Last night’s “Suite for Ma Dukes” performance (part of the Timeless Series) was a really beautiful event. Even though I arrived halfway through the first set (which, I think, was mostly a live performance of what appears on the EP), I could already tell the evening was going to be special.
What really works about the whole conceit is that part of what made J-Dilla beats so memorable was his understanding of musical and emotional texture. It was never just about a loop or riff or beat (though, of course, he was gifted in working with those); it was about what those sounds could evoke. And in the hands of three dozen musicians, plus the energetic – even theatric – conducting of Miguel Atwood-Ferguson – I think they did a beautiful job of really capturing, expressing and transforming some of the emotional range that Dilla played with in his music. Most of what was played last night were not attempts at recreations, but rather flights of musical imagination inspired by Jay Dee’s works and to me, that was all the more meaningful as a tribute.
And there were many people who loved Dilla in the mix that night – from his mother, Maureen Yancey, to his brother, Illa J, to his former roomie and collaborator Common, to vocalists Bilal, Amp Fiddler and Dwele, to Talib Kweli and De La Soul’s Posdnuos (the latter two performed over a recreation of the “Stakes Is High” beat).
I have to say – there’s two more shows in the Timeless series, one with Brazil’s Arthur Verocai, the other with LA’s own David Axelrod – but somehow, I can’t imagine anything really topping tonight…not b/c the other men are incapable of transcendent moments of musical composition or performance but I just think, for the audience that the series is aiming at, for the sheer level of creative challenge that Atwood-Ferguson and Carlos Niño rose to to make this music work. to the sheer amount of love reverberating through the room last night…this was something that went beyond the music in honoring and celebrating Dilla.
And with that, I end with one of my favorite Jay Dee beats, one that will never age or fade.
Pharcyde: She Said (Jay Dee Remix)
From 12″ (Delicious Vinyl, 1995)