Foreign Exchange Sound System feat. Yahzarah at Jazz Kitchen, May 22 

Okay, is this the new thing in music promotion? Maybe I didn't read the fine print, but I expected a little more bang for my buck at the Foreign Exchange Sound System "show," which was held during a Soul Session at The Jazz Kitchen Saturday night.

I put show in quotes because it was really a showcase — more a sampler of the artists associated with the North Carolina hip-hop duo The Foreign Exchange than a full-fledged show by any one of them. And because the Foreign Exchange proper didn't perform, it was difficult to watch Phonte, one of the best contemporary emcees in the game, take the stage — and to end up hearing him perform only one verse.

Yahzarah, who has been working for years as a neo-soul back-up vocalist, just released a solo album, The Battle of Purple St. James, which she heavily promoted Saturday night at The Jazz Kitchen. Her set consisted of six or seven tightly-condensed, over-produced epics. For the first half of each number, she made her way through meandering melodies before riffing and vamping off the track during the second half.

It felt as though Yahzarah was in competition with the band. Sure, the performers were technically proficient, and Yahzarah has a great voice. But the songs never fell into a deep groove. Layers of canned back-up vocals drew focus away from the one live voice hidden in the mix.

The best, and most well received, moments of the show came when the tracks ended and Phonte, the American-born half of the Foreign Exchange, stepped in to add a simple harmony. I would have much preferred a stripped-down show with Phonte providing the back-up (and more lead) vocals, instead of playing the not-so-hype hypeman.

As DJs, Nicolay and Phonte did a great job, but it was nothing beyond what top-tier local DJs are doing. The Jazz Kitchen sound system, turned up way beyond what it could really handle, didn't help any. If the speakers didn't kill your ears that night, it's only because you have spent too many nights at loud clubs and are already going deaf.

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