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2015’s ‘Best live shows’ in N. O.

28th December 2015   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

One of the most remarkable aspects of this year’s best live performances in New Orleans is that so many of the shows were absolutely free. (There was no cover/admittance charge at the first seven events listed here.) A number of them were also held in the daytime or early evening making them accessible to workers with day jobs as well as children. Those old excuses of not going out because of prohibitive cover charges or that live music starts too late at night just don’t hold up in New Orleans.

You have to give it to Benny Jones, the leader of the Treme Brass Band. A mild-mannered man and acute business person who primarily plays bass drum these days, Jones has kept the quality of this group high despite changes in personnel. At the new Treme Festival, an event that benefited St. Augustine Church, the unit was particularly hot on a cold October day. Jones’ nephew, trombonist Corey Henry and trombonist Terrance “Tapp” Taplin challenged each other from opposite sides of the stage that was set up on Henriette Delille St. “Uncle Benny” was obviously enjoying himself and even played rhythm on a couple of spoons.

When the Treme and Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet were double-billed at the Jazz in the Park series, held in the heart of the Treme neighborhood in Armstrong Park, they showed how it’s done in the 6th Ward. Friends, fans and neighbors got down.

Guitarist/banjoist/vocalist Detroit Brooks put a dream band together for his appearance at the Nickel-A-Dance series presented at Frenchmen Street’s Maison. Roderick Paulin showed his abilities on both saxophone and clarinet depending on the style required as the group moved easily between New Orleans classic jazz and rhythm and blues. Gregg Stafford is always one to push the envelope as both a trumpeter and vocalist. He sang a hilarious rendition of the chestnut “Moonlight Bay” all in the upper register of his voice. From outside the door, some people thought a woman had taken the stage.

With a name like Mike Dillon’s New Orleans Punk Rock Percussion Consortium curiosity was the first draw to catch the band at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo. On arrival to the stage, the next lure was seeing the amazing number of instruments onboard. Then the music began – what a sound. Dillon along with Jason Marsalis manned the vibes with numerous percussionists including drummers Stanton Moore and Simon Lott, steel pan player Daria Dzurik and many, many more offering tunes that were melodic as well as rhythmic. Catch it next time around.

The Wine Down Jazz Up! series at the French Quarter’s Tableau restaurant has shone like a crown in the city’s musical offerings this year. Hosted each Thursday evening by David Torkanowsky, the pianist invited some of the best jazz artists in the city to join him. Trumpeter Nicholas Payton appeared regularly – a real treat hearing him play in such as small venue – and the drummers have been top-notch with Herlin Riley, Jamison Ross, Shannon Powell, Jason Marsalis and Simon Lott.

The Treme Creole Gumbo Festival was impressive in that it brought to the stage in Armstrong Park some legendary ensembles. The Onward Brass Band, which was once led by such luminaries as drummer Paul Barbarin, clarinetist Louis Cottrell and drummer/bassist Placide Adams, had been dormant for some time. It was resurrected in fine form by next-generation trumpeter Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown. The frontline was strong with trombonist Lucien Barbarin, a nephew of Paul, trumpeter Kevin Louis and clarinetist Tom Fischer. The mighty Onward rises again!

While we hail our homegrown artists, it’s instructive and refreshing to hear musicians from beyond our borders. The Crescent City Blues & BBQ Festival provided an opportunity to check out two guitarists and vocalists from Mississippi. Up first was McComb’s Mr. Sipp who hit on a lot of soul classics along with playing downhome blues. The younger Jarekus Singleton, worked the big stage at Lafayette Square primarily playing original material with a modern edge. Think in the terms of bluesman Robert Cray.

Stevie Wonder’s “Songs in the Key of Life” performance at the Smoothie King Center was like a dream come true for those who consider his 1976 album of the same name his greatest achievement. The arena, the perfect setting with its somewhat intimate feel, seemed to sway when the singer/pianist/composer struck up “Isn’t She Lovely.” The night ended triumphantly with folks on their feet dancing to his funky “Superstition.” Come back, Stevie!

Okay, Deacon John celebrated his 75th birthday at Tipitina’s though he turned 74 on June 23, 2015. That just means we can party all over again next year. A power outage delayed the show but that was okay too. Everybody just hung out on that famous corner of Tchoupitoulas Street and Napoleon Avenue like back in the day. Deacon, looking sharp as usual, didn’t play as much guitar as he once did but he was in great voice. He just keeps getting better all the time.

Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts, one time rhythm master with trumpeter Wynton Marsalis, also got a little combo action though he was in town to play at Snug Harbor and record with trombonist Delfeayo Marsalis’ Uptown Orchestra. Watts led a quintet at the Prime Example where he set the place afire with his stick work. Saxophonists Khari Allen Lee and Derek Douget took up the call.

Speaking of the Marsalis clan, the Branford Marsalis Quartet made a very rare appearance in town performing at Snug Harbor for an unprecedented four-night stand. The saxophonist and his quartet lived up to its reputation as one of the best jazz ensembles on the planet. Just great players doin’ what they do.

Kudos to all of this city’s brass bands who keep the Sunday afternoon social aid and pleasure club anniversary parades rollin’ on the streets.

This article originally published in the December 28, 2015 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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