Revive Music’s artists do classic genres with a modern twist. Last night, the Revive Big Band, led by composer and trumpet player Igmar Thomas, played couple sets at Ginny’s Supper Club, located in the Red Rooster in Harlem. The restaurant/club is one of the premier dining-concert experiences out there, with both components truly executed properly without compromising one another.
The venue was buzzing with excitement. Thomas, who we first caught sitting in with Kamasi Washington a few months ago, is by all means a jazz musician, but hardly traditional. Last night’s introduction song, a new track titled “R+P,” is more of an epic rap instrumental than your typical jazz standard, but when arranged for the big band it could easily pass for either. The fifteen piece ensemble looked like your typical jazz big band, but the sound they were creating was completely cutting edge. It pays homage to the past, chasing those perfect compositions on Miles Davis’ big band albums, but is fully rooted in the present: a world where hip hop has ruled popular culture for about twenty years now.
That center-point is crucial, both for the survival of jazz and, to an extent, hip hop. Jazz, in the modern day, can have the stigma of being old and boring, and that’s because a lot of it is. Rap music on the other hand, is a little too immature for its own good; it often lacks substance. Allowing a fifteen piece orchestra of young, super-talented players to blend the genres creates an environment that is forward-thinking for the older heads, but modern enough for the younger cats. As Thomas conducted the group, each player showcased their own skill-set without losing track of the bigger picture: the compositions.
After the prolific Marc Carey, who released a great album this year in Rhodes Ahead Vol. 2, joined the group for one of his own songs, Bilal appeared unannounced for a couple tunes adopted for the big band. First was “Slipping Away,” a bluesy ballad about losing love. Bilal, who played a key role in Kendrick Lamar’s album To Pimp A Butterfly, is nothing short of captivating while performing. Wearing his heart on his sleeve, he woo’d the crowd with his croon, proving why he was chosen to be part of 2015’s most polarizing record.
Following “Slipping Away” was “Levels,” one of my personal favorite Bilal tracks. The futuristic R&B tune was a pleasant surprise to hear with the big band, and to be frank, it’s never sounded better. The four-to-the-floor beat is rare to hear in a jazz room, but when it works, it is something magical. The group stretched the tune into the ten minute range, allowing Bilal and a select few players to showcase their range with the spotlight on them. The Revive Big Band played “Levels” previously at Berklee College of Music, which you can (and should) watch below.
Igmar Thomas ended things by naming the band members, but even the introductions happened in an unorthodox manner. Thomas first conducted the trombones into playing Pharoah Monch’s “Simon Says,” which livened up the joint one last time as we learned who was playing all of these beautiful notes over the last hour. With the big band, Revive Music has showcased how beautiful it can be when young guns learn old tricks.
Igmar Thomas and the Revive Big Band play Ginny’s again on December 12th, tickets available here.