“Hustler’s Convention” was recorded by Jalal Mansur Nuriddin of The Last Poets in 1974 using his “Lightnin’ Rod” alias, and it has remained an essential and much sampled part of any self-respecting record buyers collection. Tonight he’s in the Jazz Cafe to perform the album on what is its 40th anniversary.
Support comes from Malik Al Nasir, a Liverpool born spoken word poet who has helped put this event on tonight. Malik was mentored by both Gil Scott-Heron and Jalal, and has learned from their knowledge to craft personal poems such as relating when he first went to Africa as well as his general heartfelt worldview. He’s joined onstage by Cleveland Watkiss, veteran vocalist on the UK Jazz scene, as well as an impressive female vocalist by the name of Chantelle Nandi. His short, sharp set goes down well and is a good way to kick off the evening
Jalal is to be backed by the Jazz Warriors International Collective, put together by Orphy Robinson, another veteran of the UK Jazz scene. Orphy serves as musical director for the evening and also plays keyboards and vibraphone. He’s joined by Rob Young on drums and Ibo Shakoor on percussion and flute, both of whom have played in Gil Scott Heron’s Amnesia Express. This tight, funky band also includes by Dennis Rollins on trombone, Tiago Ciombra on bass and Howie Gondwe on guitar and they faithfully re-create the danceable vibe of the original album.
The event is hosted by UK poet Lemm Sissay, who points out the high priest of funk Mr. George Clinton sitting up in the balcony digging the cool vibes of the evening looking resplendent in a shiny suit and large floppy hat. Jalal comes on and performs The Last Poets classic “E Pluribus Unum”, his indictment of the US monetary system, and with lyrics like “Now, Dow Jones owns the people’s homes and all the surrounding land. Buying and selling their humble dwelling in the name of the Master Plan” it couldn’t be more appropriate. Jalal looks in great shape for a 70 year old man, his wiry frame bopping along to the music as he keeps his wooly hat firmly on his head. After a few more poems there’s a short interval before Jalal returns to perform “Hustler’s Convention”. A huge cheer goes up as the familiar bass line rumbles along and the introductory story from “Sport”, one of the main characters, is related. “It was a full moon in the middle of June in the Summer of ’59…“. After that it’s the story of “Spoon”, the other protagonist in the story and we’re firmly transported back to the era of hustlers, caddies, fast women and shady deals.
The band cooks up a hugely danceable funk sound to perfectly accomodate Jalal’s hypnotic lyricism and it’s a shame when we get about two-thirds of the way into the story before Jalal asks if it would be ok if he save the rest for another day. A huge cheer goes up as the good natured crowd seem perfectly satisfied to have witnessed this much of the classic album being related. Jalal promises that he’ll be back another day and the evening finishes.
As well as the filming tonight there’s a film about Jalal which has been executive produced by Chuck D of Public Enemy due out this year and Jalal also said he’s working on a “Hustler’s Detention” and a “Hustler’s Ascension” so he seems to be keeping himself busy. Here’s hoping he returns to give us the rest of the “Hustler’s Convention” story soon.