New York Music Daily

No New Abnormal

Category: reggae music

Smart, Politically Woke Party Music From Los Mocosos

Old ska bands never die: the party never stops. Look at the Skatalites. They invented ska, and even as they lost some members along the way – starting early, with Don Drummond – they had a fifty-year career. Los Mocosos have a long, long way to go before they get that far, but don’t rule them out. And they play a lot more than just ska. Their latest album, wryly titled All Grown Up, is streaming at Bandcamp.

Throughout the record, the band switch between English and Spanish, typically in the same song. They start out with the party songs and get more political as the album goes along. They open with the title cut, a catchy minor-key mashup of rocksteady, salsa and ska. “‘I’m just here to play my tunes, get your body to move and get all the ladies,” frontman Juan Ele sings in a resonant croon with a strong resemblance to Steel Pulse’s David Hinds.

Speaking of classic reggae, the second track, United We Stand, immediately brings to mind Bob Marley’s Exodus, right down to Steve Carter’s slinky organ, Happy Sanchez’s tightly clustering bassline and the punchy brass section. It’s a reminder that we’re one big nation of immigrants who need to stick together and fight, or else we’re all in trouble.

Mirala is a psychedelic cumbia party tune with balmy horns and a little reggaeton. Ready for the Weekend shifts back and forth between a turbocharged oldschool disco groove and a ska bounce. Then the band hit a simmering roots reggae pulse and make their way into a Sympathy For the Devil-style sway in Caminos, an anthem for hardworking strugglers everywhere.

They slow things down even further with the twinkling retro rock ballad Memories of Love and then give themselves a shout-out with the salsa-ska theme Viva Los Mocosos. Ele contemplates how an immigrant fits into a neighborhood and its history with It’s All Good, a brooding mashup of lowrider funk, oldschool soul and hip-hop.

The album’s most defiant track is Libre, a big, soaring rocksteady anthem. They close with Brothers & Sisters, a call for unity. It’s been a brutal year, and it’s been a long time since there’s been any party music on this page. Feels good to know bands like this still exist.

In Memoriam: Toots Hibbert

Toots Hibbert, the hyperkinetic showman, reggae icon and leader of Toots & the Maytals, died this past September 11 in a hospital in Kingston in his native Jamaica. He was 77.

When he and the Maytals recorded Do the Reggay in 1968, it was a typical pop music attempt at creating a dance meme and selling a few records. But the term outlived the dance by decades, and Hibbert got credit for giving a name to the slinky, ganja-fueled music that had morphed out of ska into rocksteady and was slowing down into even more psychedelic territory by the time he wrote the song.

The group first connected with an audience beyond Jamaica on the wings of their appearance in the film The Harder They Come, performing the wickedly catchy rocksteady hit Sweet and Dandy live in the studio. That subtly cynical wedding-night narrative is one of the strongest tracks on the film’s soundtrack, which was the first exposure to reggae for millions of fans outside of Jamdown.

Hibbert was a consummate frontman, a ball of energy strutting and spinning and getting a serious workout in front of the band, which became known officially as Toots & the Maytals in 1972. With a sweet, Smokey Robinson-influenced delivery that became grittier over the years, and a whirling, astonishingly energetic stage presence heavily influenced by James Brown, Hibbert would typically prowl and spin across the stage for two hours or more as the group behind him vamped along.

The classic Toots & the Maytals album is Funky Kingston, also from 1972. His double live album from 1980 is the closest approximation to a show by one of the most dynamic singers ever to hit the stage: and when he hit it, you felt it. Pressure Drop, pressure drop, pressure gonna drop on you! The Clash, and eventually innumerable other punk and ska bands, would cover that song.

By the 1990s, Hibbert was already past fifty, but he never slowed down. New York concerts in the middle of the decade at places like Tramps and Irving Plaza found him working up a sweat in front of crowds of white fratboys. He knew the deal: people had come out to dance and party, and he was there to deliver. He didn’t talk to the crowd much, leading the group through expansive versions of his big populist anthems and extended dance jams that would go on for fifteen or even twenty minutes. Hibbert continued to tour relentlessly throughout the rest of the decade and beyond.

