagery, Jill lets loose her passion for spoken word, never forgetting that listeners want to hear her singing as much as her insights.
Scott is so mature and comfortable in her Collaborations it is difficult to imagine she can master any genre other than the one she happens to be singing at the time. "Good Morning Heartache" tugs tenderly on your heartstrings thanks to full round Miles Davis-like licks, courtesy of trumpeter Chris Botti, and a gentler rendition of the Billie Holiday vocals. Ms. Scott (in a Diana Ross mode) shares spotlight with Will.i.am and Sergio Mendes who tans the trio with a shade of bossa nova on "Let Me." Her arcane influence matched with the talent of Jeff Bradshaw insures that audiences will be hard-pressed to find anyone "Bone Deep" like this trombone player on "Slide."
You would expect only the best voices to step onstage with Ms. Scott and when they do, the result is all it should be. Surprisingly, her cuts with not so notorious biggies are equally satisfying. Lyricist/producer Lupe Fiasco and Scott produce unexpected lushness on "Daydreamin'." "One Time" spotlights Eric Roberson, a talented Rahway, NJ native who holds it down like a premier performer next to Diva Scott. "Said Enough" with the Isley Brothers and "Sometimes I Wonder" with Darius Rucker are expectedly fantastic. Even Kirk Franklin ambivalence may dissipate after acknowledging the simple beauty of "Kingdom Come." However, it was the unified efforts of Al Jarreau, George Benson, and Jill Scott that were the most stirring for this listener. Having witnessed Jarreau and Benson in concert, "God Bless the Child" resonates in my then and now. The rendition is well deserving of its Grammy nomination (as were "Good Morning Heartache," and "Daydreamin'").
Collaborations is a fitting enticement to the next Jill Scott release due out this summer. She has come a long way and we have enjoyed each step. Collaborations reassures us that a highly anticipated new squeeze of Jill Scott-ness that will surely be as refreshing as her previous concoctions.
By Arnold Stovell