Design courtesy of the artist.
Kassa Overall doesn’t fear a creative challenge, and when he was given a seven-concert commission series at The Jazz Gallery, he came up with a project that would remix his identities as a drummer, rapper, composer, lyricist, and producer. During every show of the TIME CAPSULE residency, Overall will present a pianist and occasionally other instrumentalists as well, and every show will be recorded. The current plan is for Overall to use the recordings as sampling material for a final live production session.
The first TIME CAPSULE show featured pianist Jon Batiste, as well as bassist Ameen Saleem. Overall now continues the residency with Jason Moran. In our first conversation, Overall went deep, and in our second, he went deeper, focusing on how context and audience preparation can change the entire concert experience. Check out our second interview below, where Overall reflected on the successes of the Batiste show, and made some predictions about the upcoming show with Moran.
The Jazz Gallery: How was the first TIME CAPSULE show for you?
Kassa Overall: I couldn’t have asked for a better first show. It came together perfectly, in terms of what we prepared and what we left for spontaneity. I talked to some people after the show, some of the heads that go to all The Jazz Gallery shows, and a few of them said something along the lines of “It’s so great to see some outside stuff, some free stuff here.” I feel like they have lots of outside stuff at the Gallery, you know, but I think they were speaking to the particular approach we were bringing to it, which was very off-the-page, very spontaneous. We connected with the crowd in a different way.
TJG: How do you think people were able to connect with what they saw onstage?
KO: Even if you’re not a master listener, a musician, or don’t know the language of music, everybody knows body language. That’s the funny thing about music. You could bring somebody off the street who has never seen a live show, and there’s certain stuff they could tell you about the performance: Whether it’s good or bad, whether the musicians are communicating well, whether the piano player is enjoying himself. The basic human perceptions. At the first Gallery show, we were discovering the music on stage just like the people in the crowd were. There were moments where Jon would play something, I’d be surprised, then realize he was surprised, and the crowd could feel that something was happening between us in the moment.
We framed the performance in such a way that the audience understood what was about to happen. They knew that there was spontaneous composition happening, and that we were recording it. The show was connected to a bigger story, a bigger frame, if you will. It’s like the audience had an instruction booklet already [laughs]. The way they were listening, you could feel them thinking. There were moments when we’d be playing, maybe just a drum solo or a piano solo with sparse accompaniment, and you could feel certain heads in the crowd were like “Yo, that’ll be a dope sample.” The idea worked.
TJG: Put yourself back in that mental space of the show: Do you remember a specific moment where that feeling happened? Where you were doing something completely unexpected, and thought “This will be cool later”?
KO: Definitely. There was a moment when Ameen Saleem was taking a bass solo, and then he fell into this ostinato thing. It might even be a thing he has in his bag, you know what I mean. He was playing it, and I started rubbing my hands together, clapping a little. Jon started clapping, and we started doing this whole clap beat behind him. It was a breakbeat like something you’d find on one of those records from some live show back in the day. It sounded perfect. It felt good. It felt inspiring, like this could be the beginning of something.
TJG: Speaking of beginnings, this is a new project for you. We spent a lot of time talking about identity last time we spoke: What about this first TIME CAPSULE show felt like “This is me, Kassa, doing my thing,” and what felt like “This is a brand new chapter”?
KO: Every time I’ve done something a little bit abstract, it felt like I had to make the crowd get it. To turn back to the ‘instruction manual’ part, I felt like this was the first time where the audience was ready for what I was about to do. There was a backstory. They weren’t there to see someone play drums: They were there for the whole process. Press, story, and narrative can get a bad rap, and you can be great at something, but at the end of the day, you have to be able to communicate what it is that you’re doing. Otherwise, people will just take it as gibberish. I think this is the beginning of learning how to communicate my intentions in my own voice, in a way that makes people ready for it. I did a whole lot of different stuff at the Gallery, but it wasn’t a surprise to anyone. It all fit into the context of the story. That feels freeing, because when you’re bringing more to the table, it’s hard when people only recognize a piece of what you’re bringing. I want to show the whole picture. This feels like the beginning of being able to show the whole picture, and having people comprehend it. It’s about becoming a better communicator in my presentation of my art.