Hibbert was a consummate professional and a genuinely nice guy. He served jail time for marijuana possession in Jamaica in the 1960s – and wrote one of his biggest hits, the witheringly cynical 54-46 Was My Number while behind bars. He considered himself a Rastafarian but always sported a short haircut. When asked about his hairstyle by Rockers TV host Earl Chin, Hibbert’s response was simple: “Jah trim.” What he meant by that was that Haile Selassie also kept his hair short rather than wearing dreadlocks.

Ironically, Hibbert’s best song was a rare slow one, Get Up Stand Up. Predating Peter Tosh’s song of the same name by a couple of years, this brooding minor-key anthem is one of the most understatedly haunting calls to action ever written. Hibbert’s imperturbable energy, his quirky sense of humor and ironclad logic will be badly missed. Condolences to all those who were lucky enough to know him .

Director Ted Bafaloukos’ Posthumous Photo Book Captures the Turmoil and Glory of 1970s Reggae

Ted Bafaloukos’ 1979 film Rockers is iconic in reggae circles. Its soundtrack captures many of the foremost figures from the golden age of roots reggae at the peak of their powers. The movie became one of that year’s fifty highest grossing films. And it was almost never made.

The late director and photographer reveals the drama, the turbulence, passion, and ever-present danger surrounding the artistic crucible of the mid-70s Jamaican music scene in his richly illustrated coffee table book, ROCKERS: Ted Bafaloukos + 1970s New York + Kingston + On Set Mayhem = The Making of Reggae’s Most Iconic Film, out this year from Gingko Press.

The Greek-born Bafaloukos got his start at the Rhode Island School of Design. His steamship captain father had sent him there after discovering, while docked in Providence, that the school drew students from as faraway as California. The younger Bafaloukos earned media accolades for his photos while still in college. But by 1978 he was struggling as a freelancer, largely supported by his wife’s $78-a-week sweatshop paycheck, sharing a loft at the corner of Varick and Franklin Streets with several friends.

He’d discovered reggae a few years earlier and fallen in love with it after seeing a show by melodica player Augustus Pablo and his band at the Tropical Cove, a club located above Gertie’s Discount Store in Brooklyn. He intuitively grasped the connection between the communal esthetic of reggae and the folk music he’d been immersed in at community celebrations as a child in the Aegean island village of Apikia.

Aided by his new friends from the New York reggae scene, he traveled to Jamaica and decided then and there to make a reggae movie, despite having neither script nor cast. Bafaloukos enlisted several New York friends as production crew, and a hippie neighbor with money to be the producer.

Bafaloukos’ photos from his initial expeditions are a goldmine for reggae fans. The most choice shots are black-and-white. Singer Kiddus I, with record producer Jack Ruby behind him, sits slit-eyed with both a cheat sheet and a spliff in hand at a recording session: it’s clear that this is all live, with no iso booths. A young, thin Burning Spear perches triumphantly atop the ruins of a slavery-era jail in his native St. Ann’s Bay. Jah Spear (who also appeared in the film) pops up again and again, most memorably backstage with an equally rail-thin Patti Smith, laughing it up. And Big Youth is captured on his signature motorbike on a Kingston street, showing off his jewel-embedded teeth

In full color, there’s dub pioneer Lee “Scratch” Perry in his ramshackle, rundown original Black Ark Studio before he burned it down: from Bafaloukos’ description of the setup and gear, Perry’s engineering genius becomes all the more astonishing. A series of 1975 portraits capture Bob Marley on Sixth Avenue near West 8th Street in Manhattan. There’s owl-glassed, bearded folk music legend and experimental filmmaker Harry Smith with Burning Spear drummer (and eventual star of the film) Leroy “Horsemouth” Wallace. Impressively, the book’s candid photos far outnumber stills from the movie.

