Me’shell Ndegeocello celebrated her birthday by presenting those in attendance with a wonderful gift. She led an amazing cast of musicians through an exotic, flawless performance. Her Brazilian percussionist set the tone at the beginning of the first tune, giving the group a world music feel. Toward the end of the set he did a remarkable solo on a hand drum. Her group also included DJ Jahee Sundance, who added another interesting element to the overall soundscape. Well-placed waves of sound and relevant social and political statements characterized the material he contributed. Chris Dave was featured on drums, holding down solid grooves and adding inspiration throughout the evening. Michael Caine did some great work on piano and the Fender Rhodes.
The horn section featured Graham Haynes on trumpet, and Ron Blake and Oliver Lake on saxophones. Each contributed wonderful solos over the beautiful musical canvas/backdrop created by the group. Ron Blake also contributed an excellent composition performed by the group entitled Sonic Tonic.
DJ Jahee Sundance led the band and audience in an abbreviated version of Happy Birthday. Me’shell had plenty to be happy about on this birthday, with an array of spectacular musicians coming together to celebrate. Her funky bass lines were omnipresent throughout the evening and pushed this 8-piece ensemble to musical heights not often approached.
The Mos Def Big Band followed with an incredibly moving set. This 11-piece musical powerhouse provided sparks and fireworks in a most intriguing illustration of how music is the highest of all art forms. Starting out with a great selection by Gil Scott-Heron, New York, New York, the group’s delivery was impeccable. Few performers are as charismatic as Mos Def, which was evident from this first number. He garnered the crowd’s attention immediately. A true Renaissance Man, he shines bright in all of professional endeavors. What’s next? That’s up to Mos Def but you can bet he will be successful at it. For now one thing is for sure. He is the leader of a wonderful group that can go in so many musical directions yet is grounded in a jazz/funk sound that has appeal to those with higher musical sensibilities. Let us hope he continues down this road.
His group included a five piece horn section, featuring Robin Eubanks on trombone, Wallace Roney on trumpet and Antonio Roney on saxophone. Solos were great, especially on the jazz classic Afro-Blue. But what really stood out about this unit was how tight they were, particularly in their support of the leader. This was most readily apparent on Jack Johnson, a tribute to the great, late boxer. Mos Def’s lyrics and timing on this piece were something to behold. Another great selection was a tribute Miles Davis, which featured Mos Def putting lyrics to Bitches Brew. Young World was a song dedicated to the children. It turns out one of Mos Def’s sons, George, was also celebrating a birthday. Other members of the group included the great John Benetiz on electric bass and Will Calhoun, from Living Color, on drums.
The two groups provided excellent examples of the potential inherent in jazz music. For those with the courage and skill to take a complicated art form and add to it elements that enhance its quality and appeal, jazz provides a fountain of potential material and inspiration. Groups that are able to pull it off so professionally remind us of the true spirit of jazz, living and creating in the moment.