Harriet Tubman @ Brooklyn Museum of Art–2/17

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Yeah, I know it’s Thursday night.  But last weekend was a great weekend of music: Between Kyp Malone, Dragons of Zynth and "Passing Strange" I saw and heard magic.  Better still was that it carried through to Sunday when I (finally!) got to see Harriet Tubman at the Brooklyn Museum of Art.

My son, Tyler, and I arrived a little after the start, so the performance–a master class, I call it–was already in session.  The trio of Brandon Ross (guitar), JT Lewis (drums) and Melvin Gibbs (bass) describes its music as "soul/rock/experimental" but listeners will immediately the blues that informs their sound without fully defining it.  These three are consummate musicians who are at the top of their game.  You can immediately tell when you’re watching people who have mastered their craft: There’s an effortless responsiveness to the shifts in the music and to each other that says loud and clear that these people are doing something special.  This was the case on Sunday.

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In addition to guitar duties, Brandon (left) sang on some tunes and, in one case, played the banjo.  (Melvin mentioned that there has been a move by many guitarists to re-discover the banjo and that there is an album forthcoming recently released by Telarc of top bluesmen reinterpreting standards on the banjo.)  He’s not a flashy guitarist, but rather paints with a deft touch depending on the needs of the music, aggressive and out front on one song, adding color and texture on another.

Prior to the performance, I wasn’t familiar with JT Lewis (right), but he was a pleasure to watch.Jt_feelin_the_groove
  Some drummers do their thing without facial expression.  Not JT.  Hunched shoulders, closed eyes, bared teeth, pursed lips: There was no doubt that he was feeling  what he was helping to create.  I mean, why wouldn’t he?  Harriet Tubman is a rock band that swings!  Because of where Tyler and I sat during the second set, his face was behind his cymbal.  But we thought it was cool to watch his hands and see the various ways he held his sticks and mallets during the course of the songs.

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When it comes to the low end, there are very few people better than Melvin Gibbs (left).  What I think I noticed him doing was experimenting with rhythm and finding different ways to come at the time of each piece.  And he did all of this while keeping the bassline funky.  Between that and his effects pedals, Harriet Tubman has a full sound indeed!  I also liked that he made the following point: What the audience was hearing was the result of many years of hard work (it’s called practice)–not some Heaven-sent, God-given talent–on the part of each member of the group.  I guess he’s run into a lot of people who thinks what he does is magical and mysterious.  Well, it’s certainly inspired.  All of their performances were, but those performances didn’t come out of nowhere.  So I’m glad he spoke on the natural talent vs. good protestant work ethic divide that’s plagued Black musicians and athletes for ages.  Speak on it, I say.

Their MySpace page hints at a new 2008 release.  Let’s hope that this comes to pass sooner rather than later. 

Of course, it’s always nice to see your peeps at shows.  Supporters in the audienceHarriettubman_bma_feb1709_019_2
that afternoon included Greg Tate, BRC co-founder and leader of Burnt Sugar; filmmaker Arthur Jafa and his son, Ayler; blues hero Michael Hill and his family; and photographer to our stars Ed Marshall (right).

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  • http://www.devi-rock.com debra desalvo

    aaaaargh, how did i miss this??? great photos, good to read about it even tho…aaaaargh!! ;-)