THIS LITTLE UNDERGROUND
The Midnight Hour, Iron Cow, Sep. 9
The Midnight Hour
is the big, high-power band that swirls, snaps and grooves around the creative nucleus of A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad
and L.A. composer-producer Adrian Younge.
No doubt, that Tribe credential leaps out like a lion. But focusing too much on it would be missing much of the point here.
While Tribe wove jazz into hip-hop and found one of the most peanut-butter-and-chocolate combinations in modern music, the Midnight Hour is a full-on jazz revelation.
Yes, there’s some orchestral flourish, hip-hop kick and miles of soul in there, but there’s little doubt what beats at the core here.
While they’ve only got one eponymous album on the books so far, it’s a loaded double album that’s plush with vibe, depth and integrity. Just the roster of guest vocalists alone – which includes no less than Raphael Saadiq, Ladybug Mecca, CeeLo Green, Bilal
and Laetitia Sadier
– is an true head’s dream.
The Midnight Hour’s Orlando debut was introduced by a collaborative opening set featuring the individual material of two of the group’s vocalists (Angela Muñoz
and Loren Oden
) and its guitarist (Jack Waterson
). While the leads shifted according to whose song it was, it was all performed as a single set by the same instrument-swapping quartet.
Once the Midnight Hour was in full effect for the main event, it was eight members
strong. Although down a couple members from their full big band with only a small two-man horn section, it was more than enough to render the full splendor of their essence.
Inspired by the verve and ethos of the Harlem Renaissance,
the Midnight Hour’s classic sound is the quintessence of fine Black expression. The perspective is exacting and studied but the ride is liquid sophistication. Even with all the instrument changes between the players and sparks of electricity in the drumming of Malachi Morehead, the ensemble kept everything in the pocket and velvet with their unflappable cool.
Both vocalists brought their own dynamic flair to the affair. Loren Oden’s
creamy soul is simply textbook. And the acrobatic neo-soul silk of Angela Muñoz
arrests immediately on first listen and then straight-up floors when you learn that one of the most defining and self-possessed forces on stage all night is only 17 years old.
All told, the Midnight Hour is a very specific concept done with total dash and conviction. And their Orlando appearance was moving and momentous. The transporting glow they stoked in a city whose jazz scene hasn’t had a youthful buzz in decades speaks to their It factor.
But the closing address by the band’s two star principals certifies the Midnight Hour as a live experience.
For as accomplished and experienced as they are, Younge and Muhammad were notably heartfelt and humble in their expressions of gratitude to be on stage.
That candid moment was a personal articulation of the spell that happens when audience and artist meet in a room with the same connective intent. It’s an eternal force of awe that even pros like these aren’t above.
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