That's me at the Blue Note, 05/10/19, Saturday, waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey

Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey at the Blue Note

We saw Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey (formerly Mos Def, but he’s way beyond that now) at The Blue Note on Saturday, October 5. Last we year we saw them at the later show, also in October. Both shows spun me around, but much differently. This year, my husband bought tickets for the eight o’clock show and wanted us to get there at six o’clock to get good seats. And we did.

Below is a picture Manny took of me after an hour of waiting. When DJ Jali Sundance appeared on stage and began setting up–I recall hearing a digable planets song–he asked that no one take photos or videos.

That's me at the Blue Note, 05/10/19, Saturday, waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey
Me at The Blue Note waiting for Robert Glasper and Yasiin Bey, 05/10/19

To me, keeping the cell phone off and locked is critical for any live performance. For these musicians–DJ Jali Sundance, Chris Dave on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass, led by Robert Glasper on piano, and special guest, Yasiin Bey–the samples, effects, mics, dynamics, etc. are finely tuned for improvisation. Trying to record the deeply layered sounds from your seat results in disrespect and distortion. Especially because they respond to the other in the moment. A version of Glasper’s residency shows up in his new mixtape, Fck Yo Feelings.

Each set offers a unique experience. What you hear, ideally, includes the vibe in the room, in other words, us, the audience. Yasiin Bey addressed this last year, and requested that we, “Put your robots away.” Many did not.

This year, he asked us to focus–stay alert and participate in the miracle of the here and now. Then, becoming playful, he said, they didn’t want to “enforce” the rule. In whole-hearted agreement, I perhaps misread the mood. Because surprise! He said, “All right, let’s get it over with! One minute.” The women near me shouted, “Thank you, thank you!” Robert Glasper struck a Megan Rapinoe pose. Yasiin took off his hoodie and slowly turned.

After that? Yasiin started one of his hits and transformed it. A huge admirer of his word play and repetition, I recall variations on, “All that’s real isn’t true. And, all that’s true isn’t real.” He elided words, whistled, mimicked birds, and danced. The song “Treal,” included on Robert Glasper’s mixtape, rose and dipped, intertwined with new lines and rhymes. He pronounced “Treal” (true and real) to rhyme with kill. “The one thing death can’t kill–life!” Life, death, kill, trill! Yet he also spelled it clearly, T-R-E-A-L.

The lyrics, the different meanings, and layered rhymes and rhythms resonated inside me like iambs with a spondee on the fifth (Shakespeare), but more so! I cannot convey the shifts and sheets of jazz converging with cosmic intonations, except that it grew ever more ecstatic.

Yasiin Bey at the Blue Note

Sorry my photo isn’t better. Trying to keep it together, I spilled a glass of water.

Robert Glasper and his band are performing at NYC’s Blue Note for a month’s residency.  The guest performer for October 11-14 was Yasiin Bey, formerly known as Mos Def. For  Saturday night’s performance, some of Yasiin’s lines were familiar. Some were not. His delivery, however, struck me as wholly original. He seemed to sculpt rhymes and rhythms in the air, where they lasted all night. He was emphatic and ecstatic, but more than that, he was intent and serious while creating art in real time. Yassin Bey has perfected his rapport with the energy of a spirit at large.

(An original, outside spirit filling one with artistic energy was once what inspired meant.  But its overuse, often regarding not much, has led it into the awesome muck. Possibly, not too distant from Mark Zuckerberg’s empathy.)

During a pause, the young man next to me asked, was this hip-hop? He wondered, too, why change your name when Mos Def is such a great name? Mos Def is a great stage name, but it conveys none of real-life seriousness of an artist who dares to take his work seriously. Of course, all art depends on being playful. Many people play all their lives and are undeniably artistic. But taking the risky, sky-leap into serious art occurs to very few people, and even then, it demands nerve, commitment, and luck.

At one point, he started “Ms. Fat Booty,” and Anderson.Paak joined him onstage. (A surprise–AP had been sitting in the row below me, among the “cheap seats.” The younger rapper, his voice higher, his intention pure fun, blended, perfectly with Yasiin’s lofty joy.

The show ended with Yasiin’s ecstatic litany starting in contradiction, moving through repetition, in which a word or emphasis is altered in loop until what you hear is something like a koan, or no, original truths. (That’s what I thought, anyway.)

Yassin Bey’s raspy voice and supreme invocations offered everyone present the “Sun, Moon, and Stars.”