Words by: Jim Cunningham and Alex Borsody | Images by: Rob Chapman
The Roots :: 10.01.09 :: Brooklyn Bowl :: Brooklyn, NY
Over the past year, The Roots have been playing weekly midnight jam sessions at Highline Ballroom in NYC. These sessions produced some amazing collaborations, fusing hip hop, jazz, rock, soul, and funk. Since March, The Roots have been joined onstage by many well known musicians, creating a unique event and adding another accomplishment to their long and varied career.
The latest "Roots Jam" was held for the first time at Brooklyn Bowl, a bowling alley, concert hall, and restaurant with a floor that can fit about 600 people. The Bowl is owned by Peter Shapiro, best known for running The Wetlands at the ripe age of 24. Shapiro is also the creator of the Jammy Awards and just recently became the owner of Relix Magazine. All throughout this show you could spot Shapiro running around doing whatever he could to make the night perfect. Once the band came on he was right in the mix with the rest of the crowd, enjoying the show.
The opener was a group called Pattern Is Movement, a band that has played many previous jam sessions. A two-man act featuring Andrew Thiboldeaux (vocals, keys) and Chris Ward (drums), Pattern Is Movement were joined by The Roots for their only two songs of the night. With a voice comparable to Cee-Lo, Thiboldeaux belted out "Crazy In Love," a Beyoncé cover that had some of the crowd scratching their heads at first. People eventually started to catch on, unable to resist the pure energy exuded by the band. This was followed by a cover of D'Angelo's "How Does It Feel?" Pattern left the stage with a worked crowd ready for the rest of the jam.
Without a break, The Roots remained onstage and transitioned into some smooth guitar from Cap'n Kirk Douglas as Questlove's heavy drum beat kept everything moving into an unreleased song. Roots' frontman Black Thought came out with a vengeance, setting the mood with his rhymes and charismatic body language. At times referred to as "the Grateful Dead of hip hop," The Roots, much like the Dead, have a few unsung heroes in their lineup. Keyboardist James Poyser and bassist Owen Biddle really bring a lot to the table, especially when it comes to performing live. Poyser's jazz chops work great when improvising and Biddle's bass is as steady as they come, often quoting phrases from classic soul and rap songs.
| The Roots Jam | 10.01 | Brooklyn|
The Roots were then joined by a horn section for "Criminal," an original off of 2008's Rising Down. The horns consisted of "Moist" Paula Henderson (baritone sax), Chelsea Baratz (tenor sax), and Jonathan Powell (trumpet). Soon, they were also joined by members of Baja and The Dry Eye Crew as a reggae beat was laid down and once again the music shifted gears.
The Roots have shared the stage with many big names yet they also give their favorite underground artists a shot at the spotlight. One such artist is Brooklyn's own Jahdan Blakkamoore who came on as a guest emcee. Later, Ursula Rucker, a Philadelphia native and spoken word artist whose music is more poetic than lyrical, joined them. The band slowed it down as Rucker spoke her mind. Although she used strong language while onstage, she did not come across as vulgar, just a powerful person with strong beliefs.
When Rucker left the stage, The Roots played the title track off their upcoming album, How I Got Over, now slated for release February 2010 on Def Jam Records. In the middle of the song the band was joined by Talib Kweli, and they segued right into his hit "Get By." Kweli is a local Brooklyn hero, and got a huge response from the audience. In fact, Kweli grew up not too far from the Brooklyn Bowl itself. He was definitely a surprise for the audience, as it is always a mystery if a big name will appear at a jam.
Another surprise of the night was when Reverend Vince Anderson, a raspy voiced piano/organ player, belted out Johnny Cash's "He Turned The Water Into Wine." The horn section once again joined in to add some southern New Orleans inspired soul. Anderson's voice mixed with all the instruments onstage creating a controlled chaos that blew everyone away.
| The Roots Jam | 10.01 | Brooklyn|
To close the show, The Roots invited Mayer Hawthorne and his band The County up. Hawthorne has worked as a songwriter, producer, DJ, and audio engineer, among other things. Hawthorn dresses in nerd chic/indie rock fashion and looks a lot like Rivers Cuomo of Weezer. Hawthorne's vocals on his own "Maybe So, Maybe No" were tremendous. During Hawthorne's "The Ills," Black Thought jumped in and laid down a verse from "In The Music." It is safe to say that he stole the second half of the show. Maybe it was because it was the end of the night and everyone had a few beers in their system, but the bottom line is that for a nerdy, hipster kid, the guy can hold his own alongside The Roots.
The Wetlands was known for helping to launch the careers of many of the biggest bands today. Introducing audiences to new artists and genres is what Shapiro does best, and bringing a new variety of bands to Williamsburg will surely add some diversity to the neighborhood. The music in the area is currently dominated by whatever happens to be trendy on the big music blogs that month. Having an old school rock club will surely make for interesting times. This Roots Jam was a great change of pace and opened a lot of people's eyes and ears to another world. With the music scene coming together to support this new venue, the neighborhood may rediscover some great American music.
The Roots tour dates are available here.
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