Show Preview – PJ Morton, The Independent, Dec. 2

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PJ Morton’s career is a weird, beautiful kaleidoscope, marked by two things: talent, and achievement. He’s the kind of performer it’s easy to love and hard to pigeonhole – and this Sunday, December 2nd, he’s coming to The Independent in San Francisco.

Since 2008, Morton has made the kind of up-front career that keys players don’t usually get to make unless they’re called John Legend or Stevie Wonder, across mixtapes, EPs, studio albums, and live records. That’s not an idle comparison: name another performer of the last couple of decades whose major label debut album lead single has featured Wonder himself – and that as a followup to the Adam Levine-starring single “Heavy,” from debut EP Following My First Mind. That single with Wonder – 2013’s “Only One” – was nominated for a Grammy for best RnB song in 2014, and released on Lil Wayne’s Young Money imprint. Wonder, Wayne, and Morton might feel like a broad range of artists to bring together on a single record, but only if you’re addicted to the logic of the genre playlist: Morton sits comfortably in the same sentence as some of the biggest names in recent popular music history, and this week he’s in SF, just in time for Christmas.

Before big exposure, though, Morton was a well-respected name in the jazz/soul world: he’s a native of New Orleans, which is the only city in the world where most bars contain a world-class talent, most nights of the week. Before signing with Young Money he released two long play albums – 2005’s Emotions, and 2010’s Walk Alone – and a live record, Live in LA, in 2008. Morton has flown into and out of styles and feels across his career – from an early focus on soul fundamentals (keys, strings, and out-of-the-box astonishing vocals), though hefty, multi-layered complexity on Walk Alone, into the potentially-blinding light of joining Maroon 5 in 2010.

It takes something special to be dropped onto the top of America’s mad mass-music industry by helicopter (and talent) and not get lightheaded, but there’s a solid argument that Morton gave Maroon 5 more than Maroon 5 has given him. Morton joined Levine’s outfit as a touring member in 2010, and, just as his solo career took off, as a full recording member of the band, in time for the recording of M5’s fourth studio long-player Overexposed (2012). Since then he’s brought a powerful jazz-roots credibility to a band who, for many people, had felt like pretenders until then, for all their stadium-sized success; Morton is the real deal, and he brought that directly to the stage for Maroon 5’s subsequent albums V (2014) and Red Pill Blues (2017).

In 2016, Morton moved back to his hometown, New Orleans, and opened his own record label, Morton Records. It was here that he began his work on Gumbo, which eventually earned him two Grammy Award nominations for Best R&B Album and Best R&B Song at the 60th Annual Grammy Awards. In the meantime, he found the time (In April 2017) to release a mixtape, Bounce & Soul Vol. 1, which is a mixtape of the re-imagined versions of his best songs from Gumbo.

This year, he’s released Christmas with PJ Morton, and while it’s sometimes hard to see the value in the same standards played a slightly different way, he’s demonstrated that he’s got what all jazz masters have got: the feel to change a tune into a masterpiece. Consider the Independent this Sunday; it promises to be a great show.

PJ Morton plays the Independent w/ Grace Weber // Sun, Dec 2, 2018 // Doors: 7:30 pm / Show: 8:00 pm // $20.00

Photo courtesy of Shorefire Media

An avid drummer whose discography includes albums on Digital Nations (a Steve Vai imprint), music critic Louis Raphael has always kept a pulse on the San Francisco music scene. After many years as the San Francisco Music Examiner for Examiner.com and AXS.com, he decided to start Music in SF® as a way to showcase what the San Francisco music scene really has to offer.

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