Homage: Roy Ayers, J. Rocc, Thundercat
Better than...Organizing my vinyl collection.
In the break between Roy Ayers' two sets at Exchange LA last night, KCRW DJ Garth Trinidad presented the musician with a commendation from the Los Angeles City Council. Ayers is truly a local who did well. The L.A. native is a talented vibraphonist and vocalist who, at 71, has maintained a successful career for decades. He's also one of the musicians whose work became the foundation of hip-hop.
Even if you don't know Ayers by name, you will recognize his music, particularly the jam "Everybody Loves the Sunshine," which has been sampled frequently. He is beloved by DJs, producers and musicians. Thursday night's event, titled "Homage," was the best example of that. Exchange was packed, filled with generations of music fans, all there to catch Ayers joined by a full band that
included renowned hip-hop producer Pete Rock was to include Pete Rock, though the hip-hop producer was unable to attend due to the death of his cousin, Heavy D.
The concept was great, and the connection between hip-hop and jazz -- not to mention the connection between musicians and DJs -- was on display. Opening for Ayers were DJ J. Rocc and up-and-coming bassist/vocalist Thundercat, who performed with a full band. Downstairs, DJs played soul, jazz, funk and Latin sounds for a crowd of serious dancers.
The one problem was the venue. Exchange is primarily a dance club. Its sound system is set up for optimal DJ performance. Bands, on the other hand, sound muddy from in front of the stage. There's a passageway directly behind the stage where the sound is better. There are two plexiglass windows, which provide a decent, close-up, behind-the-scenes view of the stage. There were a few of us crowded around the windows for Ayers' set.
Thundercat, whose jazz-funk influences clearly point to Ayers, opened the night with a bang. Joined on stage by two keyboardists, a drummer, a saxophonist and a second bassist, he played an intense set, the kind where you could lose yourself in the rhythm.
J. Rocc benefited most from the venue's sound system, and used it to his advantage. The Beat Junkies founder is a genius on the turntables, the type of person who can take club staples like "Young Folks" and "Groove Is in the Heart," rip them up and turn them into songs you've never heard before.
When Ayers took to the stage, it felt monumental. Dressed in a pinstriped suit and wearing a baseball cap, the musician rarely dropped his mallets during the set, except to briefly trade them for a tambourine. Standing still was not an option. Ayers and his band played for us to catch the groove. Even the people who were packed together at the front of the stage were trying to keep moving despite the sore lack of space.
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When Ayers played his most familiar tracks -- "Can't You See Me," "Searchin'," "Everybody Loves the Sunshine" -- the club was filled with screams. It felt like a lot of people were, like me, hearing these live for the first time. That was a special moment.
Personal Bias: I get annoyed with weird sound issues at clubs.
The crowd: Young and old. Cocktail dresses and hoodies.
Random Notebook Dump: With a sound system that's good for DJs and bad for bands Exchange is the opposite of just about every other club in Los Angeles.