By Ryan Garmoe
This past Saturday, Grammy-nominated musician, emcee, singer, producer, and drummer, Kassa Overall, gave a genre-bending performance at The Cedar. This music refuses definition; It’s equal parts jazz, hip-hop, and R&B, but even those titles don’t do full justice to Kassa’s creations. At the end of the day, it’s simply wildly engaging music.
Minneapolis native Sarah Maricha White opened up the evening with a solo set, her first performance back after the pandemic. White took down the audience’s guards with her vulnerable lyrics and visual comfort on stage. The combination of these two acts turned out to be a wonderful experience, as White and Overall’s energies were perfectly complementary.
Originally from Seattle, Kassa Overall attended the Oberlin Conservatory of Music and later moved to New York City. Since then, he’s toured and recorded with jazz luminaries such as Geri Allen, Steve Coleman, Dee Dee Bridgewater, and Terri Lynn Carrington. He also worked with figures as artistically diverse 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 slated to play the North Sea Jazz Fest this 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 delivery method was heavier and more groove-oriented than typical fare. Even the group’s blissed-out rendition of Coltrane’s Naima had indescribable skew of percussion and synthesizer bass.
The x-factor in this group’s performance was Kassa himself. He is magnetically charismatic on stage, but not in a way that overshadows the musical concoctions happening around him; everything is embodied and authentic. Overall pulled triple duty as drummer, rapper, and emcee. Still, 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. Still, the lyrical content of his raps demonstrated an equally keen sense of self and perception of social issues.
This is an artist making serious waves at the intersection of jazz and hip-hop. Don’t be surprised when you see Kassa Overall’s name pop up on major music festivals, billboard busting cross-genre collaborations, or the Grammy nominations. Learn more about Kassa Overall and his work at https://www.kassaoverall.com/ or follow him on Instagram at www.instagram.com/kassaoverall/.