Which is basically The Bicycle Thief transposed to Jamaica, with tons of classic songs and a cast comprising the most colorful people the filmmaker had met while traveling across the island. “For those who think that movies get made in the editing room, Rockers is not a case in point,” he avers. As he tells it, the film ended up being even more highly improvised than originally planned.

The problem with crowdsourcing your cast is that a bigger crowd comes with it. It ended up taking Bafaloukos more than a couple nickels to buy his way out of many pickles, several brushes with death and, as he tells it, a mutiny by the movie’s two stars, who had held out for more money. Considering how hard both cast and crew partied when they weren’t working, and how many challenges – several at gunpoint – they had to overcome, it’s a miracle they were able to finish it.

And considering how breakneck – literally – the pace of the filming was, some of the most memorable moments in the narrative are the asides. We find out that Earl Chin, who in 1975 had not yet become the legendary host of Rockers TV, is a crazy driver: gee, big surprise. The movie’s crucial set piece – a very fickle, used motorbike – ends up being delivered by none other than the Cool Ruler, Gregory Isaacs. And Bafaloukos recounts the priceless moment at Bob Marley’s Peace Concert where Jacob Miller leaps from the stage, goes up to a cop guarding the Prime Minister and offers him a spiff. When the cop declines, Miller steals the guy’s helmet and finishes his set wearing it.

What Bafaloukos never mentions is residuals. He ended up retiring to a villa on the Aegean. it would be interesting to know how much Horsemouth, his co-star “Dirty Harry” Hall, the Montego Bay mystic named Higher, or the Reverend Roach and his A.M.E choir, to name a few of the cast members, came away with.

A Reggae Record For Drinkers: Oxymoron or Rare Artifact?

Today’s album is a real rarity: a roots reggae record about drinking. It’s actually the second in bassist Victor Rice‘s planned trilogy. The first one, big surprise, was titled Smoke. This one, heavily inspired by red wine, is called Drink and is streaming at his Bandcamp page. On one hand, it’s akin to a night barhopping around Rice’s Sao Paolo home turf. While it also reflects the diversity of influences he’s incorporated into his music since leaving New York for Brazil in 2002, this album will definitely resonate with anybody who remembers his legendary Friday night residency at the Parkside back in the late 90s and early zeros.

To be fair, not everybody who likes reggae smokes weed, and the reverse is definitely true. How does this record sound after several rounds of 24-ounce cans? Pretty damn good. Throughout the album, Rice’s playing is very chill and in-the-pocket: original Skatalites bassist Lloyd Brevett would no doubt approve.

The album opens with a wistful, minor-key rocksteady groove, La Mura, which reflects Rice’s deep, bass-oriented production sound: the guitars have more reverb than the horns, but everybody gets plenty. Trombonist Buford O’Sullivan and tenor sax player David Loos take moody solos before the Burning Spear-inflected horns kick in again.

Drummer Tony Mason propels the southwestern gothic-tinged second track, Simao, with a lightly syncopated clave, guitarists Jay Nugent and Teddy Kumpel adding skank and Memphis soul, respectively. The Demander is a goodnatured ska tune dedicated to a dictatorial cat, while This Is Fine is Brazilian rocksteady with summery solos from sax and trumpet.

Agenor de Lorenzi infuses Bebida with a similarly cheery electric piano solo over drummer Nico Leonard’s low-key shuffle beat; they take it out with bluesy solo sax. Rice goes back toward Burning Spear-style roots, but also bossa nova for Arouche, which kicks off the record’s b-side.

The only real reggae references amid the conversational horns in Five are Leonard’s classic turnarounds, not necessarily where you would expect them. The band return to warmly upbeat rocksteady with Because I Can and then Madrid, which recalls Spain a lot less than Kingston, 1965, Kumpel adding a low-key, purposeful solo. They finally plunge into deep dub to close the record with Time to Go.

Roots Reggae Rebels Steel Pulse: Never More Relevant Than They Are Now

It’s hard to think of a more appropriate album to listen to in our virus-scare isolation than Steel Pulse‘s Mass Manipulation, streaming at Spotify. It’s the iconic roots reggae band’s best album in two decades. It’s dedicated to fifty-four individuals murdered by racists, many of those killers members of the police. The individuals remembered here begin with twelve-year-old Tamir Rice in Cleveland, all the way to fifty-eight-year-old Gregory Gunn in Charleston, South Carolina. Several of our fellow New Yorkers are on that list.

