Kentyah presents: M1, Brian Jackson & The New Midnight Band: Evolutionary Minded
@Jazz Cafe Monday 9th September 2013
In a previous post, we told you that Motéma Records/Membran was set to release Kentyah presents: M1, Brian Jackson & The New Midnight Band: Evolutionary Minded.
On the evening of Monday 9th September 2013, we arrived at Jazz Café for the UK album launch.
We’d already heard a lot about the album. However we were particularly excited about what M‑1, as Dead Prez front man, could bring to the work of the late but nonetheless remembered Gil Scott Heron, whilst working with his collaborators Brian Jackson and the New Midnight Band.
Gil Scott Heron who passed away in 2011 was a music legend most known for the track “The revolution will not be televised”. Gil was a critic, a poet and a musician that drew on the rich depth of the Blues to chronicle the journey and struggle of the African in the US.
The question we had was: how would M‑1 a child of hip hop perform with a full jazz/funk band? The answer lied in first recognizing that Gil Scott Heron was the godfather of hip-hop. Gil’s spoken word poetry was the forerunner to the rhyme of hip hop.
Chuck D of Public Enemy said “you can go into Ginsburg and the Beat Poets and Dylan, but GSH is the manifestation of the modern word. He and the Last Poets set the stage for everyone else.”
Gil and Brian Jackson’s jazz and funk was the source of beats for countless hip hop artists to rhyme upon. Indeed Gil’s most famous song “The Revolution will not be Televised” continues to be sampled including by Jay Electronica in the track “Exhibit C”. However as Kentyah, the Producer, has pointed out: “Often when they talk about GSH being sampled in hip hop, they’re not sampling GSH’s voice, they’re sampling Brian, the phrasing on the keys, the arrangement on the songs, that’s all him.” So this was an opportunity to see Brian Jackson in action.
Both Gil and hip hop, including Dead Prez are political. (doesn’t “The Revolution will not be televised?” that chime with the message of Dead Prez to “turn off the radio”). M‑1 is most known for his Dead Prez tune “Its Bigger than Hip Hop”. Both are political messengers. As M‑1 has said “Our main enemy is ignorance. Not a proper political education.” Both GSH and Dead Prez sought to provide that.
And importantly both are fun, engaging and empowering – they make music to MOVE to both politically but in the moment on the dancefloor.
Whilst Gil and Dead Prez were both overtly revolutionary, Brian Jackson says that this new project places emphasis on something subtly different: it is “evolutionary minded”. He said “See I was always looking for something more than revolution. To me revolution was a cycle. The way the Earth turns around the Sun. Start at one point. Go 360. And then you end up at that same point again. To me thats not really change. What I was looking for was evolution. To me thats progress. You start in the past, you move into the present and then on into the future. And hopefully along the way you learn some things. You learn how to make things better. How to become better.”
Jazz Café has hosted hip hop legends over the last couple of years so it was fitting that M1 would perform. Also, as a self-styled jazz/blues club it was a place that Brian Jackson and the New Midnight Band could feel at home. However as we settled down awaiting the band, we observed that the audience were largely middle aged, white English, and middle class.
Consequently, there was a lot less dancing and active audience participation generally than might have been at another venue. We wonder if the venue had been elsewhere we might have got a different crowd and vibes. However the limited space in the venue more than made us feel cosy and intimate.
When the band arrived we were not to be disappointed. M‑1 stood in front of the mic as a tall and majestic figure with a trimmed goatee to ponder deeply with and wearing striking multicolored trousers and beautifully simple beaded jewelry around his neck.
It was a testament to the humility of M‑1 that he consciously or not placed the mic to the right of center stage. This was not about M‑1. This was about drawing on Gil’s past in the present to move into the future. Accordingly it was right that the legacy of the past in Brian Jackson and the New Midnight Band were not obscured by M‑1’s figure.
When the performances begun, we were taken on a journey back and forth through time. Unsurprisingly with M‑1 at the helm, the band performed hard hitting songs both from their new album including Opponent and from GSH’s work including Home is where the Hatred is and the classic The Bottle. The edginess of the performances was amplified by the samples of Bobby Seale, founder of the Black Panther Party, which gave voice to the history of the struggle beyond music. Seale struck us with the following explanation of politics:
“Politics. What is politics? You think politics starts with a seat in the assembly. No it doesn’t. Its related to it but it doesn’t start there. Politics starts with a hungry stomach and politics starts a big pressure across our skull murdering our people. Politics starts with the fact that we get a rotten education, and we get brainwashed and fooled into trick-notion and tricnology and everything else that goes on with us in terms of the exploitation that goes down. Politics starts with the fact that we want decent housing fit for shelter of human beings.”
The performances were also marked by great technical skill by the band; Brian Jackson on the keys and vocals, a bass guitarist and a
drummer. When the band performed the instrumental to Gil Scott Heron’s (GSH) classic Lady Day and John Coltrane, I recalled the opening words of GSH: Ever feel kinda down and out, you don’t know just what to do. Livin’ all of your days in darkness let the sun shine through. Ever feel that somehow, somewhere, you’ve lost your way” He then asks “could you call on Lady Day? Could you call on John Coltrane?” and answers his own question emphatically “Now they’ll wash your troubles away”. This reminded me of the important role that music from the Blues and beyond has had in the struggle of Black people in America, by providing understanding and comfort. Brian Jackson amazed us with a improv on the keys showing that GSH’s musical legendary was down to more than just GSH.
To close, M1 returned to the limelight by pulling out the stops with an accapella that GSH would have been proud of.
(Photography by : Aimee Valinski )
For more about the project and the legacy of the band check out this 12 minute video:
The project’s debut Single ‘Opponent’ is available now here.