The Jazz Cafe in Camden hosted a night we had been looking forward to with zeal and a hint of trepidation (more on this later). The venue is historic and one that we’ve truly got a soft spot for. As music fans that take our sound systems seriously, we insist on hearing the music we love delivered the way it was meant to be heard. I don’t know if it’s the unintentional acoustics of the place or if they have truly put a lot of thought and money into it but live music always sounds great there and I have seen more acts there than I can count. It always sounds great. The Jazz Cafe has had some remodeling done in the last couple of years and it has made it even better without compromising what we love: the atmosphere. Also special shout out to the lovely bouncers that kept our unopened beers for us at the ticket office until we left as we had overestimated how much time we would spend in the queue.
On 11th February we braved snow and sub-zero temperatures to see Abstract Orchestra play a selection of J Dilla‘s huge catalogue of music. On one hand I was very excited for how amazing this gig could be but then on the other very worried that they wouldn’t be able to do his music justice. The Jazz Cafe’s stage is not large by any stretch of the imagination so it amazing that they managed to fit all those musicians up there. I counted a lot more musicians on stage than I could have imagined would fit on it. I lost count after 4 saxophones (2 interchanged with clarinets), a drummer, 2 singers, a pianist, 4 trumpets and at least 3 trombones.
The event I understand it is the brainchild of Rob Mitchell who is the arranger behind the project. Rob has clearly done an incredible job of harnessing the incredible collective ability of these musicians to bring the music of the late J Dilla to the stage. As we all know James ‘J Dilla’ Yancey is and will most likely remain one of the greatest beatmakers and producers the world has ever seen.
Starting with Won’t Do, one of Dilla’s more well-known productions, I was immediately blown away. My reservations about the ability of the orchestra to do Dilla’s music justice were swept away instantly. This would set the tone for the rest of the evening. They followed this up with the great crowd participation inducing Fuck The Police, we all know what needs to said when we hear “on the count of three, one two three…”. It’s not an exaggeration to say i was grinning the whole way through the event. Straight after came Time: Donut Of The Heart which is when my brain went into overdrive and honestly I was high on music from that point on and the rest of the crowd seemed to be in the same boat. They followed this up with STOP! Just before the interval they played the Love but unfortunately not guest appearance from Pharoahe Monch however the very talented Essa did hit the stage to perform the vocals for Raw Shit which was an unexpected surprise. I did bump into him on the bar run but he wasn’t on the flyer but the artist formerly known as Yungun never disappoints.
Following the interval the musicians returned to perform So Far To Go that I would consider the best song of the night as far as the performance was concerned. Sheer brilliance. That highlight was followed by the Abstract Orchestra’s cover of Dwele‘s A.N.G.E.L., which is another J Dilla production, and then Love Jones. Pointless fact but Love Jones was my ringtone for about 3 years, that’s how much I love that song. Another surprise feature on stage was rapper/producer extraordinaire Micall Parknsun who came on stage to spit some bars over King. Sun In My Face was rapped over once again by Essa and then Rob Mitchell himself starting chopping up the original vocals of McNasty Filth on a sampler over the band playing the instrumental. The drummer really demonstrated his abilities on Two Can Win and the kick drum abilities were just unfathomable (he also looked a bit like Rick Nunn. He’s a photographer, look him up). The right was rounded up with both Micall Parknsun and Essa returning to the stage for the encore to perform E=MC2.
All in all what Rob Mitchell and the band of musicians on stage pulled off was nothing short of amazing. J Dilla’s music is now more well-known after his passing than it ever was when he was alive but the legacy of his music lives on and Abstract Orchestra made sure they stayed true to his sound. It’s clear the musicians have rightly paid a lot of attention to all the little intricacies of J Dilla’s arrangements and replicated it beautifully on stage. The Abstract Orchestra are also due to perform Madvillain‘s (Madlib and DOOM) Madvillainy at XOYO and they inform me that there is an album in the works. If you want to know more about the background of Abstract Orchestra their interview with York Vision isn’t a bad start.