Live Review: Choklate at Aesthetic Sounds, London (Feb 4th)

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If I was to reflect on the best artists to emerge during the last decade, Washington State-based songstress Kolista Moore, aka Choklate, would feature very high on my list.  Without a hint of hyperbole, her self-titled first album is one of the most outstanding debuts I am yet to hear and a firm favourite of the last ten years – scratch that – a firm favourite full stop.  To Whom It May Concern, her sophomore project, might not reach the creative heights of Choklate but is a very good record by any standards.  Her first solo UK gig performed in April 2008, is indelibly etched on my mind as an exceptionally good show.  The winning combination of long time producers Vitamin D and Jake One and her superlative songwriting ability, has established Choklate amongst soul/R&B music lovers as one of the modern standard bearers for a genre otherwise on the brink of becoming moribund.

It was probably this high expectation that packed out the Vibe Bar, Brick Lane almost two weeks ago as Choklate played the first of only two UK gigs. Support came in the form of Louise Golbey, Sarah Fonteyne and Russell Taylor [pictured below].  There was even a special appearance by UK live-scene royalty Adelaide Mackenzie on BVs throughout the night.  Golbey managed to wow not just the audience but the main lady herself.  Fonteyne’s enjoyable jazz stylings further warmed us up for the headlining act whilst Taylor’s set was far more underwhelming than had been hyped.  It eventually gathered momentum after a ropey start but didn’t exactly make the earth move.  Thankfully the formidable house band saved the day as Curtis Cumberbatch (Guitar), Joey Grant (Bass), Nathan Johnson (Keys) and Jerry Brown (Drums) salvaged Taylor’s set from complete mediocrity.

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No such damage control was needed once Choklate mounted the stage after (a very long) refreshment break and the band’s excellent skills were put to great use by the lovely Miss Moore.  Choklate’s previous UK show was an energetic acoustic set, successfully adapting her sample-heavy compositions to the unplugged sound.  However this time with a full band, the live Choklate experience was taken to another level.

As with most artists promoting a new-ish album I anticipated that Choklate would neglect material from her debut to focus on To Whom… but I was pleasantly surprised.  Her set got off to a cracking start with ‘Never Change’ – one of the many gems from Choklate. This was swiftly followed by the brilliant ‘Incredible’ – which is the closest thing to a personal anthem from the Seattle-native.  With the recognition of each track a handful of hardcore Choklate fans unreservedly showed their approval, singing along enthusiastically (myself included). Choklate soon brought it more up to date with the title song from To Whom… which included an amazing guitar solo from Curtis Cumberbatch and an especially delectable bassline courtesy of Joey Grant.

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Choklate herself never sounded so good, her vocals as effortlessly gorgeous live as on wax.  She has an undeniable gift for improvisation – from her wonderful ad-libs to even, on occasion, busting a rap-freestyle or two.  Her charismatic stage presence is the icing on the cake; whether it is sharing in the middle of the inspirational ‘Bigger Than You’ how her Christian faith helps her overcome her insecurities or joking that as a single lady she lives her love life vicariously through couples responding well to the baby-maker ‘Grown Folks’.  Probably one of the very few Choklate songs I could take or leave, the live rendition nevertheless gave it appeal.

Choklate finished her set with a super-extended remix of yet another dazzler from her catalogue ‘Long Way’ and the irrepressibly upbeat ‘Suns Out’ –  the first single from her sophomore album.  On the final track the band managed to sneak in a sample of The Jacksons ‘This Place (Heartbreak) Hotel’ with Choklate doing her best MJ impression on the refrain, crotch-grab et al.  Much to the delight of the crowd the fusion of the two tunes worked ridiculously well.

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There were many more songs that could have been played from Choklate’s rock solid repertoire and those in attendance would have happily listened to them for a few more hours.  Alas, however, venue curfews did not permit; not even an encore was forthcoming.

Although the crowd at the Vibe Bar weren’t as ebullient as that at her 2008 gig nor as familiar with her music, this did not take away from the fact that Choklate proved once again that she can put on one heck of a show.  Not even the frequent and unnecessarily long breaks between sets on which the compeer insisted could ruin it.

Right now, Choklate could do no musical wrong.  She promised to come back and perform on this side of the Atlantic as soon as.  Here’s hoping she’ll make it a regular occurrence.

–Tola Ositelu

All photography by Steve Rutherford.

For more information on Aesthetic Sounds live nights visit aestheticsounds.com

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