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Congo Square New World Rhythms Festival

26th February 2018   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

The title of this free festival, Saturday, March 3, and Sunday, March 4, presented by the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival takes into account the historic nature of Congo Square, where slaves and free people of color were allowed to drum and dance, and the continuum of those rhythms in today’s music. Its theme — as well as the festival’s site — allows for a great diversity of artists including African dance groups, choreographed presentations, brass bands, Mardi Gras Indians and more.

There are some solid favorites on the schedule including the Grammy-winning Rebirth Brass Band closing out Saturday. Both days, where the entertainment goes on from 11 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., begin with a drum circle where participation is welcome. A new group at the fest is the Fufu Allstars (Sat., 1 p.m.), a highly-rhythmic ensemble led by guitarist Sam Dickey that blends jazz with West African highlife. It’s followed by Cuban-born, New Orleans transplant, the hugely talented percussionist Alexey Marti leading his quintet. A mock “Mardi Gras Indian Battle” (Sat., 3:15 p.m.) will rage at the center circle of Congo Square with the Wild Magnolias, Yellow Pocahontas and the Mohawk Hunters Black Indian gangs representing their Uptown, Downtown and West Bank neighborhoods, respectively.

Sunday’s programming boasts a mix of African dance groups early in the afternoon with brass bands taking over in the latter part of the day. For the seventh year, the popular “Class Got Brass” contest where middle and high school brass bands – in separate divisions – compete for the title of “best.” The groups performing in Class Got Brass have a lot to live up to as the contest is sandwiched in the festival’s schedule between the Pinettes Brass Band (Sun., 1:30 p.m.) and the Grammy-nominated Hot 8 Brass Band closing it out at 5 p.m.

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Jasen Weaver
The Voscoville

There’s a certain optimism that opens bassist Jasen Weaver’s album, The Voscoville. The tune, “The Resilient,” one of a dozen penned by the leader, boasts the enthusiasm and energy that is representative of this group of on-the-scene, up-and coming musicians. The all-New Orleans band members include Weaver, trumpeter Stephen Lands, pianist Shea Pierre, tenor saxophonist Miles Berry and drummer A.J. Hall — all of whom will be appearing at Snug Harbor on Thursday, March 1 — plus alto and soprano saxophonist Amari Ansari and pianist Oscar Rossignoli. Saxophonist Derek Douget will be joining the group for the record release party at Snug.

All of these guys have been regularly mixing it up playing on each others’ projects, stepping out on their own and generally enhancing the New Orleans jazz scene. So it’s natural that their collective, invigorating outlook can be realized in the music.

It begins innocently enough with some solid ensemble work by the quintet before it heads to some hard-boppin’ and high-flyin’ notes. Weaver’s bass clearly resonates despite all the goings-on. Here, Shea, who alternates cuts on the album with Rossignoli, is at the piano and, as always, becomes a wow factor, Ansari’s sax keeps the temperature turned up before trumpeter Lands, also a standout, takes it out.

There’s more post-bop to come on “Can’t Get Me” with Berry blowing a confident tenor as pianist Rossignoli comps chords in support. Up steps Lands until the pianist takes over center stage running notes up and down the keyboard. His style is one of both power and beauty. Hall shows no mercy throughout the program, he aggressively goes for it all though always right on time and in good taste.

Things start swinging and gettin’ a bit funky on the title cut, “The Voscoville” with Hall laying down the strategic second-line beat. Incidentally, Voscoville is where Weaver grew up and is one of three “villages” in New Orleans’ Gentilly neighborhood that also includes Pilotland and Sugar Hill. All is not hard-bopppin’ and beautiful ballads to these talented guys – they know how to have a New Orleans good time.

Core to the success of The Voscoville is Weaver’s solid compositions and the coming together of he and these accomplished and compatible musicians. Throughout the history of New Orleans jazz, musicians have mixed it up in different combinations on bandstands and recordings. Weaver and the artists on this album continue the tradition of sharing that is the lifeblood and legacy of this city.

This article originally published in the February 26, 2018 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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