Questlove Presents Mo’ Meta Blues I ft. Booker T, Eric Krasno, Gary Bartz, Charistian McBride & Nigel Hall @ The Blue Note (06.21.11)
The Blue Note is a venue name that is known around the world for housing some of the world’s most famous jazz musicians in it’s various Milan, Tokyo, NYC and Nagoya locations. For true NY music goers, we aren’t always fond of this venue but no one can deny that some of our city’s greatest music is made inside that sardine-packed tourist trap.
For 30 years, The Blue Note has brought us some of the most phenomenal music played by phenomenal collections of musicians. This year, to celebrate their 30 years dedicated to music, The Blue Note, along with Jill Newman Productions, has put together a month long calendar of music around the city, creating the inaugural Blue Note Jazz Festival.
Over the past month The Festival has featured numerous high-profile acts within the walls of the Blue Note such as Dave Brubeck, Chris Botti, Nancy Wilson, Bobby McFerrin, Roberta Flack, Brian Wilson, Medeski Martin & Wood, El Gran Combo, McCoy Tyner, Bill Frisell, Meshell Ndegeocello, Madeleine Peyroux, Chaka Khan, and many more. As well, numerous acts have been held around the city’s various outdoor spaces such as Parks and other music venues.
For two nights, famed drummer Questlove hosted Mo’ Meta Blues 1 featuring a collection of amazing jazz virtuoso musicians to include guitarist Eric Kranso and bassist Christian McBride. The group was completed with legendary saxophonist Gary Bartz and Rock N’ Roll Hall of Famer organist Booker T. Jones (Booker T and the MG’s).
I was terribly excited for a performance mixing the old school with the new school. It is performances like these were I wish there were more youth in the audience. More young musicians who have deliberately sought out the best in the scene; sitting in the audience watching how it’s done. Looking around, I couldn’t help but wonder how in a city like NYC, there were not more musical savvy teenagers. Where is the disconnect? Is it because our music isn’t on the radio? Just something I always ponder while sitting waiting for shows to begin.
Tonight’s musicians would be performing a selection of songs from Booker T’s new album, The Road From Memphis, a wonderful collection of songs with collaborations with Yim Yames of My Morning Jacket, Sharon Jones and Lou Reed and The National’s Matt Berninger. Produced by Jones with The Roots’ ?uestlove and Rob Schnapf (Beck, Elliot Smith), Memphis was recorded by Daptone Records mastermind Gabriel Roth with backing by The Roots. Enjoy Booker T’s video for his cover of Lauryn Hill‘s “Everything is Everything.”
The new school rhythm section alone could have kept my attention for both sets. Questlove has been drumming since he was a little boy on tour with his famous 50’s doo wop father, Lee Andrews of Lee Andrews & the Hearts. Questlove is best known as the drummer for the Grammy Award-winning band The Roots, which is now the in-house band for Late Night with Jimmy Fallon.
Christian McBride, Questlove‘s high school homie, is considered a virtuoso bass player and is one of the most recorded bassists of the last 20 years. He has performed and recorded with a massive number of artists, jazz legends and ensembles including Freddie Hubbard, Joe Henderson, McCoy Tyner, Herbie Hancock, Pat Metheny, Diana Krall, Roy Haynes, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin, Wynton Marsalis, Hank Jones, Joshua Redman, as well as with hip-hop, pop, soul, and classical musicians like The Roots, Kathleen Battle, Carly Simon, Sting, Bruce Hornsby, and James Brown. His sound is liberating and intoxicating.
“Half the fun up here is the fun music trivia we all have and finding the fun in referencing it in the music we play up here. I am just warning you all now, there will be a lot of inside musical jokes on this stage.” ~ Questlove
Then you had Booker T. Jones from Booker T and the MGs. Booker T. & the MG’s were the house band for the famous Memphis Soul music label Stax Records. They recorded with all the Stax Records artists, including Wilson Pickett, Otis Redding, and Isaac Hayes, but they also recorded their own material between sessions. The song they are most famous for is Green Onions, a song they played every set during this run. My favorite and earliest memory of hearing this song can be seen right here:
All the Blue Note sets had the same set lists, in varying order:
- Down In Memphis ( Booker T on vocal, #5 on disc)
- Rent Party (#7 on disc)
- Walking Papers (#1 on disc)
- Everything is Everything (#6 on disc)
- Hip Hugger (Old Booker T Song)
- Gentle Smiles (Gary Bartz Tune)
- Born Under A Bad Sign (William Bell cover)
- Can’t Find Love
- Green Onions
- Melting Pot
Both nights, Questlove was the first to enter on stage. He sat at his drum kit and announced each artist individually as they waited patiently at the top of the stairs. Questlove‘s sense of humor came out immediately. “Please welcome Mr. Eric Kras-NOW,” as he emphasized the last part with a huge smile. “Please welcome Mr. Gary “Blow Your Horn” Bartz!” And so it continued till each member was on stage and the show could begin.
Down In Memphis ( Booker T on vocal, #5 on disc)
Rent Party (#7 on disc)
They stated the set with Down In Memphis with Booker T. on vocals. His signature plunking Organ keys sounding just like I remembered. Rent Party followed with Eric Kranso taking the lead on the solo. During the song, Kranso took the guitar licks and changed them up slightly, causing a jubilant stir from Booker T. and Questlove. Booker T. could be caught glancing at Kranso with looks of interest and obvious delight as Kranso took the song to level Booker T. probably wished was on his new cd.
