LIVE: On Jazz, Keyon Harrold, Black Lives Matter, and the Wayfaring Traveller

It’s fitting that Keyon Harrold’s Blue Note performance came on Sunday, September 24th.

That was the day that dozens of NFL players protested not only injustice, but a sitting president calling them “sons of bitches” for the audacity to push America to be great.

It was this backdrop that the jazz trumpeter dropped The Mugician, his latest feature length project, with backing from names such as Bilal, Gary Clark Jr., Robert Glasper, Big K.R.I.T. & Pharoahe Monch. By sound alone, the project is a powerful sendup to the Black Lives Matter movement, with the Ferguson, Mo. born musician dedicating the powerful track “MB Lament” to fellow resident Micheal Brown.

It’s been a long time since I’ve heard a project with so much weight. The Mugician is not an easy listen, and this is truly by design. All of the pain, and agony of being Black in America is being put on display. During the performance you could Keyon visibly getting choked up during the songs. There is a lot of power to this album, that should not be relegated to the end of your playlist.

Ironically, it seems, the Blue Note might not have been the most fitting venue for this performance. Jazz in America it seems, has become somewhat of a novelty, and sadly the venue seems more like a notch on the to-do list of visiting tourists than anything these days. During my travels to Asia and Europe these past 3 years, I’ve noticed that the genre has been wholeheartedly embraced, so it’s no coincidence that we were seated next to a family from Turkey, across the way from a table of filled with visiting Japanese businessmen, and Chinese students. But would the message from the album carry over? Or would it be lost in translation? Unfortunately it seemed like more the latter, as many people seemed present for a jazz show than a political revolution.

But this doesn’t diminish Keyon Harold’s live show at all. Backed by an spectacular band, including saxophonist Marcus Strickland vocalist Georgia Anne Muldrow, the set was one of the most impressive I’ve seen all year. However, I think this performance would be more powerful outside of a jazz club. It’s ready for primetime.

The Mugician is on streaming services now.