This is a magnum opus that’s long overdue. Frontman David Hinds’ voice is a little grittier than it was when the group exploded out of Birmingham in the late 70s, but his songwriting is absolutely undiminished, through a total of seventeen tracks. As to be expected, the production is techier than the clangy, distinctively trebly sound that defined them during their early years.

They open with Rize, a characteristically catchy revolutionary anthem. Stop You Coming and Come is a respectable attempt to blend the band’s classic 70s/early 80s sound with an elegant keyboard-centric production style: “We’re building us a brand new nation, only then the prejudice and bigotry will leave us alone,” Hinds predicts.

The band channel a rebelliously defiant vibe in Thank the Rebels. Likewise, Justice in Jena has a majestic arrangement matching Hinds’ scathing lyric about the infamous Jena, Louisiana racist attack Then he assaults the sex trade in Human Trafficking – has another artist ever been willing to confront those horrors? Pedophile Jeffrey Epstein’s extortion scheme hadn’t come to light yet when the album was released last year, although the scandals at the highest levels of the Republican Party here and the Tories in the UK were old news by then.

Cry Cry Blood is a decent facsimile of the fierce witness anthems Steel Pulse would become famous for forty years ago. Don’t Shoot, a wickedy catchy, chillingly cynical narrative, draws on the murder of Eric Garner – a large black Staten Island street vendor harrassed for years and eventually killed by police in front of a luxury condo whose owners didn’t want him there.

Jimmy “Senyah” Haynes plays biting, Middle Eastern-tinged acoustic guitar on the album’s longest track, No Satan Side, a corrosive look at economic and environmental exploitation in Africa. With N.A.T.T.Y., Hinds sends a shout-out to Rastas keeping it real. With its cold, techy string synth, the album’s title track is a cautionary tale about the ultimate consequences of mass brainwashing. World Gone Mad has a blend of 80s roots sonics and 60s rocksteady; Hinds’ son Baruch adds a sharp, insightful rap cameo.

Awash in shifting keyboard textures, Black and White Oppressors reminds that fascism is not an exclusively caucasian pathology. The Final Call, a fire-and-brimstone warning, has a bizarre contrast between harmonica and a vocoder choir of what sounds like alien beings. The cover of Steve Winwood’s Higher Love (retitled as Rasta Love) is the album’s bounciest track; Hinds finally winds it up with Nations of the World, the most Bob Marley-influenced song, with those aliens on backing vocals again.

A Relentless Gothic Postrock/Metal Hybrid from Alltar

Portland, Oregon’s Alltar bridge the gap between gloomy, dystopic Mogwai postrock and doom metal. Their new album Hallowed is streaming at Bandcamp. No shredding, no stoner blues, no boogie, just slow-baked, grimly swaying grey-sky vistas punctuated by the occasional upward drive. Interestingly, 80s gothic rock is a big influence along with the requisite Sabbath references.

The opening track, Horology starts out as a watery, spare chromatic bass-driven vamp and then explodes with a firestorm from guitarists Tim Burke and Colin Hill. The vocals are buried in the mix: if the dark early 80s Boston bands like Mission of Burma played metal, they would have sounded like this. Likewise, if the Cure were a metal band, they would have built War Altar as this band does here, taking a morose, drippy stalactite theme, finally making snarling doom metal out of it with a long series of distorted 6/8 guitar riffs and disembodied vocals. There’s also a sarcastic cynicism to the lyrics.

The most epic track here is Induction, opening with a clanging, bell-like, slowly syncopated art-rock sway. “Society has lost its connection to humanity, and I can’t understand why,” keyboardist/frontman Juan Carlos Caceres ponders. “If chosen, what would you say?” Drummer Nate Wright’s careful accents foreshadow grinding doom metal crush: again, It’s rare that you hear a guy behind the kit who’s as dynamic as he is here.

