Cross-genre jazz vocalist Somi moved from New York to live in Lagos, Nigeria, and then came back with the stories and sensibilities that inform her vividly conceived, kaleidoscopic fourth record. The Illinois native of Rwandan and Ugandan descent brings a keen sense of narrative and a wonderfully diverse musical mix, infused with intricate rhythms, jazz, and a taste of juju, to this sprawling 18-song set. Augmented by a lucid ensemble and special guests (Angelique Kidjo, Common), Somi delivers vocal performances of striking tonal clarity and expressiveness, shedding light on the lives of the people of Lagos by delving into their struggles, pain, pride, and joys. These tracks feel fully lived in — this is not a tourist’s snapshot of a culture. The singer-songwriter wrestles with socio-economic issues throughout: “Two Dollar Day” examines the plight of domestic workers, while “When Rivers Cry” laments environmental destruction. Despite a need for editing, the disc is a sustained triumph, displaying rich musicality, a sharp pop sense, and rare sophistication. (Out Tuesday)
ESSENTIAL “When Rivers Cry”Ken Capobianco can be reached at email@example.com.