Hear It: Thousands of One
Last Updated (Monday, 29 November 1999 19:00) Written by Steve Rokitka - Buzz Entertainment Friday, 10 February 2006 22:35
"When you invest yourself in something, it can't just be an ideological thought. It has to be represented in what you do day to day. How you act, how you love and care for people, it reflects. People need to create a habit. What you do over and over again, that's what you're going to be." -Jhakeem Haltom, Thousands of One
Up on stage Friday night, Thousands of One begins a relaxed jam together, Brent Eva and Joel Blizzard settling into a simple drums- and-bass groove as Tom Sayers tunes up and Mark Wienand and Jhakeem Haltom work on a sound check. Musicians are moving on and off the stage- the band hasn't presented itself yet, but people are gathering in front of them- hips are starting to sway. Five minutes later it seems like everyone on stage has been outlined with thick black ink.
The area in front of the band is packed, and the audience has become captivated with the group's energy. Musically an in terms of stage presence, Thousands of One is lit up, not with glam-funk showmanship or hip hop panache, but with a gentle kind of charisma. Their sound bends itself around like a yogi in an impossible-looking pose, but with a smoothness like something from the church of Marvin Gaye.
Just a few months off the release of their first CD, Thousands of One is an Ithaca-based band best described in two words- judeochristianbuddhistactivist afrofunkhop. Band members fuse together elements of funk, jazz, gospel, reggae, hip hop, and traditional African and Latin music into a blend that, combined with words speaking sometimes as love croons, sometimes as fiery political- metaphysical rhetoric, breathes with originality.
Thousands of One's first regular gigs were at the Rongovian Embassy in Trumansburg, where what started as small, jam-oriented club shows quickly became a weekly happening known as Stepper's Lounge. It was here that the band was noticed by John Brown's Body vocalist Elliot Martin, who soon asked members to work with him on songs from his solo album, Black Castle. The connection persisted, and soon Martin offered to produce their album. "As Thousands of One came up," says vocalist Jhakeem Haltom, "he was watching us, saying 'Okay, it's getting tight, maybe I can help you with recording.' So after eight, nine months of being together, we recorded it with him." Since then, the group has played gigs throughout the Northeast, and is about to embark on a Hawaiian tour, taking with them a new saxophonist, Mark Wienand.
What the band shares together is at least somewhat the result of seeing their work as an expression of beliefs, more than just music for the sake of music. "There's something spiritual about all of us, a connectedness that we all have, thus the name Thousands of One." At the show, vocalist Jhakeem Haltom stretches his hand over the crowd like an evangelist. His voice is not angry, but fiercely indignant and full of rhetoric that speaks about social injustice and what it means to be a revolutionary. "People want to hear this, but you've gotta give it to them kindly. I think that's added power to things we say."
Sitting propped up in the doorway of the practice space where Thousands of One is working on a Thursday night. It's a Small, faux- wood paneled room with ancient brown carpet. On the wall, stuck behind the calendar, are cut-out pictures of Martin Luther King and the Dali Lama. Incense is burning and the room is lit by tangled strings of Christmas lights and Salvation Army floor lamps. Drummer Joel Blizzard chimes in, "We should give thanks." Everyone closes their eyes and becomes very still. Together they pray for a sick friend, for peacefulness, for their upcoming tour.
Check out the kickoff show to Thousands of One's Hawaiian tour, February 18th at Castaways, or visit them online at thousandsofone.com.
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