Arooj Aftab (& Riz Ahmed!), L’Rain & Cassandra Jenkins (but not Rostam) played Outline (pics)
After kicking off on Saturday, the spring edition of Knockdown Center's Outline series continued on Sunday night (5/1). Rostam, who had been scheduled to headline, unfortunately had to drop off because he and others in his touring party got Covid, but the show went ahead with slightly readjusted set times.
Cassandra Jenkins started off the night, playing material from her excellent 2021 album An Overview on Phenomenal Nature and a new song. Her highly skilled 5-piece band for the night included Stuart Bogie (Arcade Fire, Antibalas, etc) on flute and sax, the instruments he also contributed to Phenomenal Nature. They were joined by a surprise second saxophone player towards the end of the set who started playing in the middle of the floor before joining the rest of the band on stage. They ended with the magnificent "Hard Drive."
The excellent musicianship and otherworldliness of the night continued with L'Rain who -- along with her own masterful band -- delivered a set of expansive, jazzy, dissonant and irresistible grooves, including highlights from her fantastic 2021 album Fatigue. L'Rain aka Taja Cheek remained seated for most of it because of a leg injury, but that didn't make it any less compelling.
Arooj Aftab closed out the night with what she pointed out was her first NYC show of the year (we also caught her in December opening for Caroline Polachek at T5), and her first since she won a Grammy (!). The excitement in the room rose palpably before she and her incredible bandmates -- Maeve Gilchrist on harp, Gyan Riley on guitar, and Darian Donovan Thomas on violin -- took the stage. Arooj -- whose stage banter throughout the night had people laughing in between the sad songs -- lovingly joked about becoming the headliner in Rostam's absence, but the loud cheers in the room left no doubt that she deserved the spot anyway. Excitement in the room rose (no pun intended -- she also threw roses into the crowd throughout her set) even more when she was joined by two special guests. The first, actor and musician Riz Ahmed, hyped Arooj as a Grammy winner, and she hyped him as an Oscar winner. Riz segued from talking to the crowd right into a rendition of his track "Where You From" from 2020's The Long Goodbye, with Arooj and her band backing him. He left the stage after that song, and Arooj invited out frequent collaborator Vijay Iyer, who helped them play an amazing rendition of 'Last Night' from her excellent 2021 album Vulture Prince. That's where all or most of the songs from her set came from, including the "banger" (her words) she saved for last, the Grammy-winning "Mohabbat."
See pictures from the whole night at Knockdown Center below.