Deejay and music producer King Britt often recounts the moment he discovered Lady Alma back in 1998. She was on the dancefloor, singing so powerfully to the records he was spinning that he thought she was part of the song. That power is still her signature, so while at times it seemed that the force of her instrument would blow the roof off the snug confines of Blues Alley on Wednesday night, it got the cozy audience into the party spirit by show’s end
Alma Horton is part of the fertile ‘90s Philadelphia music scene that birthed game -changing modern-soul artists like Jill Scott and the Roots, but her career took a divergent path after her initial work with King Britt. Her discography is full of work that bridges the electronic, dance, soul and jazz worlds — collaborations with artists such as 4hero and Mark de Clive-Lowe. The common element is Horton’s forceful yet warm voice and rambunctious spirit.
Her band, A Black Tie Affair, opened with a couple of extended neo-soul-style jams before an uncharacteristically subdued Lady Alma ascended the stage. “We just got in, we tired, but we gonna wake y’all up,” she assured the corwd. The pot was on low heat but would reach boiling once Alma hit her stride.
That happened three tunes in, on the slinky groover “Strawberries in Vinegar” from Silhouette Brown’s second project, a collaboration with 4hero producer Dego. On the disc, Alma runs through an emotionally plaintive verse then segues into an extended vocal ad-lib; on stage, her playfulness bubbled over. The beaming smile came out as she scat-rapped through interpolations of Eric B. & Rakim’s “I Know You Got Soul” and Tom Brown’s “Funkin’ For Jamaica.”
Horton’s music conatins elements of blues and gospel, some disco diva energy and a jazz stylist’s sense of improvisational adventure. But, at her core, Lady Alma is a belter. She’s also endearingly familial, with no concept of a fourth wall. That familiarity turned poignant on the suicide testimonial “Leave a Note,” another Silhouette Brown collaboration.
Not one to linger on a low note, Lady Alma demonstrated on “Be Free” how she got the nickname “Strong Lung.” Abandoning the microphone, she strode around the room testifying like a preacher and accompanied by clapping hands before closing with her anthemic club classic “Hold It Down.”