WELDON IRVINE, with DA GRASSROOTS and SON OF S.O.U.L., performing as part of the du Maurier Downtown Jazz Festival at Lee's Palace (529 Bloor West), Friday (June 23), 10 pm. $15. 532-1598.
Being ahead of the curve hasn't earned jazz funk innovator Weldon Irvine an extra dollar or a single paragraph in Down Beat. At least the 56-year-old keyboardist has survived long enough to see his inspirational early recordings appreciated by a new generation -- even if his widely sampled licks aren't always credited.
A hunk of Irvine's song We Gettin' Down is the basis of A Tribe Called Quest's Award Tour, while the man's Sister Sanctified was famously looped by Scott La Rock for BDP's Your Philosophy, which led 3rd Bass and Ice Cube to jack it themselves.
More than just a break machine, Irvine -- who composed the anthemic To Be Young, Gifted And Black for Nina Simone while stuck in a honking New York traffic jam -- has an implicit knowledge of how music can be a transcendent force for spiritual upliftment.
Long before Bruce Springsteen raised a ruckus by singing about Amadou Diallo's death at the hands of the NYPD, Irvine had composed and recorded a whole album to confront the issues raised by the shooting.
For once, Irvine seems right on time with The Price Of Freedom... Is Truth: The Amadou Project (Nodlew Music), which features righteous rhymes from his hiphop running mates Mos Def and Talib Kweli and his piano student Q-Tip.
Amadou outrage "As we speak, Bruce Springsteen is causing quite a stir in New York with his song 41 Shots," says Irvine from New York, "and I've heard Lauryn Hill has recorded a song and I think Wyclef is about to do one, too, so it's apparently safe to discuss the Amadou Diallo shooting now.
"Personally, I think it's great that Springsteen's performing 41 Shots. Some people say he's grandstanding, but I don't agree. He has been topical in the past. But even if he were exploiting the situation, he's still putting Amadou's name before a lot of people, which is ultimately a good thing. This was a horrendous, unjust act, and people need to speak out about it."
While Irvine remains committed to seeking wider exposure for the independently produced and distributed Amadou Project -- he's looking into whether Springsteen would like to contribute 41 Shots to the cause -- he doesn't feel his quartet gig at the Downtown Jazz Festival is the proper context for the music.
"From what I understand, the people attending the jazz festival in Toronto are interested in hearing me perform my songs from the past that have been sampled by hiphop artists and those that are popular on the acid jazz scene. So that's mainly what I'll be doing, along with some freestylin'."
Although it isn't widely known, Irvine, aka MC Master Wel, has been working diligently on his microphone technique and now feels confident enough with his rapping ability to get busy during shows.
"Oh yeah, I'll do a lot of rapping if people are into it. There's gonna be a hiphop band (Da Grassroots) opening the show, so it seems like I'll be free to do whatever -- straight-ahead jazz, funk and drop some rhymes, too."