The Midnight Hour see a new day for jazz

An interview with A Tribe Called Quest’s Ali Shaheed Muhammad and Ghostface collaborator Adrian Younge about their latest project.

Twelve midnight may well be, as Wilson Pickett so provocatively suggested, when the “love comes tumbling down.” 

But this Sunday, when multi-instrumental song writers and composers and all-out renaissance men Ali Shaheed Muhammad of A Tribe Called Quest and frequent Ghostface collaborator Adrian Younge bring their band, the Midnight Hour, to Ausgang Plaza, they’ll most definitely maraud for ears, asses and souls with their take on slinky, cool-ass jazz. 

Their self-titled summer 2018 debut and its live counterpart showcase their skills, styles and select peer group’s most formidable sides. 

Fans of Marvel’s Luke Cage series on Netflix and its soundtrack score, written entirely by the duo for both its seasons, have already had an earful of what the duo deliver when they get in the lab.

We spoke to them by phone as they prepare for their first Montreal appearance together about their tastes, talents and mutual admiration. 

Darcy MacDonald: Why is midnight such a special hour?

Adrian: It’s the start of a new day! But everything kinda still feels like the same day. And it’s like, when we created the Midnight Hour, we wanted it to be one of those albums you can kinda listen to and…I don’t wanna say ‘meditate’ to…but just kind of…I dunno, how would you say it?

Ali: I think it’s where your mind is just kinda more open, and less distracted.

DM: How long have you been touring this project? How many shows have you done?

Ali: We haven’t really counted. We put the first album out June of last year and we put out the live version of what we were touring at the end of last year, maybe November.

Adrian: We’ve played at least 75 shows around the world, at least. 

DM: When you did the soundtrack for (Netflix’s Luke Cage) did you get to play that stuff out, too?

Ali: No, but we did a big orchestra performance of the first season (music) the week the first season debuted in Los Angeles. We had about a 32-piece orchestra that we just put together for one special occasion performance. 

DM: Why do you think the (execs) behind that particular show chose to go with your guys for an all-original score? 

Ali: I think a lot of it had to do with the executive producer, Cheo Coker, who is a long-standing member of the hip hop community as a journalist. He was around during the Golden Era of hip hop, and he was right there while that music was being made. So Cheo has a full command of the culture of hip hop, but not only that. Also, the music that raised a lot of the Golden Era producers, songwriters and rappers. 

The music we were all raised on, Cheo was also raised on that. He has a vast knowledge of music that’s not just hip hop. As executive producer (on Luke Cage) he had a very clear vision of what he wanted the show to look like, feel like and sound like, which is one of the reasons why he handpicked us.

There were aspects that we understood about the show and about the culture that we felt would be really important, so Adrian and I and our manager Andrew Lopero pushed Marvel in areas I don’t think they thought about. So for us, it was really important to have this out as a physical soundtrack, specifically on vinyl. So it was a combination of things.

DM: That’s cool. Adrian, did you fuck with comic books as a kid?

Adrian: You know, I did, but only for like a year. I liked baseball cards and all that stuff, but I wasn’t for like a crazy comic book guy for years. But only for like a year in junior high.

Ali: I had a couple of comic records, like the Incredible Hulk and Spiderman on vinyl. Like the ones that were based off the comic books, you’d have someone reading and they’d put music behind it. 

DM: How did you assemble the collaborators who worked on the record with you?

Ali: It’s really simple, it wasn’t that well plotted. We just reached out to our friends that were around at the time. Some people weren’t available who wanted to be down, and others were just passing through Los Angeles or happened to have a free moment. Those are the people that made it to the record.

DM: And for the show, is it a full band? And who are some of those players?

Adrian: It is a full band, and depending on where we’re at, we decide how many people to bring out. (We) have guitar, bass, trumpet, saxophones, two vocalists, drums. That’s our typical band we move with, but in some places we’ll bring out harp, or other strings. But it changes.

DM: Can you give us an idea how many pieces we can expect here?

Ali: You know, people ask us that and it bothers me. Like, would you ask Earth Wind & Fire that? And I’m not saying that in any condescending or hostile way, but it’s just like, yo, come to the show man! Like, “Isley Brothers, how many pieces you bringing?” Just come! “Tribe, how many pieces you bringin’?” You get what I’m saying. We just want people to come without any preconceived idea what you’re gonna see. 

DM: What are some of your individual favourite projects of each other’s music?

Adrian: My thing is with Ali, I can’t necessarily say what my favourite is with his music because I have an intimate relationship with the way he creates. Before we started working together, as a DJ I was spinning his solo albums, his stuff with Tribe and Lucy Pearl, and I was also spinning stuff he did that I didn’t even realize he did, as far as stuff with Fu-Schnickens and all those other cats. That combined with the Luke Cage stuff we’ve done, the Midnight Hour stuff, my whole thing is that once you get to the point as an artist that you’re creating music that’s above a certain line, you’re in heaven anyways. I honestly feel like he’s making the best music of his life right now, but I’m so much on the inside that it’s hard for me to have an objective answer. My real answer would be an objective one, and I’m not objective. 

Ali: And I know I’m not gonna answer it. Adrian and I are kindred spirits and soulmates in so many regards and that’s certainly one. I’m just a fan of his music. The immediate answer that came to mind was one of the new songs off of the Midnight Hour that’s just infectious and won’t leave my brain. I’m a fan of his way of thinking, and all the different artists he works with, from Ghostface to the Delfonics. The stuff he did with Jack Waterson to me is friggin’ genius. I’m just a fan. He’s open minded musically and not afraid to really go deep and bring something so rich out. 

Adrian: Because we can stand alone, when we come together to make things, we bring half-baked ideas to each other. Because I don’t need anybody to create and because he doesn’t, if he brings a half-idea to me, it’s easy for me to add a half-idea to it, and vice-versa. It’s literally back and forth. We come from that hip hop diaspora. 

DM: And is the Midnight Hour gonna be something you keep alive?

Ali: Yeah, we have another record coming out, and even with all the other projects we work on individually, we’re really behind this. ■

The Midnight Hour and guests perform at Ausgang Plaza (6524 St-Hubert) on Sunday, Sept. 29, 8 p.m., $20/$25