Toward the end of "Speak's" first track, "Ma Foya," Nigerian-born bassist Michael Olatuja brings what is a fairly tradition-rooted afro-beat jazz number into the modern age, as a nasal synthesizer weaves its own melody through the congas and whirling bass. It's a recurring theme throughout

"Speak," as Olatuja peppers otherwise lite-jazz grooves with a bit of modern spice.

Toward the end of "Speak's" first track, "Ma Foya," Nigerian-born bassist Michael Olatuja brings what is a fairly tradition-rooted afro-beat jazz number into the modern age, as a nasal synthesizer weaves its own melody through the congas and whirling bass.

It's a recurring theme throughout "Speak," as Olatuja peppers otherwise lite-jazz grooves with a bit of modern spice. The album's sonic atmosphere almost recalls the work of the Soulquarians, the loose collective that produced Common's "Like Water for Chocolate" and D'Angelo's "Voodoo," employing a live-in-the-studio sound that works very well with the smorgasbord of songstresses who guest throughout.

Zimbabwean singer Eska Mtungwazi lends her smooth crooning to the moody afro-beat of "Yi Yipada," Nigerian rapper TY guests on the title track, and Olatuja's wife Alicia steps in for the pleading "Walk With Me" and "Unconditional," which could fit right in on any number of modern R&B albums.

So while there isn't a unifying theme in "Speak," there's a wide variety, and plenty to like.

Hear samples from "Speak" at Amazon.com.

Sussex Countian