Live: Revive Big Band And Pharoahe Monch Come Together At The Blue Note


Revive Big Band with Pharoahe Monch
Blue Note
Monday, August 27

Better than: Thinking about the GOP convention.

“Simon says, get the fuck up! Y’all heard me, get the FUCK up!!” Street versifier Pharoahe Monch has yelled those words countless times since “Simon Says” broke him big back at the turn of the millennium, but the most ironic thing about hearing them last night at the Blue Note wasn’t so much the context (hip-hopper at jazz club) as the constraints built into the endeavor. The seated crowd—signaling its adulation with arm waving as soon as Monch’s cameo with the Revive Big Band had begun three tunes earlier—would no doubt have been on their feet if the Blue Note’s floor plan allowed it. Instead, shouts from throughout the club subbed for freedom of movement.

It made me wonder if Monch, dressed in his now-signature USMC (that’s “US Marine Corps”) dress jacket, had ever gigged a joint where his orders couldn’t be followed to the letter. He provided a striking contrast to Revive leader Igmar Thomas, whose demands were being taken very seriously by the 17-piece outfit. Thomas wisely had the group do a bit more than vamp-til-ready behind Monch, but he kept the filigrees subtle; their volume never crowded the MC or his backing vocalist Mila Machinko. “My hood told me, ‘N-gga, keep it simple and plain,” the MC spit elsewhere, on the arrangement of “Black Hand Side.” The swirl around him might not have approached Tetris, but it easily surpassed a simple game of dominoes.

In that respect, Revive is carrying on the mission of the six-year old Revive Da Live production posse, whose objective presupposes the hip-hop familiarity of the next generation of jazz fans. Some years back on a talk show Ice-T actually joked that one way to grow old gracefully in hip-hop might be to do it in jazz clubs, to “kick that old flava.” The Revive Big Band’s sweet spot may be the muscular, sculpted funk of the evening opener, “It’s Time,” but its vision of the historic predates even Ice-T by a couple of decades, evident in the version of iconic arranger Oliver Nelson’s “Blues And The Abstract Truth.” The latter was a solo feature for Revive drummer Marcus Gilmore, but Thomas didn’t mention that Gilmore (who sight-read the chart) is actually the grandson of Roy Haynes, the skinsman on the historymaking Nelson album of the same name in 1961. (Confusingly enough, tune is from the 1964 sequel More Blues And The Abstract Truth, which doesn’t include Haynes.)

As tempting as it might be to think of the pre-Monch part of the set as warmup for the celebrity entrance, the second piece, the Thomas original “To Kinda Lounge Around,” solidified the aura of a world-class intergenerational orchestra rather than a backing band. A gorgeous twin alto and tenor announced its traversal of grooving interludes and solos, but it’s probably fitting that the head-stretchingest contributions came from veteran trombonist Ku-umba Frank Lacy and tenor saxist Marcus Strickland, two musicians well known on the jazz scene proper. Lacy changed up the kick-drum-driven attack mid-solo, playing against the rhythms with gusts that started out like a foghorn and ended up like a siren. Strickland injected postbop into the mix; his feature, in its contrast of smoothness and angles, channeled what George Clinton used to refer to as “once upon a time called right now.”

Critical bias: Jazz and hip-hop could make even more room for each other.

Overheard: “Is this heaven? Jazz of this quality only comes through the town we’re from at festivals.”

Set list:
It’s Time
To Kinda Lounge Around
Blues And The Abstract Truth
Monch intro
Black Hand Side
Still Standing
Simon Says