D'Angelo is back with a First Ave gig, forthcoming new LP

JON BREAM | Updated 6/23/2013

After disappearing for a decade, neo-soul star D’Angelo is back with a First Avenue gig and a new album coming this fall.

D'Angelo performing at Carnegie Hall in March
AP Photo

D’Angelo’s friends simply call him “D.” His fans call him M.I.A.

What has the sexy neo-soul star — arguably the most remarkable male R&B force to emerge in the 1990s — been doing in the 13 years since his widely acclaimed, chart-topping, Grammy-winning “Voodoo” album?

The answer is long and complicated (we’ll get to it) but there’s good news now: A new single will be released in July, his overdue third album is expected this fall, and a rare live gig will take place Sunday at First Avenue with Questlove of the Roots.

“I don’t know what to expect [of the gig]. That’s the whole point. We really don’t know what we’re going to do, actually,” said D’Angelo, who has given only three or four interviews and not many more performances during his hiatus. “We just get together and jam. There’s no set list. We keep it pretty loose. We keep each other on our toes.”

He doesn’t want fans to view this as a D’Angelo concert because he certainly doesn’t.

“That pressure is not there,” said the singer. “We’re just playing songs that we like and having a good time.”

In other words, don’t expect an evening of D’Angelo hits like “Untitled (How Does It Feel)” and “Brown Sugar.”

At a similar gig in March at the Brooklyn Bowl in New York, he and Questlove, his longtime drummer and friend, offered songs associated with Sly Stone, Bobby Womack, the S.O.S. Band, Ohio Players and Prince.

They have scheduled only one other duo gig, billed as “Brothers in Arms: A Two-Man Show,” on July 3 in Philadelphia.

Inspired by Prince

Minneapolis and especially First Avenue are important to D’Angelo and to Questlove, too.

“We are both Prince aficionados,” D’Angelo said, who has never performed at First Avenue, the club where Prince filmed his “Purple Rain” movie. “Prince is my biggest influence. He continues to be an inspiration, the career that he’s had, the overall adoration and respect that he still gets. He’s put down a powerful, powerful legacy of great music and great art.”

D’Angelo, 39, always sounds enthusiastic when talking about his buddy Questlove, a k a Ahmir Thompson.

“I love to work with Ahmir,” he said in a phone interview last week from New York City. “Because of his musical intelligence. We have very similar tastes. We finish each other’s sentences. We don’t have to do a lot of talking. We’ve worked together so much we just slot right in, you know. Brothers from a different mother, no doubt.”

New album ‘almost’ done

Last year, D’Angelo and his full band (which includes former Time guitarist Jesse Johnson) played about a dozen shows in Europe and 15 U.S. gigs with Mary J. Blige — his first North American performances in 10 years. Those concerts proved that D’Angelo was still alive and well, if a bit heavier than in his stripped-naked “Untitled” video days.

“I got to play with my new band, and it was great to play new songs,” he said. “I’m dying for people to hear the new stuff.”

He’ll drop a single, “Really Love,” next month but won’t disclose the name of his album.

Not following trends

If “Voodoo” was more improvisational and organic than his structured, soulful “Brown Sugar” debut in 1995, what’s the new album like?

“It’s funky,” D’Angelo said with a hearty laugh. “It’s definitely a progression from ‘Voodoo.’ I lock myself in a bubble so I haven’t been too up on things. I never base my [stuff] on trends. I ain’t skipping a beat. This new [stuff] is powerful.”