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Childs Reveals a Thoughtful, Funky Side With Prophecy

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SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Don’t try to pigeonhole pianist-composer Billy Childs. Just because his recent recording earned Grammy nominations for its thoughtful, acoustic compositions and as best jazz album, it shows only one side of the Los Angeles-based keyboardist.

Thursday night at LunaPark, Childs revealed another, funkier side that proved just as thoughtful. In collaboration with poet Paul Calderon, bass guitarist Les King and drummer Gary Novak in a group called Prophecy, he took to electric piano and synthesizer to frame Calderon’s aggressive, socially conscious verse. Part theater, part jazz-funk project, Prophecy transcends the words and music tradition of the Last Poets, Gil Scott-Heron, the Watts Prophets and others.

Calderon delivered his poems with plenty of dynamic sweeps, theatrical touches and a fair sense of rhythm, all of which distanced him from the lumbering, less expressive meters of rap. The music that powered his delivery occasionally recalled Herbie Hancock’s Headhunters band of the early ‘70s and transcended hip-hop in its ambition and execution, inspiring Calderon’s performance to higher drama.

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The opening piece built around the line “Why is this world such a wicked place?” while Childs and crew worked a furious beat peppered with crisp, keyboard wah-wah and King’s on-the-money low end. At one point, Calderon ran through a fading repetition of the word “echo” with Childs Fender Rhodes’ keyboard echoing eerily behind.

This kind of interplay was written into other tunes. Several of the numbers ended on long, lightning-fast lines that Childs, King and Novak hit as one. The drummer’s muscular, to-the-beat playing was a constant surprise, eliciting big responses from the standing-room-only crowd.

Calderon’s confused-young-man verse (the poet is 47) utilized strong internal rhyme patterns that sometimes lost sight of meaning to make the rhyme. But his strong story lines were engaging, and even at his most cynical he retained a sense of damn-it-all humor.


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