Hiatus Kaiyote, José James and Shuggie Otis
Summerstage, Rumsey Playfield
August 11, 2013
During the summer, Summerstage, one of New York’s longest running outdoor music, arts and culture festivals has continued an extended run at possessing one of the strongest lineups of any of the free festivals in town. Hosted in Central Park’s Rumsey Playfield and other parks across the city, Summerstage over the last two or three years have had an impressive and diverse array of artists, as well as recently supplanted Celebrate Brooklyn and River to River, as the festival that’s worth your time. In particular, this year Summerstage paid homage to hip-hop’s 40th anniversary as it hosted the likes of the genre’s legendary godfather, DJ Kool Herc, old school superstars Soulsonic Force, Roxanne Shante, Big Daddy Kane, and Special Ed, as well as artists from the genre’s golden age such as Black Sheep, Main Source, Pete Rock and CL Smooth, Das EFX, and others. This was of course, in addition to the annual Charlie Parker Jazz Festival in late August, Femi Kuti, the son of legendary Afrobeat godfather, Fela Kuti, and last by not least, the sadly unheralded Shuggie Otis.
Otis who’s touring to support the re-mastered and re-released Sony Records release of his seminal release, Inspiration Information and the first new material he’s recorded in almost 40 years. I’ve been lucky enough to catch Otis twice – the first time was at the Summerstage Preview Show at the Highline Ballroom earlier this year, and although he suffered some minor technical issues with his guitar, Otis as a performer is absolutely effortless, and that continued with his Summerstage set at Rumsey Playfield. Admittedly, the January show was the extremely early in his tour – I think it was his second or maybe third show of the tour. And the show in August found Otis being much more relaxed, and playfully joking around with his keyboardist throughout the set as though the keyboardist was his younger brother.
Otis’ is an exceptional guitarist whose tone manages to bear similarities to Clapton in the sense that every note was perfect but managed to convey a soulfulness and profound emotion much like Jimi Hendrix. He also has one of the best bassists i’ve heard in some time, and one of the tightest backing bands you’ll hear – they manage to sound rehearsed and yet absolutely limber while sounding faithful to the actual recordings. From my spot in the photographer’s pit, I think the entire audience was enthralled by him, and walked out with an incredible high once his set was over.
Thanks to some commuting issues, i missed the first song or so of Hiatus Kaiyote’s set and although it was the second time I’ve caught them, live they’re a difficult act to get into. Sonically, their sound is comprised of weird angles, chord progressions and time signature changes that makes it difficult to get into the groove. And admittedly, although their vocalist has a great voice, her stage presence is a little awkward. Each time, i’ve seen them, I’ve found them kind of boring.
Jose James followed and his sound mixed jazz, R&B, soul and hip-hop in a warmly familiar fashion. Although he’s charismatic and likable, what I had heard from his set wasn’t earth shatteringly new. Still what him and his backing band did was smooth like a decent, mid-shelf whiskey.
This older gentleman was really getting down – and it was quite a sight to see.
For these photos and more, check out the Flickr set here: