Bilal Bilal

with Onyx Collective

Thu February 8th, 2018


Main Space

Minimum Age: 18+

Doors Open: 7:30PM

Show Time: 8:30PM

Event Ticket: $25

Day of Show: $30

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Bilal official site | Bilal on Twitter | Bilal on Facebook | Bilal on Tumblr.com

Bilal Oliver was born and raised in Philadelphia, PA. Coming from what he describes as a “regular kind of neighborhood”, Bilal was first introduced to music when he attended a small local church. The congregation, made up of mostly family members, became his foremost musical outlet. In his later years, Bilal’s father introduced him to the jazz clubs around the city. It wasn’t until Bilal attended the Philadelphia High School for Creative Performing Arts that he really started taking his music seriously, realizing this was the direction he wanted to go with his life. While at the school, Bilal, along with his peers, began to experiment with songwriting and became completely enamored with Jazz. “I wanted to sing Jazz, play Jazz, and write Jazz tunes.” The effect of being immersed into a creative, music infused environment caused the young Bilal to interpret his voice as an instrument especially in the songs he began to write.

After high school, Bilal was accepted to the New School for Social Research, a prestigious avant-garde university in New York. While there, he studied Jazz and continued to develop his affinity for songwriting. Bilal was able to experience the nightlife of New York City by frequenting night clubs and gaining a true knowledge of the NYC music scene. While frequenting the famed Wetlands’ Nightclub, he became acquainted with The Roots, Q Tip, Common, Erykah Badu and Mos Def. Bilal would also take part in jam sessions with his New School professors and classmates. It was during one of these sessions that Bilal met Aaron Coleman of the Spin Doctors. The two hit it off and soon private jam sessions in Coleman’s home gave birth to a demo of songs that would land Bilal a record deal with Interscope.
Bilal was moving in the direction he desired and moving fast. He left the New School, focusing on his musical career and began creating music at the famed Electric Lady Studios. At this time, Common was working on his Like Water for Chocolate album at Electric Lady. Bilal, sitting in on the recording sessions, became an integral part of the album. Later sessions with Questlove of The Roots introduced Bilal to J Dilla and sparked a fruitful working relationship between the two. Once the album was near completion, label pressures coerced Bilal into working with more commercially prominent producers like Dr. Dre and Mike City. The album, First Born Second, was released in 2001, displaying a wide range of diverse musicality.

With a favorable response to his album, Bilal was swept up in what the media referred to a “Neo Soul” movement. Bilal didn’t feel the term fit. “I was trying to come from a Jazz perspective…. trying to write open ended tunes that could go in any direction when played live.” While touring, Bilal and his band started to morph the music into what he describe as a “jazz-fusion/rock type funk.” This musical freedom bled into the songwriting for Bilal’s next project, Love For Sale. This time around, Bilal worked with a myriad of new collaborators, from Sa-Ra to Denaun Porter to Nottz, even gathering a number of his former New School peers to participate. Interscope execs were less than enthused upon hearing the new record. Mysteriously, an unfinished version of the project was leaked.

The response from audiences and critics worldwide was overwhelmingly positive. For years, label politics prevented any significant progress to occur on a follow-up album. In spite of the setbacks of the last album, Bilal had a dedicated fan base and they wanted more. The encouraging feedback began to re-inspire Bilal to write songs again and he set out to accomplish what he had started in the beginning. Late 2009, Bilal announced his official second album will be released Summer 2010 via Los Angeles based label Plug Research Music. The new music promises to be progressive while still having its roots placed firmly in the jazz traditions that originally inspired Bilal’s music. Bilal describes the new material as “genre-bending music.”

Onyx Collective

Onyx Collective official site | Onyx Collective on Facebook | Onyx Collective on Bandcamp | Onyx Collective on Ninja Tune

If Onyx Collective, the nebulous jazz ensemble whose name you may have overheard in downtown Manhattan at some point in the past couple years, seems elusive it is because oftentimes they are. Onyx shows are unannounced, impromptu affairs: the group will perform in a basement, at a cocktail lounge atop a hotel, and to the street from a storefront all in the course of a week. The cast of performers is interchangeable, as is the kind of music that they play. Salsa and funk are fair game, in addition to the band’s own unique style of jazz.

Onyx Collective is a steadfast part of New York, and the city is the glue that holds the group together. “New York’s role in Onyx Collective is everything,” explains Isaiah Barr, saxophonist, sometimes vocalist, and de facto leader of the band. “The names of people, the places, the street corners here are so legendary and historically prominent – it leaves a roadmap that we can walk through and a story for us to follow.”

Barr is joined by Austin Williamson on drums, Joshua Benitez on keyboard, Jack Guliemetti on guitar, Felix Pastorius and Spencer Murphy on electric bass, and Dean Torrey and Walter Stinson on upright bass, with Maxwell Deter providing most of Onyx Collective’s visual art. There is an additional group of artists who consistently orbit in and out of the Onyx universe. Nick Hakim, Julian Soto, Dev Hynes, Wiki, and other New York mainstays have performed with the band, and Onyx quietly features on a bevy of other artists’ records.

Onyx Collective’s enigmatic nature is undeniably a part of its allure, but the force that truly propels the group is technical musical proficiency (the band’s members attended New York’s musical conservatories as kids) coupled with a reckless abandon. Onyx runs a manic energy through their classical training to create a live show that at times feels as punk as it does jazz. Barr is known to wield two saxophones simultaneously, playing both over Williamson’s feverish drumming.

In September of 2016, with little fanfare, Onyx Collective released its debut album Second Ave Rundown via Supreme. The vinyl sold out almost immediately, and the project cannot be found online – if listeners wanted to hear the group they had to track them down in New York. A little over a year after Second Ave Rundown, Onyx Collective is prepared to make its official debut beyond the city through a series of releases titled The Lower East Suite. Consisting of two EPs and an LP, the recordings found on the projects are predominantly taken from live performances the band played across the city, capturing a diverse array of atmospheres and moments from New York. All three releases will arrive via Big Dada.

“There’s something about where we play that makes it an Onyx Collective show,” says Barr. “Not who we play to, that’s not what drives it. It’s where we play.” Onyx Collective needs the city – the group could not exist without it. And at a time when New York seems more plagued than ever, it is apparent that the city needs Onyx Collective. “Our role in New York is to tell its story,” concludes Barr. “In a way that is accrediting and paying homage to those before us, and to then add to what they’ve done.”

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