Does Ali Shaheed Muhammad of hip-hop innovators A Tribe Called Quest have any special messages for young people who grew up on hip hop, but might not be so familiar with jazz? His response is so good it makes me mildly regret asking the question.
“There’s a lot of the younger generation that know about jazz because hip hop,” he says. “They go and dig. Ain’t no different than how I would dig when I was 15. I just think that they are intelligent as any human would be.”
You’re right, Ali. I shouldn’t underestimate young music fans like that.
Muhammad comes to Eugene alongside acclaimed musician and hip-hop producer Adrian Younge as part of The Midnight Hour.
The pair started working together on the critically acclaimed 2013 hip-hop record Souls of Mischief. They also did score work for Netflix’s recent adaptation of Marvel Comics’ Luke Cage.
Last summer, The Midnight Hour released their debut of the same name, and it’s a collection spanning carefully composed penthouse-level jazz tunes to more street-level jazz, soul and R&B.
Muhammad loves how jazz allows so much exploration.
“As a musician there’s a wealth of information within the music,” he says. “There’s a really spiritual connection with the music and the instrumentation and where one can take it. There’s a lot of fluidity and freedom.”
The album is studded with guest appearances from the world of hip hop as well as contemporary soul, jazz and R&B.
CeeLo Green lends his silky pipes to “Questions.” Raphael Saadiq shows up on “It’s You.” Elsewhere, soul legend Luther Vandross drops by to re-create his ’80s hit “So Amazing.” And “Dans Un Moment D’errance” features drummer Questlove and Laetitia Sadier of Stereolab.
Understandably, Midnight Hour wasn’t able to bring all these guests on tour. Singer Loren Oden, who also appears on the album, will pick up all the vocal duties.
“Anytime you perform, you can perform it in a very structured way,” Muhammad adds, explaining how the music evolves and changes while on the road. “Or you can give it into the moment. We try to do both, not be too pre-determined,” he says.
Jazz fans or not, he encourages audiences attending The Midnight Hour show to bring nothing but an open mind.
“Curiosity is all that’s needed,” he says. “With that curiosity is a willingness to go with the flow.”