Walking Papers (#1 on disc)
“The next song selection and what not is…You know we gotta be classy, this is the Blue Note after all! The next song selection and shit …..” ~ Questlove as the venue erupted in laughter. Probably the one and only time I will hear cursing on the stage of the Blue Note from time to come.
The third selection was Walking Papers. Questlove described the song titles as “the papers that your angry wife gives you.” The song broke into a funky beat and my friend and I all complained about being forced to sit through this danceable set.
Everything is Everything (#6 on disc)
Booker T.‘s cover of Lauryn Hill‘s Everything is Everything followed. This song should have been sung by Nigel Hall who was waiting in the rafters during the first set while this song played but was sitting at our table for the second. However, Booker T. played the vocals on his organ. No words. Personally, I feel that it is the words of this song that make it powerful and I loved how this elder artist was playing the younger tunes but it was general consensus around my table that it should be sung, not played. Watching Gary Bartz, I wondered when he learned the song and how long it took him to learn it. Did he really like it? On the new cd, Booker T. also covers Gnarls Barkley‘s Crazy.
Hip Hugger (Old Booker T Song)
“The best thing about being on this stage the past few days has been our ability to vicariously feel like we are in each others bands. We all have so much respect for each others bands and projects. This next tune will make us honorary MGs” ~ Questlove introducing HipHugger.
As they segued into HipHugger, Christian McBride took the lead. He shot out the gate with his solos on this song each set. His smile infectious, his playing addicting.
Gentle Smiles (Gary Bartz Tune)
At this point I should tell yall a little something about the magnificent Gary Bartz as he was the reason this show was even taking place!! When Jill Newman approached Questlove with the list of musicians that might want to take part in this project, Gary Bartz‘s name was what stopped him.
Gary Bartz is a Grammy winning alto saxophone player who first touched down on ears in the mid 60’s. He played with epic jazz musicians like Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers, Charles Mingus’ Workshop and McCoy Tyner before even reaching the 70’s. His music became influential amongst many genres and soon Gary’s music hit Questlove‘s ears as he followed the rise of hip-hop.
If you were a fan of hip-hop in 1991 then you might have known of a song called Gentle Smiles but might not have known it was a Bartz original. A Tribe Called Quest famously used this sample for their song Butter on the “The Low End Theory” 1991 album. Everyone knows that album, or rather they should. Questlove dropped some serious licks while playing this song, probably having played it in his head over and over for years coming up in the scene. It was a slow, downright sexy rage.
Gary Bartz’s Gentle Smiles:
A Tribe Called Quest’s Butter, sampling the song:
“And now I’d like to introduce you to the last member of our clan. A person who has his graduate degree in soul walking and Jamesology. I’ve given him new monikers each set. I need help giving him one for this set,” said Questlove as he looked at the rest of his band. Nigel Hall was introduced by Questlove last night as Nigel Baptiste, Nigel Cosby was his name for tonight’s first set and Norman Huckstable Hall was thrown out this time by Christian McBride.
This was Nigel Hall‘s first paid performance at the Blue Note. As we stood at the top of the stairs and chatted he was wringing his hands and seemed slightly nervous. So endearing.
Celestial Blues (Gary Bartz Tune)
As Nigel Hall began his next song he spoke of the Maine State Slogan being “They Way Life Should Be” and how the song he was about to sing is more tactical version of that statement. “so meditate and contemplate” Gary Bartz raged thru his solo. Gary Bartz is the reason Questlove went after this gig. When Jill Newman, the lady who helped fund the Blue Note Jazz Festival, read Questlove the list of musicians who were interested in the super jam…this is the name that solidified the deal.
Born Under A Bad Sign (William Bell cover)
There was more banter and The Temptations Get Ready was teased by the rhythm section, another inside musical joke. Nigel Hall went on to sing Born Under A Bad Sign. Nigel went off in the song, getting lost in his own voice. We got lost as well. Having been part of The Warren Haynes Band for a few months, Nigel Hall has fused this song to his blood line. And as always, I heard people asking “who was this guy,” questioning with the biggest smiles possible!!! The night before, I was unlucky enough to miss Dee Dee Bridgewater, who came out in the second set to join Nigel on this song. Amazing.
“Let’s give fun a round of applause ~ Questlove
Got To Get Some > Cant’ Find Love
As they began to play the next tune Got To Get Some, Questlove stopped and I think might have broken something as he said “well, they are gonna charge me five bucks for that! ” Nigel responds, “Sounds alright. So long as its tight, its alright.” Nigel sang soulfully through Got To Get Some and Cant’ Find Love.
Green Onions & Melting Pot (Booker T Covers)
Nigel Hall bounced off the stage as the remaining group broke into Green Onions. Christian McBride is such an amazing bassist as he kicked his bass so deep during this song. Seeing this song performed live was truly special. With these musicians, who were having so much fun on stage, they brought the song to life and I have to admit that it was one of my fav parts of the set. Just hearing the opening immediately made me smile. It’s impossible not to love this song.
The super group ended their exciting set with Booker T’s Melting Pot from his 1971 studio album. Here is the studio version of the song. There were certainly to many restrictions on picture and video taking at The Blue Not like always.
When super groups like this gather, it’s always a shame to miss the magic. I hope this brought you into the moment, if only a little bit!