Hailstorm tremolo-picking and a slow, evil chromatic riff open Spoils before the relentless crush and lo-res distortion kick in, with a final rise from super-slow, to just plain slow and ceaselessly grim. The band seem to care more about vocals than most metal acts: the apocalypse seems awfully close. Four solid tracks to smoke up to and contemplate the end.

Diverse Brooklyn Sounds in an Era of Vanishing Diversity

Where was the Brooklyn massive last night? Packed in the middle of the arena in front of the Prospect Park Bandshell, where Protoje and his protean reggae band were energizing the crowd. But as crowded as the middle of the space was, the sidelines were pretty vacant, and the party that goes on out back and off to the sides was almost completely absent. Which was strange: last year, his Jamaican countryman Chronixx drew a packed house that overflowed into the surrounding space.

Is an only 80% capacity crowd for a popular reggae act an indication that 20% of the Brooklyn Jamaican and Caribbean population has been forced into exile by real estate speculation? That the most musically-inclined 20% have been displaced, in the ongoing brain drain out of New York? Or is Chronixx really that much more popular than Protoje? That last proposition is dubious.

Everybody seemed to know the words and was singing or toasting along to Protoje’s eclectic mix of tunes. More than ever these days, the dwindling supply of artists still caught on the record label treadmill are forced from their usual positions and turned into utility players. Protoje did something for the ladies, something for the Rastas, something for the politically conscious – Criminal, an anti-corruption, anti-racist broadside and the biggest hit of the night- and plenty for the weedheads. A small parade of special guests filtered on and off the stage. Meanwhile, the energetic band behind him shifted from punchy dancehall to several detours into some pretty serious metal, including a sizzling guitar duel.

Down the hill, a smaller subset of the Brooklyn massive had gathered at Barbes to watch Middle Eastern group Nashaz debut a spellbinding new set of material. Bandleader/oudist Brian Prunka has been on a creative tear lately and the result is some of the best music his shapeshifting, slinky band has ever made. The decision to write material focusing on oud and trumpet has paid off immensely, with the addition of Slavic Soul Party‘s Kenny Warren to the band. Warren’s immersion in Balkan sounds with that Brooklyn brass crew has given him formidable chops to simmer and storm through chromatics and microtones, as he did last night. The result was akin to the great Lebanese trumpeter Ibrahim Maalouf backed by a more traditional rhythm section. No joke.

Tersely and emphatically, bassist Marouen Allam found just about every trick to make long one-chord jams interesting: slurry, shivery slides around a low note, the occasional leap to much higher registers, subtle rhythmic shifts and changes in voicings. Drummer Philip Mayer played the toms and cymbals with his hands, and engaged in a couple of adrenalizing dumbek duels with his percussionist bandmate Gilbert Mansour.

Prunka opened a couple of the numbers with moodily spiky, methodically crescendoing improvsiations, building up to exit velocity by the end of the first set. Meanwhile, Warren’s mournful resonance, ominously burbling riffage, sharp bursts and exuberant Romany-flavored crescendos were the icing on the cake. Prunka is back at Barbes on July 5 at 8 PM, hopefully not with 20% fewer bandmates because they too have been forced out by the luxury condo blitzkrieg.

A Deep Roots Reggae Hanukkah Record From the Temple Rockers

Tommy Benedetti’s simple one-two nyabinghi drumbeat echoes over sparse jungle bird noise as the new Temple Rockers album Festival of Lights – streaming at Bandcamp – gets underway. Is this a throwback to the golden age of roots reggae and dub, in the spirit of Ras Michael and Lee Scratch Perry?

Kind of. If you’ve ever lit your spliff from the menorah, this is your jam. While the festival of lights and gambling has officially passed, this album of Hanukkah-themed reggae songs, many of them familiar themes reinvented with a one-drop beat, will keep the spirit alive if you’re in the mood.

