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The New Cool: Kassa Overall returns to his hometown – and to the stage – Saturday night

Photo used with permission of the artist
Sporting one of his signature "Flu Note" shirts, Kassa Overall returns home to Seattle Saturday night.

Seattle native and New York-based drummer, producer and spoken word artist Kassa Overall stayed hard at work on his music through the quarantine. But now comes the fun part: returning to live performances. Saturday night, Overall also returns home to headline Seattle's Neptune Theatre

Overall's released two volumes of COVID-themed "jazz remix tapes," Shades of Flu, "basically me playing with my friends," he says. Following samples-free albums Go Get Ice Cream and Listen to Jazz and I Think I'm Good, these new collections find the jazz drummer embracing his hip-hop producer side.

Years of jazz education from Garfield High School to his time in pianist Geri Allen's band have given Overall an advantage over most rappers. His innate listening abilities honed in improvisation allow him to use his voice as a part of the song, not just backed by music.

His charming, optimistic personality belies the thoughtful subject matter and finely tuned poetry in Overall's songs. "Darkness in My Mind," "Show Me a Prison" and the painfully beautiful "Please Don't Kill Me" effectively portray the everyday struggles of young Black men in America. The songs also feature gorgeous melodies and opportunities for world-class jazz musicians like vibraphonist Joel Ross and Overall's longtime collaborator, trumpeter Theo Croker.

Saturday's concert at the Neptune also includes a pair of hard-to-define Seattle acts. Breaks and Swells offer a danceable mix of jazz, funk, rock and soul, with a new album due later this year. Cleverly named Seattle singer-songwriter Payge Turner is a recent finalist from "The Voice" and packs a lot of power in her mostly acoustic pop-soul.

Current health regulations no longer require social distancing, so expect a feeling of optimism as we continue to transition through a hopefully soon-ending pandemic. Certainly, there will be plenty of passion, love and talent coming from the Neptune Theatre stage Saturday night.

The New Cool airs Fridays at 9 p.m., hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.

Abe grew up in Western Washington, a 3rd generation Seattle/Tacoma kid. It was as a student at Pacific Lutheran University that Abe landed his first job at KNKX, editing and producing audio for news stories. It was a Christmas Day shift no one else wanted that gave Abe his first on-air experience which led to overnights, then Saturday afternoons, and started hosting Evening Jazz in 1998.