Solange is Beyoncé’s sister, so when she headlined a benefit for the Make It Right program Saturday night at the House of Blues, many in the audience wondered if Beyoncé and Jay Z might be among the special guests the show promised.
That has to be part of the challenge of being Solange — people always looking over her shoulder to see if her sister might be around, too.
However, anyone paying attention Saturday night knew within the first few songs that there would be no familial walk-ons, as Solange performed with an idiosyncratic intensity that said the night belonged to her.
Since Solange moved to New Orleans in 2013, she has been a factoid as much as a musical reality. Opportunities to see her have been limited to an appearance at the Essence Music Festival, one at Jazz Fest and a few smaller, more boutique events including singing with the band playing avant-garde, architectural instruments during the Music Box’s closing weekend in City Park.
With Saint Heron, her arts organization, she put together an event connected to Prospect.3, and she hosted an after-hours party celebrating Missy Elliott after Elliott played Essence this summer.
Most New Orleanians have seen her in name only in stories like the one in The New York Times last year that identified a number of cool musicians and actors who had moved here recently — the same article that started an Internet meme when it bemoaned the lack of kale in the city.
New Orleans was packed with 10-year remembrances of Hurricane Katrina on Saturday, and Solange briefly acknowledged the occasion as well. “I can’t express in words what this city has done for me,” she said. “I can only imagine how native residents feel tonight. For the rest of the set, just live life in this special city.”
After that, Solange was a disco diva for the 21st century, down to a synthesizer in one song that recalled the signature burbling sound of Donna Summer’s “Love to Love You Baby.”
Much of the hourlong set came from her 2012 extended EP “True,” where her sonic palate resembled much contemporary R&B with grooves that are rarely conventionally funky, if they’re funky at all. They dictated some of her tai chi-like dance moves and helped her find a musical home in Brooklyn, New York’s indie rock community before she moved to New Orleans.
For much of the evening, her slightly breathy voice was hard to distinguish as it sat a little low in the mix, but when she updated the Motown sound for the celebratory, set-closing “Sandcastle Disco,” the testifying that the song called for made her voice stand out for the show’s final moments.
Trumpet player Christian Scott opened with a jazz set that drew from his upcoming album, “Stretch Music.” Scott’s music can test audiences, as many compositions set a tone in the opening moments and take off quickly, often just as listeners are getting their bearings.
Saturday night’s audience stayed with him, particularly on “West of the West” from the new album. On it, guitarist Dominic Minix played a heavy, hanging blues lick almost like a sample, repeating it hypnotically as Scott, saxophonist Braxton Cook and flutist Elena Pinderhughes soloed. Scott broke his solo off in tight, emotional bursts, sometimes letting his passion take him off mic.
DJ Soul Sister opened the show, and while the night never did deliver any special guests, it commemorated the 10th anniversary of Katrina by looking ahead with a night of contemporary takes on New Orleans’ core competencies.