Jazz CD Reviews

Kentyah Presents M1, Brian Jackson & The New Midnight Band – Evolutionary Minded – Motema

The legacy of jazz poet Gil Scott-Heron lives on.

Published on September 17, 2013

Kentyah Presents M1, Brian Jackson & The New Midnight Band – Evolutionary Minded – Motema Records MTM-127, 51:46 ***1/2:

(M1 – MC; Brian Jackson – keyboards, flute, drums, vocals; Kentyah Fraser – programming, percussion; Martin Luther – vocals; Chuck D – MC; Mike Clark – drums; Stic Man – MC; Airto – percussion; Bill Summers – percussion; Stanton Moore – drums; Blackbyrd McKnight – guitar; Juma Sultan – percussion; Gregory Porter – vocals; D. Booker – vocals; Krishna Booker – beatbox; Daniel Alzamora Dickin – guitar; Paul Jackson – bass; One Drop Scott – programming; Bobby Seale – spoken word; Abiodun Oyewolf – spoken word; Killah Priest – MC; Wise Intelligent – MC; Jerry Stucker – bass/guitar; Cuban Symphony Orchestra – strings)

Entering the 1970s America was besieged with social and political upheaval. Specifically, the African-American community was continuing its struggle for equality. One of the musical pioneers in this effort was Gil-Scott-Heron. After graduating Lincoln University and writing a couple of novels, Scott-Heron decided to combine spoken word poetry and various jazz/r&b  idioms  to deliver a stinging message to the world. His first album, Small Talk at 125th and Lennox examined the themes of white middle-class indifference, shallowness of television and mass consumerism and the influences of black revolutionaries on urban communities. More importantly, his utilization of free-form verse established the groundwork for its eventual reincarnation as rap.

His second album, Pieces of a Man, featured among many great jazz musicians, the multi-instrumentalist Brian Jackson. In 1974, Winter in America established The Midnight Band as the voice of intelligent protest.  Hits like “The Bottle” and “Johannesburg” enables some crossover success. Scott-Heron made a memorable appearance at the No Nukes concerts in 1979. His association with political leaders and Black Panthers was a cultural milestone, but unfortunately street culture associations contributed to a sporadic recording career and personal tragedy. Referring to himself as a ‘bluesologist”, commercial artists like Stevie Wonder and Bob Dylan acknowledged the influence of this trend-setting musician. Eventually a generation of rappers would perpetuate his legacy.

2013 is the latest incarnation of Gil Scott-Heron. Kentyah in conjunction with Brian Jackson has released a tribute/celebration of this transformative catalogue. With modern engineering and soulful vibes, several compositions are recreated with help from prominent rappers, singers and musicians. The CD opens with ”Offering” framed by a melodic touch as D Booker lays down dulcet, harmonica vocals, accompanied by Jackson’s electric piano. This is a modern look at urban America. “All We Got” features a scintillating rap by M1 (“…occupy the bridges and the financial district…”) that is seamlessly countered by Martin Luther’s smooth voice. The narrative unites the past with the present. Possibly the most appealing update is “Winter In America”. All of the quiet, angry desolation comes alive with Luther’s emotional style and M1’s direct commentary.

Scott-Heron had a connection to the Black Panther movement. “Liberation Psychology” begins with a classic Booby Seale speech that is assimilated into a trademark Jackson groove on flute. Seales’ articulate reminiscence of a police confrontation in Oakland (“Go Ahead On Bobby”) with Huey Newton is both humorous and alarming.   Kentyah’s drum programming and arrangements are flawless. The power of the message is still vital (“…I know a brother’s doin’ time and he ain’t commit no crime…”), and the hard driving music is rhythmic and hypnotic.

The musical arrangements are strong. A lot of the songs have percolating r &b/fusion jams, especially “Young Blood”. But there are also interlude jams (“It’s A Time Warp,” Unknown Varietables Ahead”) that feel diverse and unpredictable. Bringing in elements from the original recordings, Jackson’s spellbinding flute coalesces an African percussion on “Recurring Cycles” (inspired by”1980”). M1 reminds the listener once again that “the revolution will not be televised”, and calls on present day rappers to pay attention.  Scott-Heron’s music still resonates. “(Re)Evolution” enlists Wise Intelligent, Chuck D and Killah Priest to reinvigorate “Third World Revolution”. Another seminal track (“Almost Lost Detroit”) is infused with funky, spacey riffs and is re-booted as “Losing Our Minds”.  With a slight change of pace, Evolutionary Minded closes with a mellow cover of “Song Of The Wind”.

This album captures the unique amalgam of social consciousness and genre-bending instrumentation. It is a living testament to the “Grandfather of Rap.”

TrackList: Offering; All We Got; Voice Of The People; Liberation Psychology; Opponent; Winter In America; It’s A Time Warp; Go Ahead On Bobby; Young Blood; Recurring Cycles; Losin’ Our Minds; Headhunters; Occupy Planet Earth; Uncle Sammy Full Of Lucifer; (Re)Evolution; Unknown Varietables Ahead; Tradition; Song Of The Wind

—Robbie Gerson

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