Anita Baker showed off her marvelous voice and her all-star band at Merriweather Post Pavilion Saturday night but still left the listener with a lingering disappointment. For one thing, the high-priced show consisted of just a half-hour from so-so comic Rhonda Hansome and a mere 80 minutes from Baker herself. Moreover, much of the 80 minutes was devoted to cutesy-poo talk from Baker, which undercut the smoldering adult passion of her music.
Baker proved that her voice is a remarkable instrument capable of jazzy scat solos, big gospel shouts and creamy ballad singing. But only rarely did she establish the sensual intimacy of last year's breakthrough album, "Rapture." That album's title song, a convincing confession of love on the record, was reduced on stage to a utilitarian showcase for her vocal skills.
Baker's excellent 15-person stage troupe included three acts that record on their own: veteran jazz pianist Bobby Lyle, Latin percussionist Pete Escovedo (Sheila E.'s dad) and the female vocal quartet Peri. Baker displayed her Detroit jazz roots on tunes like Van Morrison's "Moondance" and her own "Been So Long"; her scat solos vied with Lyle's rippling piano solos in their agility and imagination. The highlight of the show, though, came midway on back-to-back love ballads, "You Bring Me Joy" and "Sweet Love"; Baker dropped her talk-show persona and poured her big voice into the songs' unguarded passion.