I had the privilege of seeing three American music titans in concert last night: Vernon Reid, guitarist of Living Color, David Johansen of the New York Dolls, and Galt McDermot, composer of the musical Hair. All three were premiering original work at the St. George Theatre on Staten Island, and it was a night of music I will not soon forget.
Honestly the only reason I as interested in the concert was because Vernon Reid was performing. I have been a huge fan of Vernon's ever since I found his Mistaken Identity album on a rack of CDs in a Japanese used-media shop and bought it on impulse after falling in love with the cover art. After thoroughly digesting that disc I went on to buy every Living Color album, sans their most recent, and have continued to be an avid fan of Vernon's work. I found out about the 10/27/2007 show in Staten Island through his MySpace page, and bought second-row seats to the show a month in advance. The chance to see one of my musical heroes live on stage this late in his career was something that I was not about to pass up.
Allow me to expound upon my reasoning behind adoring Mr Reid's work. Vernon Reid, simply put is a musician who faithfully weaves his music around the very idea that music is something to be enjoyed by the listener as well as the performer. Though he is undeniably a guitar player of awe-inspiring skill, he doesn't let that constrict his musical style nor dictate how he conveys his ideas through his instrument of choice. His music is passionate, yet he never falls into the pit of self-indulgent meedle-ing, shredding, and wah-ing his way through track after track of solo material. He delights in textures, sustains, grooves, and flowing improvisation. His encyclopedic knowledge of guitar styles combines with his musical vision to produce unique and original music that has room for many different artists and instruments.
Vernon Reid has a vision for music that doesn't always involve him.
He sees music as a way of communication, possibly more so than it as an art form. Living Color was an outlet for certain ideas, but not others. Reid's own solo albums contain material and themes that he deemed not necessarily 'unfit' for Living Color, but rather better expressed through a different channel - much like a clothes designer chooses a model to display certain fashion styles but not others. Vernon chooses different ways to express what he wants to say to the world, and that in turn allows endless possibilities for reaching people through music. This is what makes him a great musician.