It’s been another of those weeks where a single CD invades the player and refuses to leave — in this case, Gil Scott-Heron, Brian Jackson and the Midnight Band, recorded live at New York’s Village Gate in 1976.
Scott-Heron was a superb commentator on race and society, with a vision that was sometimes skeptical, sometimes optimistic, and always distinctively worded. In these troubled racial times, I could claim I’m turning to Scott-Heron as an inspiration and a nudge in the right direction.
Instead, I will cop to the real truth: I’ve listened to this show again and again because Gil and his cohorts groove like fiends from start to finish.
My favorite of the six tunes here is “17th Street,” which on a lot of levels isn’t all that remarkable. It’s based on a ready-made set of chord changes that are commonly understood to be Latino. (You’ll know these changes when you hear them … and for the entire course of the song, they’re all you hear.)
It doesn’t matter, because the groove (salsa? cha-cha?) is irresistible. Bass player Danny Bowens gives a lesson in Latin bass playing: Every note except the first in the sequence lands a little ahead of the beat, and the deep, woody thump drives things forward wonderfully. I could make an hour-long loop of this and get thoroughly lost in it.
Now that I’ve raved about it, where can you hear it?
Sound files of the entire gig are available for your listening pleasure here; “17th Street,” in particular, can he heard here. (The introductory percussion jam and the closing “Johannesburg” also come strongly recommended.)
If for some reason that doesn’t work, a blog with the wonderful title of Never Enough Rhodes has a few sound samples, including one from “17th Street.” It also offers a link to download the entire show; I make no promises, but try it if you want.
The show can also be heard on Spotify, for readers who use Spotify.
In a pinch, the version of “17th Street” from the album It’s Your World is OK too, though the bass is lower in the mix and less compelling.