A musical look back at 2012
26th December 2012 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
It seemed that week after week in 2012 there was a festival of one sort or another happening around the city. Not that anyone’s complaining. Impressively, except for the biggies—the Jazz & Heritage Festival, Essence Festival and the Voodoo Music Experience—most of the events were free.
The addition of the new, spring and fall series of Jazz in the Park really hit the mark in its goal of bringing life back to the long, under-utilized Armstrong Park. The presenters, People United for Armstrong Park, get props for the organization’s imaginative bookings and for truly welcoming long-time Tremé residents to the festivities. Some of the outstanding shows included strong performances from the Africa-meets-New Orleans sound of Africa Brass. Vocalist Stephanie Jordan, undoubtedly being heard by many in attendance for the first time, impressed the audience with her emotional and sophisticated delivery. The Tremé Funktet led by one of this city’s finest trombonists and a Tremé native Corey Henry and featuring the back-on-the-scene trumpeter, Travis Hill, boosted the band’s reputation with its hot set.
This year, the Congo Square Rhythms Festival was also able to take advantage of Armstrong’s Park lovely setting and the opportunity to be presented in the historic area from which it derived its name. A highlight of the fest was the appearance of Congolese soukous guitar master Diblo Dibala. The event, which is presented by the Jazz & Heritage Foundation, debuted its annual Class Got Brass? high school brass band competition with the young musicians parading on the street. The Tremé Creole Gumbo Festival made the move from behind the Foundation’s Rampart Street building to the park this year and featured all brass bands.
While many a brass band member came up in the Tremé, the other styles of music that flourished there such as modern and traditional jazz—think artists like drummer James Black and Shannon Powell—were not represented in this all brass format. Considering all the great modern players in this town, it’s unfortunate that modern jazz has been overlooked when it comes to the Foundation’s community festivals. Of course, its Jazz Journey program provided audiences to one of the most musically exciting concerts of the year when Cuban pianist Chucho Valdes played at the Joy Theater—and it was free.The Ashé Cultural Arts Center, which was very active throughout year, allowed audience to experience the video and audio recording of a mix of New Orleans’ finest musicians and special guests. The project was titled “Our Music Is the Healing Force of the Universe” and included performances by Louisiana-born and Chicago resident percussionist Hamid Drake teamed with old friends saxophonist Kidd Jordan and New York bassist William Parker. Another great teaming on the bill was vocalist Germaine Bazzle with her old music mate vocalist/bassist George French. Lois Dejean was onboard with her family group the Johnson Extension to represent New Orleans’ gospel sound among other participants.
It’s notable that Kidd Jordan, a true New Orleans treasure as both an expressive jazz artist and educator, played locally more often this year than in recent memory. He blew with jazz giant saxophonist David Murray at Café Istanbul—another hot spot in 2012—as part of the Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong Summer Jazz Camp benefit. And, as somewhat of a surprise, Jordan also appeared at the Voodoo Music Experience. Let’s hope this is a trend.
Davell Crawford, who bounces between New York and New Orleans, performed much more often in his hometown this year primarily playing at Snug Harbor. Comfortable in the Frenchmen Street club, the keyboardist and vocalist would mix his programs up – sometimes solo, sometimes in an ensemble – and hit on various genres. For his tribute to Fats Domino, Crawford kept strictly to Domino’s songbook and was backed by a simpatico group complete with the essential horn section.
There are certain musicians that bring excellence and imagination to absolutely every show and should not be missed. Drummer Herlin Riley, who since leaving Wynton Marsalis’ orchestra plays regularly at Snug Harbor, is in that number. It was an inspired move for him to invite saxophonist James Rivers, who isn’t heard enough these days, to a gig that resulted in a warm sound reminiscent of some of New Orleans modern jazz from the past. Riley was also behind the drums on several occasions with organist Ike Stubblefield. Presently residing in Atlanta, Stubblefield appears to be this city’s latest “adoptee” as he keeps turning up for some hard-driving gigs on his big B-3. At the Blue Nile he impressed in a trio that included guitarist Grant Green Jr. and drummer Terence Higgins.
John Boutte is another artist who makes every show special with his talent and soulfulness. The d.b.a remains a perfect setting for his Saturday night shows. It’s interesting how that club can absolutely transform as it moves from an acoustic jazz venue to a dance hall. The place goes wild when the powerful hill country blues drummer and vocalist Cedric Burnside, the grandson of the legendary guitarist R.L. Burnside, takes the stage. Speaking of the blues, guitarist/vocalist Lil’ Buck Sinegal really romped at the Blues & BBQ Festival at Lafayette Square. Sinegal, a master of the Telecaster, displayed his stylistic range and decades of playing in varying styles. The Lafayette native offered up pure Baton Rouge blues, hit on a bit of zydeco (he played for 14 years with King Clifton Chenier and also with Buckwheat Zydeco), threw in Santos and Johnny’s hit “Sleep Walk” and even gave the crowd some Chuck Berry.
It’s impossible to look back on 2012 without thinking about those we lost as they gave so much to us. “Uncle” Lionel Batiste offered his fans one last laugh, one last gift when he requested to “lay in state” standing up. The ensuing second line and those that took place throughout the week following his passing represented the joy he shared – the joy of music.
This article was originally published in the December 24, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper