JAMES POYSER FEAT. SPECIAL GUEST BILAL | New York, Winter Jazz Fest

Winter Jazz Fest is so packed with stellar, overlapping options that a set is already underway by the time you arrive. Arriving at James Poyser’s show at the Bowery Ballroom, things were not only underway they were well and truly buzzing.

As a member of The Roots, Poyser has a TV presence that is conventionally under the direction of Questlove. Tonight though is a night for James to steer things in entirely his own direction, and that is a treat for all concerned. He has a innate sense of groove and easily lays chords down for the rest of his band and collaborators to work with. Between tracks he is softly spoken and there seems to be a genuine sense of mutual enjoyment between the band who are each monsters in their own right. With Nate Smith on drums, Derrick Hodge on bass and Stro Elliot operating as DJ there is a Glasper-ish vibe to the evening although it is tempered by a more sympathetic space created for each player.

Keyon Harrold has hot-footed it across from the Sheen Center’s Sgt. Pepper show and demonstrates once more why his trumpet is in demand with artists like Common, JAY-Z, Beyoncé, 50 Cent and more Anthony Hamilton. Things are even hotter when Bilal is on the mic — he’s an exceptional vocal talent and Poyser acts here as a knowing pianist and music director to create moments of complete brilliance on the closing night of the festival. There are elements of J Dilla that creep through (they worked together) and a host of other colours that fill the now packed-room with smiles and dancing of appreciation.

The name that also hovers over the stage is Roy Hargrove. James takes time at the end of his set to pay tribute to ‘one of the greatest’ in the music industry and also the authentic friendship they shared. Roy and James worked together on tour with D’Angelo and in the studio for the RH Factor album, Hard Groove. It’s therefore wholly appropriate that they close on a version of ‘I’ll Stay’ which draws Bilal, Georgia Ann Muldrow, Renee Neuville, and Kendra Foster all around the mic. It’s a beautiful celebration and meaningful to share it with such a generous, talented performer as Mr. Poyser and in the presence of so much of the Revive family which has done so much for the scene that Roy cared so much about.

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