On Tuesday March 11th, I had the pleasure of attending the World Premier concert of my fraternity brother and friend's band, "Sly 5th avenue". This was held at the Arts district in downtown Dallas at St. Paul United Methodist church, directly across the street from the famous Booker T. Washington school for the arts. The crew I attended the concert with knew we were in for a good night of music, but we didn't expect (at least me) such high level of artistry. I was blown away for sure!
For starters, the core of the band, a jazz quintet, included cats from UNT. When you have a band full of North Texas musicians you can count on high level musicians. Since the record included more than a quintet, we were treated to 3 local guest artists who filled in splendidly at the show. If this wasn't enough of a treat, it's important to note that Sylvester plays saxophone in Prince's band. On top of that he's had appearances in several late night shows and collaborated on some records. He's not exactly a light weight folks! This album "Akuma" was different however, as it outlined the story of "Sly's" travels to Nigeria.
The crowded church was treated to an upright bass solo to start the show. A very subtle start, with hints of percussion and a desire for dancing were soon complimented by guitar,drums, trumpet and the sultry sounds of Sly's Tenor saxophone. The timing and tight ensemble playing were quickly established as I was locked in from the first tune.
We were then treated to a video that explained Sly's inspiration for the record which was a trip to Nigeria several years ago. The purpose of the visit was to bury his grandmother who was married to a Chief, so needless to say it was a very ritualistic celebration. The video captured many of the sights and sounds that were the inspiration for the songs on the record. I must say that after watching this video, I gained a much clearer understanding of the record as I had listened to it before the concert (available on itunes). Though I admired it for what it was, the visuals helped with gaining a better appreciation and taking the music to another level.
There were many traditional jazz elements in the show including very creative improvisation, back and forth conversations between instruments and the spontaneous element of the guest artists. This was great because local talent was used to fill in the void and you wouldn't have noticed they weren't part of the band if it wasn't announced. There was a conga player who treated us to a seashell solo(no joke) on the last tune, a pianist and a singer that joined the band on select tunes. Fact is, everyone who walked on stage was able to demonstrate their high level of artistry during their solos. Although the music contained hints of traditional African music, the improv element allowed it to come back to the traditional jazz we are so accustomed to.
Sly included songs he wrote for his father, mother and his late grandmother (all on the record "Akuma") which in my opinion allowed us to gain some insight as to what a "softie" this guy is despite his 6 foot 3 stature! With his parents in attendance that night it made those songs even more special. The song that most captivated me was the last one of the evening. Sly mentioned that inspiration for the song stemmed from their 14 hour wait at an airport in Nigeria in 100 degree weather as they were ready to fly back to the states. He mentioned how the commotion he witnessed paired with traditional New Orleans music (which frankly is derived from African music) was the catalyst for writing the song. So many vivid pictures were painted if you payed close attention. Like I mentioned before, I knew we were in for a good night of music, but I didn't expect THAT!! I also never mentioned that it was free!
Honestly there isn't much more to say without sounding biased about our beloved UNT so I'll stop right there and simply recommend buying the record. You can take my word that "Akuma" is a great listen or experience it for yourself. I highly recommend the latter. Click the link below to enjoy this music!