From a series of seemingly random events that all conspired, Metropolis Ensemble landed not one but three incredible opportunities this year: a world premiere, a chart-topping album, and a live performance on NBC’s Late Night with Jimmy Fallon yesterday.
Watch The Roots, soul/jazz singer Bilal, pianist D.D. Jackson, and Metropolis artists perform “Tip The Scale” and parts of the “Redford Suite” from The Roots’ new album Undun:
Last year, Andrew Cyr met Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson, drummer for The Roots, at the Grammy Awards, where Metropolis received a classical nomination for Avner Dorman’s Concertos.
Coincidently, Andrew was contacted by Roots’ producer Richard Nichols via composer Danny Felsenfeld, who was working on arrangements with Larry Gold for The Roots. Richard invited Andrew to conduct “Paris-Philly Lockdown”, a one night celebration of 1900s Paris conceived by Questlove, that premiered at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts in April 2011. This inventive concert featured performances by The Roots, French vocal star Keren Ann, Philly pianist Pallavi Mahidhara, saxophonist David Murray, Anthony Tidd, Derrick Hodge, singers from the Dirty Projectors, and Metropolis artists Kristin Lee, Joanna Frankel, Becky Anderson, and Hiro Matsuo.
Questlove explained the concept of the concert:
“Back in 1994, after a tour of Asia fell through, four black kids had the sweet misfortune of finding themselves stranded in Paris – broke, displaced, alternately full of angst and wonder… Those kids were The Roots. At that moment, both Paris and Philadelphia loomed large in our eyes and in our minds… As time went on, I was pulled towards the music of fin de siècle Paris – especially the work of iconic composers Satie, Debussy, Ravel, and Stravinsky. Capturing a sense of that particular place and time, their impressions have informed my world in ways that are only now becoming apparent. Tonight’s show is a paean to the Paris of the early 1900s, to those four young Americans lost in the windows of the Champs-Elysées, to the person I was and the person I have become.”
The Roots also worked on their 13th studio album, Undun this year and invited a string quartet of Metropolis musicians to be a part of the recording process, including Kristin Lee and Sean Lee on violin, Phil Kramp on viola, and Hiro Matsuo on cello. The quartet worked specifically on a short suite of pieces based on a 2003 work called “Redford (For Yia-Yia & Pappou)” by Brooklyn indie artist Sufjan Stevens. Questlove ellaborated in a recent interview with Spin:
“We’ve always loved the song Redford… So we close the new album with a cover of “Redford.” We stretched it out into this four-part movement. Part 1 is Sufjan at the piano performing it. And then Part 2 is a string quartet that we had interpret it. Part 3 is myself and D.D. Jackson, who is an avant-garde piano player. He’s probably one of the most dangerous pianists — I don’t know how he doesn’t have carpal tunnel now. But he just destroys, literally, destroys the piano. The final movement, which ends the record, is essentially the beginning of the story. But it’s the last thing you hear. It’s a very powerful piece of work.”
Since it’s release yesterday, the album is already receiving some serious accolades and buzz from across the music industry, and is sitting comfortably at the top of the online charts. So to celebrate at their “day job,” The Roots played several selections from Undun on Jimmy Fallon yesterday with the help of a full cadre of Metropolis strings, including Ashley Bathgate, Rachel Calin, Owen Dalby, Will Frampton, Emilie-Anne Gendron, Siwoo Kim, Kristin Lee, Hiro Matsuo, and Emily Smith, with arranger/composer Danny Felsenfeld.