Central Park’s Summerstage continued it’s NYC Revolutions series Sunday afternoon with the venerable Gil Scott-Heron. The grandfather of neo-soul and hip-hop was avuncular and affable throughout his sit, blending his trademark prosaic preaching and lucid social commentary. Scott-Heron just called it the blues. (Earlier he had joked that one simply appends the suffix “ology” to what one likes to do, and, voila, you’re a consultant. He was doing “bluesology”.)
Despite the wilting heat, Scott-Heron played through “Winter in America” solo on his Fender Rhodes. Joined by his four-piece band (congas, keyboards, saxophone/flute, harmonica), “Is that Jazz?” was next, preceded by a playful introduction on the origin of the word itself.
The show climaxed when Scott-Heron introduced his friend, “brother Lonnie Rashied”, a.k.a. Common , surprising most fans enough to pick themselves up off the green astroturf. Though conga was the band’s only beat, Common’s performances of “My Way Home” and “The People”—over the Scott-Heron compositions originally sampled by Kanye West—injected some life into the otherwise relaxing set.
Earlier in the afternoon, Derrick Hodge played an effusive open jazz set, with fitful bursts of percussion, which suited the hot, lethargic weather. And between performers, DJ Brainchild provoked a minor dance party by spinning fitting disco and soul hits, like the Blackbyrds’ “Rock Creek Park”.