By Ryan Garmoe
Last Saturday, Grammy-nominated musician, emcee, singer, producer and drummer, Kassa Overall, gave a genre-bending performance at Cedar. This music refuses definition; It’s equal parts jazz, hip-hop, and R&B, but even those tracks don’t do full justice to Kassa’s creations. At the end of the day, it’s simply extremely engaging music.
Sarah Maricha White, from Minneapolis, opened the evening with a solo set, her first performance after the pandemic. White felled the audience guards with his vulnerable lyrics and onstage visual comfort. Combining these two acts turned out to be a wonderful experience, as the energies of White and Overall complemented each other perfectly.
Originally from Seattle, Kassa Overall attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and later moved to New York. Since then he has toured and recorded with such jazz luminaries as Geri Allen, Steve Coleman, Dee Dee Bridgewater and Terri Lynn Carrington. He has also worked with such artistically diverse figures as Yoko Ono and Das Racist. Over the past two years, Kassa has released 4 critically acclaimed projects, garnering praise from Downbeat, Pitchfork, NPR, The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal. He and his band are also set to play the North Sea Jazz Fest in July.
Joined on stage by saxophonist and DJ Tomiki Sanders, keyboardist Ian Fink and percussionist Bendji All once, Kassa and his band took the jazz idiom and turned it on its head. Each musician practiced the freedom and musical dialogue of standard jazz performance, but the method of delivery was heavier and more groove-focused than typical fare. Even the band’s smug rendition of Naima de Coltrane had an indescribable percussion and synthesizer bass bias.
The x factor in this group’s performance was Kassa himself. He’s magnetically charismatic on stage, but not in a way that overshadows the musical concoctions happening around him; everything is embodied and authentic. Overall, he served a triple duty as a drummer, rapper, and host. Again, it was a perfect combination of each designation rather than a crude novelty. Of course, his chops as a jazz drummer were also on full display. Yet the lyrical content of his raps demonstrated an equally strong sense of self and insight into social issues.
He’s an artist making serious waves at the intersection of jazz and hip-hop. Don’t be surprised when you see the Kassa Overall name popping up in major music festivals, cross-genre collaborations, or Grammy nominations. Learn more about Kassa Overall and his work on https://www.kassaoverall.com/ or follow him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/kassaoverall/.