Omar @ Jazz Cafe, London

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

With a new critically and publicly acclaimed album “The Man” recently released on the progressive Freestyle Records label, following a seven-year hiatus, soul troubadour Omar Lye-fook MBE made a welcome return to London’s Jazz Cafe to showcase his new release and also dip back into some of his classic tunes from yesteryear.

After a two minute intro and a brief greeting: “Good evening!” “How’s everyone feeling?!!,” Omar kicked off proceedings with “Feeling You,” his classy collaboration with one of his musical idols, Stevie wonder. Stevie’s vocal parts were covered admirably on the night by another UK soul stalwart, Chris Ballin.

With the crowd suitably warmed up, Omar delved into his new set, unleashing the opening track, “Simplify” on his expectant audience – A track which fittingly pays homage to his musical mentor with its Stevie-esque intro. Having said a quick hi to his auntie, uncle and cousin via Skype from the stage, the bumping groove of “Simplify” took hold. The drum and the bass were in full effect.

After visiting the “Best by Far” album with a track called “I Guess,” Omar highlighted another of the standout tracks from his new offering “The Man”. “Bully,” with its reggae/urban style swagger had the audience whooping from the get go. Omar’s unique vocal ability allows him to switch between a deep baritone and high falsetto in an instant.

This trademark style was evident throughout the track and married well with the raw horn section consisting of saxophone and trombone.

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Then it was time for “Da Man” to perform “The Man”. Before launching into the distinctive chugging, staccato vibes, Omar thanked those gathered for all their love and support over the years – alluding to the fact that it was nearly 30 years since he began his musical journey. Omar then proceeded to perform a rousing rendition of the title track from his new album the lyrical content of which shows how he has grown as a man and in recent years as a father.

Three quarters of the way into tune big brother welcomed Scratch Professer to the stage. Omar’s little brother sauntered forward and laid down a series of impactful rhyming couplets to round out the remainder of the tune.

With his musical juices now flowing freely, Omar delved into two classic albums from the nineties for the next two songs. Taking to his trusted synthesizer, Omar initiated the familiar chords of “Music” the title track of his 1992 release. After 5min 15s the band smoothly transitioned into the Lamont Dozier inspired and aficionados’ favoured rare groove “Outside,” lifted from his 1994 “For Pleasure” album. The numerous change ups throughout the tune truly highlighted Omar’s musical astuteness and left-field quirkiness.

And just to impress upon us how diverse his musical pallet is the next serving was the popular full on Carnival jump up tune “Dancing,” Omar’s infectious collaboration with Zed Bias. And from the first beats the whole of the Jazz Cafe was bouncing along to its rhythmic Caribbean/SoCa music vibe.

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

The crowd needn’t have stopped jumping as Omar returned to the “Best By Far” album for his hugely successful Omarfied version of William DeVaughn’s “Be thankful For What You Got.” Not only did Omar give this tune the vocal treatment it deserves but he was aided by sister Psalms Lye-fook who is forging a nice musical path in her own right.

The Brazilian samba vibe was ushered into the Jazz Cafe with the opening bars of “Ordinary Day,” Mr Lye-fook once again doffing his hat to the simple pleasures of being a family man.

Omar performed a musical 180° turn when introducing the crowd to yet another musical genre – Jazz! Jim Hunt’s baritone saxophone heralded the intro to “High Heels,” the superb result of Omar’s collaboration with the Hidden Jazz Quartet from Germany. Already a standout track on the album, its abstractness was truly brought to life in this live context with the musicians’ vibesin’ off one another and Omar weaving his vocal magic in between.

After a faithful delivery of “Kiss It Right” which again featured a brief cameo from his brother Scratch Professer, Omar completed his overdue Jazz Cafe return with a styled out version of his timeless classic “There’s Nothing like This.”

Originally intended to be revamped and released for its 20th anniversary in 2010, Omar didn’t get the inspiration to do justice to it until 2012/early 2013 when he linked up with trusted friend and cohort, guitarist Pino Palladino. The audience lapped up the Donny Hathaway/Marvin Gaye style revamp, singing along verbatim every step of the way.

And smartly, with the Omar faithful still singing his anthemic tune at the top of their voices, the man himself took his leave from the stage bounding athletically up the stairs. Within, what seemed like a nanosecond, the rapturous applause and whooping was replaced by screams of Encore! Encore!

Omar duly returned to the stage with a heartfelt thank you to all those who took time out of their life to come and see him perform. And before he rounded out the evening proper, Omar called a young man by the name of Ronnie to the stage to raise awareness and donors for the African Caribbean Leukaemia Trust http://www.aclt.org/ Proof positive that Omar is not only in touch with his people on a musical level but on a social/community level as well.

Omar then commenced his three track encore with the sentence “This is a special request for someone,” before again plundering the “Best by Far” album, playing the distinctive intro chords of “Tell Me,” another track which has been taken to the hearts of his ardent followers.

Photo: Courtesy of Carl Hyde

Keeping the flow going, Omar name checked Fela Kuti and the Notting Hill Carnival as inspiration for the next tune, “It’s So.” As the Calypso vibes kicked in, Omar instinctively began skanking and whining as if he was in the midst of Carnival itself. His gyrations and exuberance was soon duplicated throughout the audience who simultaneously sang along with the catchy chorus.

And so it was that this time the evening had reached its climax – But before snapping into the conscious lyrics of the provocatively titled “Fuck War, Make Love” Omar found time for some necessary PR, alerting concertgoers toward copies of his fresh album release, “The Man” in all formats as well as a limited edition 12 inch vinyl version. While in edification mode, Omar implored the audience to pay respects to his record label, Freestyle Records who as he put it, “… Had the foresight, the knowledge and the intelligence to pick me up as a new client…”

Finally, having also volunteered his various online connections, Omar put it to the crowd if they wanted one more. A unanimous cheer from those gathered was the green light for Omar to turn and signal to his band to usher in a funkified version of the aforementioned “Fuck War, Make Love” also lifted from his superb comeback album.

Approaching the four-minute mark Omar threw in some more serious dance moves before bowing to all corners of the Jazz Cafe venue, blowing a kiss and bounding up the stairs for the last time leaving the band on stage playing a two minute full on jazz funk outro. This was indeed a night where after a self imposed time-out, the man Omar proved to doubters and believers alike that he is still The Man.

Michael J Edwards

Essential Album:
The Man – (Freestyle Records, 2013)

Essential Singles:
The Man (CD & Limited Edition 12” Vinyl, Freestyle Records 2013)
Treat You right (All formats, Freestyle Records 2013)

Essential Website:
http://www.omarmusic.co.uk/

travelling the spaceways since 1993