The production values are spot-on: a wah effect on the organ, chicken-scratch guitar, clouds of grey noise wafting in the distance, ample reverb on pretty much everything except bandleader David Gould’s bass and the spicy brass flourishes that punctuate the high points. All this makes even more sense considering that Gould’s main gig is with perennial tour favorites John Brown’s Body.

While there have been Hanukkah reggae songs over the years, this one of a very small handful of albums celebrating the holiday Which is surprising, considering how well the Jewish diaspora has been represented on the jamband circuit over the years, and that a disproportionate number of white dreads are Jews.

Roots reggae vets Linval Thompson, Wayne Jarrett and Ansel Meditations share vocals with the group’s regular frontman, Craig Akira Fujita, giving the music immense Jamdown cred. The first track is the brisk, bouncy Days Long Ago, with its tasty organ and tradeoffs between trumpet and trombone. Not to rain on your parade, dudes…but the hora is a wedding dance, not something people typically do after lighting the menorah. But maybe it’s time to revisit that tradition.

The rest of the album touches on the Hanukkah story without belaboring it. Rock of Ages is more rocksteady-tinged, like something the Melodians might have done in the 70s. Do You Know Why, a famous holiday theme, has deliciously bluesy lead guitar and smoky baritone sax. The klezmer reggae fire keeps burning with the instrumental Pour Some Oil, Gould’s bass carrying the tune as the horns get a little crazy

Spin Dem is a slinky reminder of how Rasta and Jewish iconography are so often interchangeable. Festival Song is an irresistibly coy, punchy rocksteady remake of Dreydl, Dreydl, Dreydl. Who Can Retell, with its wobbly vocals, celebrates a global unity theme: it’s practically a dead ringer for a Congos classic. Much the same could be said for Almighty Light, with its brooding horns

About the Miracles, a return to Hebrew reggae, is the album’s catchiest number. The album winds up with its dubbiest track, Lickle Jug and then the glistening rocksteady vamp I Have a Candle, with bracing mutitracked vocals by Gould’s sister Lisa. Not only is this destined to become a classic of Jewish holiday music: there’s also a dub version available.

Combo Chimbita Air Out Their Darkly Shamanic Psychedelic Grooves at Lincoln Center

This past evening at Combo Chimbita’s feral, darkly psychedelic show, Lincoln Center’s Viviana Benitez explained that the dancefloor at the atrium space had been opened up, “So that you will feed off their energy and they will feed off you.” She was on to something.

The Colombian-American band were celebrating the release of their first single, Testigo, from a forthcoming album due out in 2019. Drummer Dilemastronauta built a boomy, shamanic triplet groove over an enveloping low drone as Niño Lento’s synth woozed in and out. Then a whistle of wind echoed the rain raging outside, and frontwoman Carolina Oliveros took the stage. Decked out in a striking, stark black gothic skirt and blouse, silvery bracelets and facepaint flickering under the low lights, she was an Incan avenging angel hell-bent on righting centuries of conquistadorian evil. As the group rose to a screaming peak behind her, she didn’t waste time cutting loose, Niño Lento blasting out eerie sheets of reverb from his Fender Jazzmaster. Maybe because the guitar was so loud, she was even more ferocious than usual: their usual home base, Barbes, is a lot smaller.

Next it was bassist Prince of Queens’ turn to get a catchy minor-key riff swirling from his keys, then a reggae-tinged pulse as the guitar fired off a flickering, deep-space hailstorm. A stygian vortex of sound took centstage as Oliveros left her trance momentarily, then the group hit a galloping Ethiopiques beat with a furious, insistent- bullerengue-style call-and-response, which made sense considering that Oliveros also fronts the even trancier, considerably more rustic Afro-Colombian collective Bulla En El Barrio. It was a galloping constelacion of Los Destellos psychedelic cumbia and the Black Angels.

Oliveros stalked across the stage, channeling an increasingly forceful series of witchy voices as the next tune grew from a brooding, reggae-tinged groove to a hypnotically cantering blend of icepick reverb guitar and woozy synth swirl. The song after that was just as psychedelic, a deep-space hailstorm of hammer-on guitar over dubwise bass and Oliveros’ looming intensity front and center, foreshadowing the big crescendo the band would hit with the new single a bit later.

