Photos of José James at Hiro Ballroom, NYC

Our show with José James this weekend was a great success. José and his band were on point with their blend of classic jazz structures, experimental sounds and hip hop rhythms. Jordana de Lovely sang background vocals, providing a nice feminine counterpart to José’s smooth deep voice.

Between songs, José made sure to thank his major influences and collaborators, including Flying Lotus and Taylor McFerrin. He noted Nancy Wilson, Dinah Washington (and many more) after his version of “Save Your Love For Me,” and expressed his dedication to Billy Strayhorn before launching into “Lush Life.”  Overall, José and the band wowed the audience with various tracks from Blackmagic and a couple tracks off his upcoming project with Jef Neve on Impulse, For All We Know.

Enjoy the photos, and a big thank you to those of you who came out!

Giant Step’s Resident 35: Revelations 35:1–35:6 – Milk, TK Wonder and Alice Russell

Photo of Alice Russell

By Mawuse Ziegbe

This week is all about revelations. Firstly, TK Wonder is the greatest rapper alive. She rocked the When Boy Meets Girl IV show at Southpaw which featured acts like Sarah White who pumped out sweet, punky soul that is a pain to classify but easy to shimmy to. With her psychedelic leggings and a feather in her hair, TK looked like Gem playing a game of Cowboys and Indians. But then she spits over Taylor McFerrin‘s mouth-made beats with the rapid fire diction of Busta Rhymes and the mellow, gravelly tone of Digable Planets’ Ladybug Mecca. And the random, robotic dance breaks? She had me at the first hip-thrust.

Revelation #2: I hate spoken word. Hate it from the bottom of my Dolce Vita heels to the tips of my Ms. Jessie’s-lacquered afro. I’ve hated spoken word for years now (I nearly rioted the last time I went to Bowery Poetry Club) but I kind of thought I’d grow out of it. Even the quick-tongued observations of spoken word collective Ill-literacy at Crash Mansion couldn’t snap me out of it. They were definitely entertaining; calling out celebrity hypocrites and dropping the f-bomb to the glee of the crowd. But I just felt like I was in a freshman dorm.

Revelation #3: History is repeating itself. I checked out a screening of Milk about the first openly gay US politician Harvey Milk who was gunned down in the late 1970s. Sean Penn plays the affable Milk as the epicenter of the gay rights movement in San Francisco. Director Gus Van Sant authenticates the film with actual broadcast footage that echoes the current clash between proponents and critics of California’s Proposition 8. Milk’s rhetoric of hope is especially eerie in light of our incoming presidential administration.

Revelation #4: Rappers have no business anywhere near Broadway. Jim Jones, who has been building his indie cred by remixing MGMT and Kid Cudi, recently staged an off-Broadway two-night run of the autobiographical play, “Hip Hop Monologues: Inside the Life and Mind of Jim Jones.” The play follows Jim Jones as he completes community service after being caught up in a shoot-out. “Monologues” finishes with the goofiest non-ending ever: After Jones’ girlfriend gives birth, he sprays the stage with bubbly and launches into his latest single “Pop Champagne.” Like, what?

Revelation #5: I need to spend more time above 14th street. Friday night, Alice Russell lit up Hiro Ballroom with her snarly versions of The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army” and Gnarls Barkley’s “Crazy.” After two encores, I moseyed over to APT where Jeannie Hopper was spinning. She dropped lots of twinkly electro-soul as her friend schooled me on how to fake my way into a prescription for medical marijuana. Later, I checked out Fedde Le Grand at Pacha. The place was brimming with bridge-and-tunnel charm and I spent a lot of the time dodging dry-humping couples (Fun fact: the columns at Pacha are padded to facilitate comfortable dry-humping). As Fedde dropped intense, bottom-heavy hard house, chalky fake smoke descended from the ceiling and a blitz of strobe lights shot through the club. My downtown posturing melted away and I raised my hands and gave into the amazingness. Show me someone who can resist flashing lights, growling bass and store-bought fog and I’ll show you a brazen lie-teller.

Revelation #6: Never underestimate the magic of nightlife.

