For serious fans of forwarding-thinking soulful music, there was probably no better place to be in London on Wednesday evening than the Jazz Café, to catch the astounding live show put on by Dego and the 2000black family.
As a one-off gig at one of the capital's most prestigious live music venues, this was just the second UK live performance under the aforementioned banner for the broken beat innovator following last year’s appearance at Notting Hill’s Westbank Gallery - his first live show in a half a decade. That said, moments like these don’t come round very often.
Masterminded by Dennis McFarlane aka Dego Ranks, the 2000black label and collective – named after a 1975 Roy Ayers recording - was founded in 1998 and played a pivotal role in the birth and development of the influential “broken beat” scene, that grew beyond its West London base to many parts of the world throughout the early-mid noughties.
As a long-established, leading light of the UK’s dance music underground, the producer/musician has been pioneering homegrown styles and pushing the envelope further than most for almost three decades. His substantial resume also includes his seminal productions within the jungle and drum n bass field as one half of the legendary 4hero (alongside Marc Mac), through to multiple solo and collaborative projects under various guises that often defies genre, such as Tek 9, DKD and Cousin Cockroach.
In recent years the Londoner has been prolific as ever, having amassed a spate of collaborative releases - primarily with long-time collaborator Kaidi Tatham and other core 2000black members - for esteemed labels such as Eglo, Sound Signature, Neroli and his own 2000black imprint.
Given the above credentials and a highly musical production style that’s abound with live instrumentation, if there’s anyone that can bring the electronic/live fusion of broken beat to the stage, and excel at translating it to a live band context, then who could be a better choice than Dego and the 2000black family?
Hosted by London arts crew Jazzre:freshed on what was a rainy weeknight, despite this and quite unsurprisingly the gig drew in a near sell-out crowd, made up of discerning black music enthusiasts and underground dance music heads in equal measure.
There was a definite convivial atmosphere in the venue where many familiar faces and supporters of the scene were present, not only from London but much further afield too. Arriving on stage to rousing applause from the rammed audience, the 2000black family was in jovial spirits; namely, Dego and keyboard wizard Kaidi Tatham who traded banter as they checked their synthesizers were all in working order.
As well as the said members manning synths/keys, the seven-piece outfit also featured lead vocalist Sharlene Hector, regular collaborator Akwasi Mensah on keys/synths and occasional guitar, plus a conga player, bassist and drummer making up the rhythm section.
The hour and a half set comprised of material from both Dego’s solo albums; 2011’s A Wha’ Him Deh Pon? and 2015 follow-up The More Things Stay The Same, not to mention several cuts from collaborative releases. Mixing up the setlist with vocal-led numbers and groovy jams, the group opened up with the West London boogie stylings of ‘Start A New’, followed by ‘It Don’t Get No Better’.
Both strong vocal cuts, the latter was extended beyond its original recording length and allowed the band to showcase their incredibly tight, adept musicianship which was met with discerning appreciation. Before moving deeper into instrumental terrain, that began with an outstanding performance of the funky Afrobeat jaunt ‘Two Way Here One Way Go’.
By this point, most of the audience was working their moves on the dancefloor. The 2000black collective were fully in their element as various band members chipped in on playing an assortment of African and Latin percussion instruments. These ranged from cabasas, egg shakers, and cowbells, while bandleader Dego demonstrated his nifty skills on the marimba during one memorable stage, which added to the raw, percussive quality of the music.
Another early standout track was ‘Moths in Wallets', which had the crowd completely locked in its infectious groove before the band deftly veered into a Mizell Brothers-inspired bridge, particularly impressing the older rare groove connoisseurs in attendance.
With the noteworthy contributions made by key 2000black players such as the masterfully talented Tatham and Mensah, compositions like these are a shining example of Dego’s visionary prowess for crafting hypnotic grooves and rhythms, whilst incorporating classy melodic touches – an approach that’s been refined to whole different level in recent years on newer output.
Further highlights later on in the set came in the shape of the cosmic neo-soul cut ‘Keep It Moving Right’. Complemented by a palette of lush chords and synth lines, Hector delivered a mesmerizing vocal performance, that went down massively well with the crowd, as did ‘Black Is Key’ which had everyone getting down to its languid bruk rythmns.
Proceedings were closed on an uptempo high with their vintage futuristic boogie anthem ‘Find A Way’. It made for the perfect end to an exhilarating show, that for the first time saw Tatham take on lead on vocals with gusto, while members of the band – here and on earlier songs - provided some brilliant harmonised backing vocals reminiscent of the classic vocal arrangements of Roy Ayers Ubiquity.
There aren’t many modern acts that can so impeccably capture the essence of some of the greatest ever musical icons; from the feel-good jazz-funk of Roy Ayers, the shuffling, funky rhythms of Fela Kuti, through to the languorous, soulful beats of J Dilla, and the sprightly Latin jazz-fusion of Azymuth, but Dego & the 2000black family achieved this with assurance on the night, yet with a distinctly, modern London twist of their own.