Fontella Bass's torrid "Rescue Me" on Chess Records' Checker subsidiary in 1965 established her as a major R & B figure, despite her relatively brief tenure in the limelight. All in all, Bass charted seven times for Chess. After leaving the label in 1968 she toured Europe for a while with the Art Ensemble of Chicago, which included her then-husband, trumpeter Lester Bowie. By the early 80s she'd returned to the spiritual music of her youth, but not until this year's No Ways Tired (Elektra/Nonesuch) has she had the opportunity to embark on a solo project dedicated entirely to gospel. It's been worth the wait: Bass's soprano ascents are as thrilling as ever; her easy phrasing echoes immortals like Mahalia and Aretha; and her years spent immersed in everything from major-label pop to the ensemble's outward-bound art music have given her an unusually broad stylistic and emotional range. The most pervasive sense one gets from the new disc is hard-won tranquillity: whether crooning in a velvety whisper, soaring to ecstasy in front of a choir, or even romping amiably through a lightweight, Dionne Warwick-ish "What the World Needs Now," Bass sounds every inch the weary traveler who's finally found her way home. Friday, 9 PM, Buddy Guy's Legends, 754 S. Wabash; 427-0333 or 427-1190. Saturday, 9:30 PM, FitzGerald's, 6615 Roosevelt, Berwyn; 708-788-2118.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/John Halpern.