Giant Step’s Resident 19: Bugz In The Attic, Brown Girls Burlesque, The Roots Picnic, J*Davey

By Mawuse Ziegbe

I know a lot of you beautiful flowers were wilting in this weekend’s oven fresh heat but I was cookin,’ honey. And I ran into some children who didn’t let the heat stop them no way. Monday night, DJ Daz-I-Kue of Bugz In The Attic was serving up global burners including fiery Afrobeat, disco and tribal house selections at The Hudson Hotel. And Wednesday night, the fabulous people let me moonlight in their world at the Fashion Delivers Pay It Fashion Forward event (ooh, what a cute pun!) honoring young designers. It was hosted by chipper ex-”House Of Style” host, Daisy Fuentes (ooh, where has she been?) at Marquee. Of course, the hook for me was Janelle Monae who swayed the blasé fashion types with a table dance and blithe accompaniment from her bewigged guitarist Kellindo.

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Janelle Monae © Jason Green

Thursday night, the fashion types gave me a reality check as I partook in a long, storied New York tradition: getting shut out of a party. Giant magazine cover girl Kimora Lee Simmons hosted an issue release party at Indochine. We loitered outside – I was with a writer whose story appears in the issue – while the doormen shooed us away, barking some business about capacity and not being shallow enough (I kid, I kid). After catching Kimora’s dramatic arrival, towering above a clutch of bodyguards (for serious, that woman is like, 10 feet tall. I’m not convinced her name isn’t Kimora Lee Bunyan), me and some other little people went to the House of Campari and did it up royal. The three-story loft housed loads of the bitter Italian liquor with groovy 70s-era commissions lining the walls including a shrine featuring a disco album by Robert “Benson” Guilliame. Outta sight.

Chicava HoneyChild at Brown Girls Burlesque © Vishnu Hoff

Last week, Prince Rogers Nelson got his AARP card and I celebrated by taking in the Shockadelica tribute by Brown Girls Burlesque. You know, instead of choking down EZ-Baked brownies, shimmying topless to “Kiss” is what I always envisioned my imaginary big sister would teach me. It was all fun and boobs as women of all sizes got the crowd all hot and bothered to songs from all eras of Prince. Then at midnight, ladies with hot draggy names like Miss AuroraBoobRealis and Sunshine Fayalicious passed out shots of purple likka (which went down like a fistful of needles). And the crowd went batshit when Dame CuchiFrita, undressing to “Little Red Corvette,” clamped the jumper cables to her…nevermind. You can find out how to join at www.myspace.com/browngirlsburlesque

Saturday, I rode the Chinatown bus in 90-degree heat to The Roots Picnic in Philly (and why was Zoe Kravitz slummin’ it in the seat in front of me?). I love how their idea of “picnic” is an outdoor festival complete with inflatable castles and um, baked bean stands. I caught Deerhoof which was weird; beeping noises and disjointed “rhythm.” Yeah. Although audio problems plagued the day-long concert, Sharon Jones and The Dap Kings as per usual, shut it down. And I’ve seen the The Roots googol times and they’re just swell. They rocked everything from their own “Love Of My Life” to a pop medley featuring “SexyBack.” Even legendary bassist Hub came back for a special solo. And 8 hours after the show began, Gnarls Barkley took the stage. Although Gnarls was fine (no funny costumes), the audience was kind of stoned, er…tired and the LSD grooves were not helping. Cee-Lo even asked, “Did you hear the album.” The crowd responded with a slack-jawed, “whaaa?” Blame the ooweee.

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Gnarls Barkley © Mel D. Cole

Sunday night back in NYC I tried to get my culture game up by taking in Rachelle Ferrell at Blue Note. Blue Note is one of those institutions shrouded in New York legend but the performance was memorable because they had zero air conditioning. Or a fan. Or a window. But the heat ain’t stop Rachelle no way and she performed a gaggle of jazz and pop songs until she was literally soaking. And I have never witnessed that level of vocal virtuosity. She would jump from a sharp, tinny falsetto to a cavernous, guttural bass note – in the same word. Can we get a summer blockbuster featuring Rachelle Ferrell dissolving amateurs with her vocal prowess?

Afterwards, I saw J*Davey pack the house at S.O.B.s. Following high-energy sets from Taylor McFerrin and the duo Heavy (homeboy had a key-tar that sprayed spoogy silly string on the audience), Jack Davey and Brook D’Leau, backed by a live band, played a grip of their famously synthy catalog like “Slooow” and even a cover of “Message In A Bottle” by The Police. The highlight was during the slow-jam “No More” when girl-crazy NYC photog Mel D. Cole undressed Jack down to her black bustier and lacy boy shorts. My girl who took the tempo slowdown as a cue to fetch a beverage came back just as Jack pulled on her shirt and chirped, “What did I miss?”

