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OAKLAND — Forward-thinking speakeasy The New Parish hosted The Midnight Hour Sunday on a detour through soul-jazz terrain.
Featuring composer-producer Adrian Younge and A Tribe Called Quest alumnus Ali Shaheed Muhammad, The Midnight Hour mostly veered away from hip-hop, forging instead an amalgam of cool jazz and soul cinema soundtracks. The full arrangement was not overdone. Eight musicians shared the stage, frequently exchanging places and instruments. Roughly half the set was instrumental, emphasizing the group’s atmospherics and improvisations. Vocal duties were split between multi-instrumentalists Loren Oden and Angela Munoz.
Younge began the set behind the lone keyboard, pulling out sweet pinging organ tones. Playing with precision and restraint, he colored outside the lines of Muhammad’s assertive bass technique. Muhammad, meanwhile, looked stately and serious, located front and center with his dark cherry P-bass. He alternately stood and sat, his bandmates formulating around his assured stage presence and forward low-end tone.
An unperturbed Malachai Morehead, sat behind Muhammad and was the revelation of the evening. Morehead’s drumming was subtle and precise, often providing welcome spice among the languid instrumental explorations. Exulting in muscular fills and dexterous cymbal announcements, he underpinned loose jams with a flowing drum style that tied naturally with breath and biorhythms.
Both Munoz and Oden had opportunities to take center stage and project their singing capabilities. The 17-year-old Munoz, who also played bass and guitar, possessed a strong, smoky voice and exquisite vocal control. Oden, meanwhile, explored the vocal spectrum from raw to velvety. The two singers rotated in and out. Guitarist Jack Waterson played a sparkly red Gretsch hollow-body guitar, arpeggiating a series of jazz chords and laying down the odd heavy-handed riff.
Morehead took over keys for one song as Muhammad relocated to the drums and Younge to the bass. This was followed by the only overtly hip-hop moment of the night, a slight hype interlude where the performers chanted, “Here we go, yo!” Though the band and crowd were enthusiastic from start to finish, the vibe remained chill and unhurried. The frequent trading of instruments underscored the group’s emphasis on individual musicianship and artistry.
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Moreover, the familiar nightclub spirit at The New Parish contributed to band’s conversational stage presence. A small, committed mob filled the dance floor while balcony-dwellers gazed down from either side of the stage. Muhammad and Younge displayed an exceptional grasp of audience interaction. Younge, a perceptive extrovert, exploited several mic breaks to gauge fans’ moods and encourage the next generation of musicians.
“We are living as artists,” he said near the end of the show, urging concertgoers to, “be who you’re supposed to be.”
Muhammad echoed Younge’s optimism with determination, speaking at length during the show’s final moments. During what he called his “lecture for the night,” he encouraged people to unleash their creative potential.
Both Oden and Munoz are slated to release Younge-produced albums in early 2020.
Follow writer Alexander Baechle at Instagram.com/writheinsmoke.