From there Oliveros’ imploring voice rose over an echoing, bass-heavy slink that slowly shifted from reggae to cumbia and back and forth, the menace of Niño Lento’s funereal organ closer and closer on the horizon. Sinister dub bass anchored icy minor-key clang, giving Oliveros a long launching pad for her most explosive, assaultively shivery vocal attack of the evening. After awhile, it was as if the show was all just one long, grittily triumphant anthem. You might not have heard it here first, but this is the future of psychedelic rock: lyrics in something other than English and a charismatic woman out front.

The next free show at Lincoln Center’s atrium space on Broadway just north of 62nd St. is this Nov 29, a return to the usual Thursday night programming here with Time for Three playing a similarly surreal if somewhat more sedate set mashing up classical and Americana styles. Get there as close to 7:30 PM showtime as you can if you want a seat.

Halloween in Fort Greene with the Dead Zombie Band

The Man in the Long Black Coat leans back against the brick wall opposite 237 Waverly Avenue in Fort Greene, facing an makeshift stage tent. Pam Fleming’s Dead Zombie Band are trading casual, conversational solos throughout an epic, Monty Alexander-style reggae-jazz tune. It’s a warm Wednesday night: the musicians must be sweating hard under the plastic of their full-length Halloween costumes. Pretty much everybody onstage is wearing a mask. Other than Fleming, who has a distinctive, full-bodied tone on the trumpet and flugelhorn, it’s impossible to tell who the other players are.

As readers who’ve followed the ongoing saga of the Man in the Long Black Coat know well, he’s been having a problem with invisibility for a long time now. Although he can’t control it, he’s come to find that he can tell when he’s about to have an episode. And this one is full-on. He was even invisible when he went into the deli around the corner on DeKalb for the little bag of pickle-flavored Utz chips he’s munching on. He knows this because the guy at the counter gave him a quizzical “how the hell did you materialize” look when he went up to pay.

This explains why he has his back to the wall instead of being closer to the band, out in the melee of trick-or-treaters of all ages and their parents. Many of the costumes are fantastic. A boy sea captain pilots a meticulously painted freighter ship mounted on double-red-wagon chassis. A couple of parents with toddlers on their backs wear sassy, pointy-eared cat-carrier helmets, faces invisible behind wire mesh. The most gregarious monster of all is an overinflated orange-and-purple T-rex, bobbing and weaving and photobombing everybody’s pics.

In the middle of the crowd, a pretty woman in a pink wig, dressed as a sexy cheerleader, dances with her friend, who’s rocking a hot feminist academic look. Eventually a couple of bearded men join them. The taller one passes around a flask; the shorter one pulls the cheerleader close to him and nibbles her neck. He’s smitten.

The band are fantastic. The Man in the Long Black Coat has been to this block party a couple of times in the past, but this is the best ever, he thinks. The keyboardist has a lush Hammond organ setting and unleashes a rich, turbulent river of sound. The horns are just as good. The soprano sax player stage left is really on a tear with his or her solos” as the night goes on and masks come off momentarily, there’s no gender correlation with any of the costumes. Tenor saxophonist Lily White comes up to the mic to sing a searing blues number. “Halloween’s not scary but the President is.” The crowd give that one a resounding round of applause. Later the group do a couple more reggae tunes – Fleming’s time in Burning Spear’s band really left a mark on her – and then a couple of slowly swaying, genuinely haunting soul ballads in 6/8 time. Invisible or not, the Man in the Long Black Coat is in his element.

At nine on the nose, a trio of cops show up to shut down the party. Without missing a beat, Fleming reprises a song from earlier in the set with a couple of verses of a lively zombie dance from the band’s 2014 album. The cheerleader and her professor pal lead the bearded guys away, back toward DeKalb; the Man in the Long Black Coat waits until the passing parade of gradeschool kids has thinned before he makes his way out. It’s the one night of the year where people can bump into him without doing a doubletake, and for once he doesn’t mind.