FERTILE GROUND

"Black Is . . . "

Blackout

As long as Baltimore's Fertile Ground showcases singer Navasha Daya's entrancing voice and keyboardist-tunesmith James Collins's insinuating soul-jazz grooves, chances are the group's international following will continue to blossom. That's why there's little faulting "Black Is . . . ," the band's fourth release, an album that consistently emphasizes Fertile Ground's fundamental allure.

The ensemble itself has grown over the past seven years; originally a trio, it's now a septet capable of producing robust, horn-charged tracks that allude to old-school funk, nu-soul atmospherics, early fusion jazz and Afro-Caribbean beats. "Spirit World," the opening cut and one of the CD's highlights, finds Collins playing trumpet and euphonium in addition to synthesizer, helping create a vibrant backdrop for Daya's soulful incantation. As lovely as it is, her voice also proves stirring at times, particularly on "Live in Light," part spiritual anthem, part anti-war protest song.

Message and music are often woven together by Collins and Daya. But in addition to songs of pride ("Black Is . . . "), perseverance ("Another Day") and affirmation ("Changing Woman"), the band's new album also offers some purely romantic interludes, including the wedding song "On This Day" and the flute-limned instrumental "Light Shed." Yet no matter the mood or theme, Fertile Ground creates an evocative sound that borrows from various soul, funk and jazz influences without sounding dated or tradition-bound.

-- Mike Joyce

Appearing Friday and Saturday at Blues Alley. * To hear a free Sound Bite from Fertile Ground, call Post-Haste at 301-313-2200 and press 8123. (Prince William residents, call 703-690-4110.)