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Posts Tagged ‘Fela Kuti’

(Above:  “The Sixth Sense”  – A classic joint from a classic album.)

By Joel Francis
The Daily Record

Trumpet player Hermon Mehari of Diverse kept a copy of Common’s landmark hip hop album “Like Water for Chocolate” in his car for two years, but it wasn’t until he saw Les Izmore at the Czar Bar in January that he knew what he wanted to do with it.

The idea was as ambitious as the album Mehari wanted to celebrate: to combine the jazz chops of Diverse with Izmore’s hip hop style. Both outfits are staples of the local music scenes that rarely overlap.

“The people in the jazz scene often worry why people don’t go out, but the truth is some people don’t have a reason to go to Jardine’s or the Blue Room,” Mehari said. “Likewise, a lot of people may never have been to a hip hop show before. Hopefully this will give everyone a reason to get out more.”

Izmore frequently performs both on his own and with the Afro-beat collective Hearts of Darkness. Diverse made a big splash on the jazz scene when Bobby Watson unveiled the combo in 2008. They kept the momentum alive with a self-titled debut the following year and several high-profile shows and collaborations.

“Diverse has wanted to do a cross-genre collaboration for a while,” Melhari said. “I heard Les that night and was impressed. Could to tell from Les’ rhythms he liked all of that.”

By “all of that” Mehari means Common, Black Star, the Roots and the other members of the late-‘90s New Native Tongues movement in hip hop. The low-key faction turned their backs on the hard, gangsta stance of the moment to focus on socially conscious lyrics backed with soulful or jazz-influenced production.

“Hermon pretty much said he want to link up in the future,” Izmore said. “I was definitely interested, but I didn’t know he already had an idea. When he brought up ‘Like Water For Chocolate’ I was like hell yeah. That’s one of my favorite albums ever.”

On Friday, March 19, Izmore and Diverse will collaborate and celebrate the 10th anniversary of “Like Water For Chocolate” at the Czar Bar.

That album’s music, there’s no album with the sound like they have,” Izmore said. “That was my way into (Afro-beat legend) Fela (Kuti) because (his son) Femi is on there. That album can get you into so much stuff. You have the jazz guys, the hip hop, DJ Premier, Jill Scott. It’s a who’s who of that time. These are some of the best artists of their time.”

The “Like Water for Chocolate” roster also includes jazz trumpet player Roy Hargrove, rappers Mos Def and Slum Village, DJ Premier, Black Thought, Rahzel and Questlove from the Roots, soul singers D’Angelo, Macy Gray and Bilal and future Gnarls Barkley singer Cee-Lo. Producer James Yancey, or J Dilla, a longtime friend of Common’s who had worked with A Tribe Called Quest, tied all the elements together.

In keeping with the spirit of the album, Izmore and Diverse will have a few friends on hand to help them out as well. Hearts of Darkness singer Brandy Gordon will take on all the female vocal parts, and Lee Langston will stand in for D’Angelo, Bilal and Cee-Lo. Local MCs Reach and Vertigone also help out.

“We will definitely keep the jazz tradition and hip hop tradition of improve and freestyle alive,” Izmore said. “We’re not going to do the album straight through, and we might even skip a song or two. We want to leave a lot of room for improv.”

As an MC who grew up with the album, Izmore said he needed little preparation for the show. Diverse had the tougher job translating and arranging the record’s sounds and textures.

“We all expected this show to be harder than jazz shows because of a lot of the intricacies,” Mehari said. “Some of the things you have to do goes against the nature of a jazz musician. Like in jazz there are usually a lot of changes, but here because of the loops you have to find ways to be creative within that repetition.”

Izmore and Diverse worked out their parts separately, then rehearsed together in the weeks leading up to the performance.

“When I first heard them I was ecstatic,” Izmore said. “I knew it was going to be a fun night, because they got it down. It doesn’t sound like jazz players doing hip hop.”

Mehari said he was pleasantly surprised by the reaction in the jazz community.

“When Diverse played a house party at 57th and Ward Parkway, people there asked me what we had coming up,” Mehari said. “I wouldn’t have expected them to get excited, but they did.”

