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Best of the Second Weekend of Jazz Festival

13th May 2013   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

Rain, cold, mud and crowds caused many detours in musical routes during the second, four-day weekend at the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. Only those who attended the fest in the early years when all the stages were located on the infield and improved drainage had yet to be installed can remember the Fair Grounds in such a muddy mess as they were particularly on Friday and Saturday. It’s also highly doubtful that it was ever so cold. It looked so odd to see folks dressed in, “long-sleeved pants,” as they call them in Belize, and jackets rather than shorts and T-shirts. It was a no-sweat Jazz Fest.

An increasing trend in the Mardi Gras Indian gangs is to augment the chanting and percussion with additional instrumentation for stages shows and particularly at Jazz Fest sets. During the wonderful tribute to the recently deceased Big Chief Iron Horse of the Black Seminoles a large number of Indians from throughout the Black Indian Nation gathered with their melodies enhanced by a guitar and piano. The honored chief’s cousin, Chief Kevin Goodman of the Flaming Arrows told many a tale singing, “When he dropped that morning, turned my world around.” The audience was privileged to experience this passionate testimonial that stood as much more than a performance but a glimpse into the Black Indian experience.

Later, on the same intimate Jazz & Heritage Stage, Fi-Yi-Yi and the Mandingo Warriors was backed by a full horn section as it was on some of the tunes on its recently released, self-titled EP. Chief Victor Harris resplendent in his beautiful yellow suit was having fun backed by some of this city’s finest jazz musicians including trumpeters Irvin Mayfield and Leon “Kid Chocolate” Brown, saxophonist Calvin Johnson and trombonist Michael Watson. Watson’s solo on “Indian Red” really brought a different flavor to the Indian hymn.

Kidd Jordan made a triumphant return to Jazz Fest working with a band that was primarily made up of his longtime creative jazz aces – drummer Alvin Fielder, bassist William Parker and pianist Joel Futterman plus his nephew Maynard Chatters Jr. hidden behind though heard on an upright piano. Despite their years, these veteran musicians brought a tremendous youthful spirit of adventure, enthusiasm, power and stamina to every note.

After an hour delay, due, it was said, to try to make some repairs to the sodden Fair Grounds, it was refreshing to hear the laid-back, reggae of Jamaican Bushy One String, whose name describes his guitar-like instrument. The Jazz Fest made some shift in the schedule with many folks glad that Corey Henry & Treme Funktet, which was to open the Congo Square Stage, wasn’t eliminated. “It takes some real soldiers…” Henry said of those who didn’t let the rain, cold and horrible mud stop them from coming to the Fest. The trombonist led a large band with a big sound that included strong showings by Travis “Trumpet Black” Hill and guitarist Bert Cotton on both original, funked up and standard material. It takes some doing to make the too often performed tune, “House of the Rising Sun” new again. Henry’s tonally beautiful solo gave the song a poignant eeriness and sadness making his version one of the best in recent memory. If you missed this set, you can catch the Funktet on Friday, May 17 at 5 pm at the Mid-City Bayou Boogaloo. That free festival, held along Bayou St. John runs from Friday, May 17 through Sunday, May 19. Go to www.thebayouboogaloo.com for more information and the complete schedule.

So many reggae artists have abandoned using a horn section substituting electric keyboards to fill in the sound. It’s financially understandable for many yet still regretful. Jimmy Cliff, a legend and innovator in reggae music, brought on the horns and gave a performance much in the style of an old rhythm and blues shows that inspired so many ska and reggae artists from Jamaica. The very agile vocalist strutted, danced and colorfully spun around the stage offering up hit after hit most of which came, as always, with a socially conscious message. He changed the lyrics of “Vietnam” to “Afghanistan” and peace and love was in the air during his moving “Many Rivers to Cross.”

Starting any day at the Gospel Tent is always a good idea. The old-school style of The Wimberly Family with the veteran singers out front testifying, the younger generation providing solid support in the band and a woman playing bongos – now that’s a rarity especially in gospel – heated the tent right up. A treat was that the audience got to hear the amazing falsetto of Greg Sanders who is best recognized with the Electrifying Crownseekers. Inexplicably the group wasn’t booked this year despite being a favorite at the Fest for 30 years.

Fleur Debris Superband sounds like a name that pianist David Torkanowsky cooked up. Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t but he stirred the superior ingredients with George Porter Jr. on bass, Zigaboo Modeleste on drums (both of Meters fame) and Nicholas Payton on trumpet/flugelhorn and keyboards plus guest saxophonist Derek Douget. Under the direction of Tork, the band of New Orleans natives were free to take the jazz out, bring it back to a modal form, recognize composers like Harold Battiste and end with the Meters’ hit, “Be My Lady” sung by Porter. The perfect ending for a perfect set.

The Brass-A-Holics Go-Go Brass Funk Band took command of the Acura Stage early on Sunday. Visually, the members looked sharp with their white pants and black shirts that sported the group’s name in a design that looks like a New Orleans street sign. Strong choreography enhanced the visual impact on the big stage. The arrangements were tight on original tunes like “Real Good Night” as well as jazz brass standards with the vocals and instruments right in tune. This is a group to watch and can be caught on Saturday, May 18 at the Bayou Boogaloo.

Wayne Shorter’s set, which was much-anticipated by all jazz fans and had the Jazz Tent abuzz before the first note sounded, began gently and built with joyful determination. All these brilliant musicians – Shorter, pianist Danilo Perez, drummer Brian Blade and bassist John Patitucci – were in on the fun and jazz exploration that traveled from the United States to Africa to Latin shores and even Asia. Shorter spent equal time on tenor and soprano saxophone changing instruments with the ever-changing atmosphere. Simply an amazing performance by amazing musicians.

“St. James Infirmary” was among the tunes Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews performed as he and his band Orleans Avenue historically closed the festival at the Acura Stage for the first time. It’s a classic that Andrews, who is renowned as a pop, funk, rock and brassy jazz player – probably played with the late great musician and mentor Danny Barker. Playing this tune in a repertoire of his more modern works, Andrews demonstrated that he remembers his roots while creating new and exciting branches. Many other next-generation New Orleans musicians at the fest did likewise confirming that this city’s musical canopy continues to flourish.

This article originally published in the May 13, 2013 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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