Last November. BB King’s Blues Club. Times Square, New York City.

A lanky man enters the spotlight from Stage Left. His crinkled brown suit falls loosely over his lean frame; his eyes are lost beneath the brim of a matching hat. With his gray beard and twitchy mouth, he looks a little like the character Grady from “Sanford & Son.”

Gil-Scott HeronIn fact, it’s Gil Scott Heron, the rap forefather and master tribal storyteller.

Initially, the performer defies the expected. Instead of sitting at the keyboard that’s before him, diving into a track from his recent CD I’m New Here, or one of the many classic songs from a career spanning more than 40 years, he spends the next 15 minutes standing alone, holding a microphone, and telling jokes. He talks slurrily about bad interviewers, disappearing, and why Black History Month should be moved (because February is hard to pronounce and, besides, “all kinds of shit starts happening on the 28th that you thought was gonna happen three days later”). He chuckles a lot. And so does the audience, though they’re not quite sure what to make of the spectacle: Is the band late? Is the performer just vamping for time? Is he too wasted to make music tonight? Or is this just part of the act?

Finally, he sits down, bends his long, bony fingers over his piano’s keys and starts to sing. First it’s “Winter In America,” which bubbles forth with familiar beauty and quiet rage. Relief fills the room: Gil Scott Heron can still captivate with a few well-paced chords and his smooth-as-sandpaper tenor. Despite his reputation as a provocative poet, his voice these days is a laid-back, gravely croon which is still quite flexible. Heron’s compelling set came mostly from the past, including the emotional testament “Pieces of A Man,” the title track of his first landmark studio album. Backed by percussion, flute, sax, harmonica and a second keyboard, he also performed the tender “I’ll Be There for You” from I’m New Here. All were anchored by the fact that Gil Scott Heron is first and foremost a great writer and gifted storyteller.

At one point he mused, “We have a large catalog of tunes that I did not practice.” More chuckles. He ends the show with an extended version of “The Bottle,” which featured fiery piano and percussion solos. There was ultimately no “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised” or “Johannesburg.” The artist left the stage after raising his arm in triumph and declaring, “Thank you! My name is Gil Scott Heron.” He never came back.