With its socially conscious poetry, innovative rhythms and intricate rhymes, Mehari said “Like Water For Chocolate” forced him to grow as an artist. Now he’s hoping to use the album to expand the horizon’s of Kansas City’s music community.

“This is how the scene grows,” Mehari continued. “I think people are too reliant on fans. I think it’s our job as artists to take things higher.”

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(Above: Roy Ayers dedicates “Everybody Loves the Sunshine” to Miles Davis.)

By Joel Francis
The Kansas City Star

Before James Brown was black and proud and Marvin Gaye asked what’s going on, the Impressions were a winner who got people ready for the train a-comin’.

The Impressions message of racial harmony and black empowerment laid the roots for the black pride movement in soul and the native tongues/backpacker strain of hip hop today. The soul trio’s performance Saturday at the 40 Acres and a Mule Activity Campus in southeast Kansas City, Mo. capped the first day of the Juneteenth Family Festival, which celebrates the end of slavery in America.

Taking the stage in matching white suits, the Impressions quickly touched the sky with “Move On Up,” a song that established their leader and songwriter Curtis Mayfield as a solo artist. Although the set bounced between Impressions and Mayfield material, the songs were rooted in Mayfield’s late ‘60s/early ‘70s prime.

“Choice of Colors” felt like a hymn and was followed by the buoyant “We’re A Winner,” which got a healthy portion of the crowd of 300 clapping or on their feet. Impression Reggie Torian donned a black cape and white hat while the bass thumped the familiar melody to “Superfly.”

Torian had the unenviable job of taking Mayfield’s place. Although Mayfield, who died 10 years ago, will never be replaced, Torian did a good job capturing Mayfield’s rich falsetto on “I’m So Proud” and “I Loved and Lost.”

In an age of reunion bands and acts carrying on with only one original member, it would be easy to dismiss the Impressions as a Mayfield tribute act. Fortunately, the singers flanking Torian onstage are Fred Cash and Sam Gooden,  the very people who sang, toured and recorded alongside Mayfield back in the day.

Backed by a seven-piece band that included a nearly obscured three-piece horn section, the Impressions were swinging through “Woman’s Got Soul” when a 40 Acres staff member came onstage. Confused, the band ended the song and announced that it was time for them to go.  Ending with a rushed version of “It’s Alright,” they departed 40 minutes after taking the stage.

The Impressions’ set was likely cut short because Roy Ayers’ ran long.  Ayers immediately preceded the Impressions, and while he made his name blurring the lines between jazz and funk in the early ‘70s, his 70 minute set concentrated on the slick R&B that made him a radio staple in the last half of the decade.

Backed by the local octet Ronnie Reed and the Millennium, Ayers took the stage halfway through a jam based on the JB’s “Pass the Peas” and quickly showed why he’s been the go-to guy for everyone from the Roots to Fela Kuti.

Ayers’ playing is at once funky and smooth. His approach to the vibraphone renders it a sonic mutant of drums, piano and guitar. His solos were so captivating that they rendered Millennium’s horn players irrelevant. As Ayers’ hammered away backed by the bare minimum of a groove, the suddenly extraneous horn section were relegated to synchronized dancing duty.

After an instrumental introduction, Ayers took over the mic and romped through four crowd pleasers. “Everybody Loves the Sun” drew many to their feet and Ayers got the rest involved by leading them through the lyrics. “Running Away” stayed in the same vein and featured a lengthy trumpet solo. Ayers was gracious in letting everyone in Millennium take long solos throughout the night.

Ayers ended his set walking through the crowd personally giving out free copies of his new live album. It seemed generous at the time, but ended up being an exchange of live music for recorded. Although the Impressions seemed ready to give more, no one was complaining either.

Setlists:
The Impressions – Move On Up; Mighty Mighty (Spade and Whitey); Choice of Colors; We’re A Winner; Superfly; I Loved and Lost; Gypsy Woman; I’m So Proud; Woman’s Got Soul; It’s Alright

Roy Ayers – Pass the Peas; Everybody Loves the Sunshine; Running Away; Don’t Stop the Feeling; Searching

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