Arts Desk

Reviewed: SunStorm by Zo!

Zo!

There's a moment near the end of the martial-arts film The Last Dragon in which the protagonist Bruce Leroy realizes he has "the power," an unmistakable, self-actualizing glow that enables him to conquer obstacles (and catch a bullet in his teeth). Lorenzo Ferguson, a Silver Spring-based producer, is basking in his own Leroy-style aura. Here's a man who has already enjoyed a respectable career as a multifaceted artist with a handful of enjoyable projects to his credit. With SunStorm, however, Zo! successfully marries his aesthetic to The Foreign Exchange's for a project that is as seamless as it is timeless. It might even teach you some moves.

The most noticeable aspect of SunStorm is its maturity—notable in a musical landscape flooded with adults named "Lil'" and "Young." Simply put: SunStorm is grown folks' music, with songs seasoned enough for the afterhours Quiet Storm program on your favorite radio station, fresh enough for the "Cookout" playlist on your iPod, and reflective enough to stimulate soul-searching. "Make Luv 2 Me," for instance, is a 10-minute babymaker in which Zo! provides a sensual musical backdrop for vocalist Monica Blaire to moan about sex "with intention and purpose." On the breezy "Flight of the Blackbyrd," Zo!  goes solo with the production, this time concocting an upbeat salsa vibe above which Foreign Exchange frontman Phonte Coleman sings and scats about freedom and love. The title track stands out, as Phonte joins Foreign Exchange collaborator and D.C. native YahZarah to croon about the pureness of a new passion.

Until now, Zo! mostly stuck to the background, tickling the ivories for others and occasionally lacing his friends with his brand of urban jazz and soul. With this album, the Detroit/Silver Spring hybrid boldly steps to the forefront, stares directly into the musical sun, and keeps a clear vision in the process. Just like our hero Bruce Leroy, Zo!'s definitely got that glow.

Zo! performs with the Foreign Exchange Sound System Sunday at 8 p.m. at U Street Music Hall. $18-$21.

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