The Roots

TD International Vancouver Jazz Festival, Vancouver BC, June 28

Photo: Joshua Peter Grafstein

BY Leslie Ken ChuPublished Jun 29, 2019

The final weekend of the 34th annual TD Vancouver International Jazz Festival kicked off on Friday, and featured Grammy Award-winning hip-hop group the Roots as headliners. Their set included some of their most popular hits like "I Got You" (albeit without collaborator, Erykah Badu). In a massive medley that cascaded across the history of hip-hop, bridging the present with the past, the Roots covered snippets of songs like "Shimmy Shimmy Ya," a probably unintentional callback to last weekend's headlining show by hip-hop legends the Wu-Tang Clan. And like last week's show, everyone in the audience was on their feet, from the floor to the balcony. Although, the Roots show was much more civilized — after all, no one brings da ruckus quite like the Wu.
The Roots have always been known as obsessive, deep-diving students of music; drummer Questlove has even written books about soul, funk, hip hop, and more. Unsurprisingly, even beyond the previously mentioned medley, watching the Philadelphia heroes was an education, in musicianship and showmanship.
It's a testament to the Roots' skill that their set felt fuller and more satisfying than its 90 minutes, largely because they trimmed the fat of banter; any messages they wanted to get across, they let the music do the talking. In that sense, the Roots were strictly business.
Don't be mistaken, though: the Roots were an absolute blast to watch. Most of the ten-strong crew shuffled and shimmied across the stage. They leapt atop the drum riser. Damon Bryson, affectionately known as "Tuba Gooding Jr.," effortlessly manoeuvred his brass instrument, which was nearly the size of Damon himself.
The Roots' set felt like one long, breathless jam. Smoothness defined the band, from their transitions between songs to the way the bars poured out of Black Thought without pause over the masterful interplay of Questlove's drumming, "Captain" Kirk Douglas's guitar work, the bright keys, Bryson's blaring tuba, and the other brass players on sax and trumpet.
Sometimes, seeing the Roots stuck behind their podiums as the house band on The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon, or watching them perform bits with him and other celebrities, it's easy to forget what a force the Roots are. But if anyone at Queen Elizabeth Theatre ever forgot or began to doubt, there's no question now: the Roots are still on top of their game.

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