Oh and before I go, FYI: Wale’s “Seinfeld”-inspired Mixtape About Nothing is that good good. Download it (and maybe rub it on your teeth to make them tingle). You’re gonna need something to keep cool.

Giant Step’s Resident: The City, The Sounds, The Soul Part 13

By Mawuse Ziegbe

Last week kicked off with another blessed Hudson Hotel jump-off featuring Jo Jo Flores. The Montreal-based DJ launched into a very capable set that included sparkly disco and deep house gems that put the shine in Michael Jackson’s pre-Off The Wall era jheri curl. Plus, DJs with dimples make the world go around.


Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

As usual, a few kids kicked up some dust and we here at the ‘Step thought we should give props where props are due with our Dancers Of The Week. Three people whose dazzling footwork warranted mention were:

Tine Machine
Manhattan via California
Day Gig: Lighting/Photography
Favorite Jammy Jam: “Jesus Creates Sound” by Marlon D
www.myspace.com/ladiesofmawu


Photo © Phillip Angert. View more photos.

Her bite-sized stature didn’t fool anyone. Homegirl was all fierce voguing flourishes and show-stopping spunk. It was like she came with the party in her hat.

Art Vega
Flatbush, Brooklyn
Passion: Actor/Dancer
Fave Ditty: “Prayer” by Lolita James

This dude didn’t hit the floor that often but when he did, all the townspeople stopped in wonder. He was all agile hand spins and fluid breakin,’ like his joints were made of mercury. Twas’ a sight to see.

Emily Hawkins
Harlem via Ohio
Honest Job: Publicist
Song To Get Right To: Michael Jackson “I Can’t Help It”

Emily came off almost haughty as she went toe-to-toe in an old-timey ’80s style dance-off. It was all in good fun but something about her furtive arm pumps and hardcore waist-twisting said “this ain’t no game.” Bless her.

On Thursday, one of my new favorite bands Apollo Heights shut down (the back room of) Union Pool. Union Pool has that old-timey stage which always makes me feel like I’m at a state fair waiting for two people in a pony suit to hobble on stage and pretend to eat hay. Anyway, the set was opened by The Juggs who put forth a thoroughly enjoyable show and proved that the stage is just a limiting performance construct. The lead guitar head, Kareem kept hopping off, joshing with pals in the corner and taking healthy swigs of beer during songs. Some in the friends and family corner kept the heckling to a maximum which kinda made the set feel like I was crashing a family reunion but everyone was too soused to throw me out. The rowdiness continued when the ‘Heights took the stage and put on an extra dramatic version of my jammy jam, “Disco Lights.” The Heights’ singing twin, Daniel (aided by the strummin’ twin, Danny and rest of the crew) brought it, swinging the mic with abandon and ending with a heady crescendo where yet another pal, bounded on stage picked up a guitar and brought the number of on-stage strummers to 3. It was a fine time indeed (despite the absence of pony-related theatrics).

Later, I went to the Brownswood Sessions featuring Taylor McFerrin at NuBlu. Sadly, I went wicked late only to catch some late-night stragglers milling about the bar. I did stay long enough to hear some good tunes get spun and to get into a discussion about the relative merits (or lack thereof) of a certain African-American-themed network. To be real, said African-American network signs the checks at my day job. But before that, I rarely gave it a shake and like most bourgie, educated Northeastern black folk hyper-sensitive to media portrayal, thought the network was tossing the race into the toilet.

But being on the inside, and looking at ratings, I learned programming is determined by popularity – our big-budget shows are our highest-rated. We still put money into educational, political, socially relevant programming that tank in the ratings. When the Sean Bell verdict came out, within a day we dedicated a show to the tragedy. We even invited cool kids like Talib Kweli, Mos Def and Nas to give their thoughts. Now, this isn’t to say we couldn’t stand to improve our coverage on the recent international food riots (and useless lipservice dispensed by the World Bank), clashes in Zimbabwe and Kenya stemming from dubious election results and well, just everything else in the world that’s not so peachy.

My point is institutions don’t change on their own. It has everything to do with the people they serve. Television networks and police departments will continue to screw us over if we suggest we’re ok with it. If we want more TV shows that delve into the political issues of our day, we’ve got to tune in when they’re on. If we have issues with the Sean Bell verdict, now is not the time to stop protesting. Now instead is the time to keep-a-marching and putting public pressure on our politicians, demand an appeal and bring attention to the injustice. It’s not a simple solution but it’s a healthy start.

http://www.justiceforsean.net/