From the Jazz Fest to Boogaloo-ing
12th May 2014 · 0 Comments
By Geraldine Wyckoff
Despite all the hoopla about big name acts and the justified anticipation of having the opportunity to hear national artists, New Orleans musicians put on many of the strongest shows during the Jazz Fest’s second weekend.
That trend started on Thursday with the arrival of drummer Stanton Moore of the hard-driving band Galactic fame, making his debut in the Jazz Tent with pianist David Torkanowsky and bassist James Singleton. For a rather light day around the Fair Grounds, this trio, heard on Moore’s excellent new release, Conversations, brought in a big crowd that remained from beginning to end rising only to give the group a standing ovation. As in many situations, Tork could rightfully be called the “instigator” of the band. He would often supply a piano riff that would inspire Singleton’s bass direction and Moore’s rhythmic approach. As the CD’s title suggests, it was as if they were having intimate, joyful conversations.
The Pin Stripe Brass Band, led by snare drummer Herbert McCarver is generally thought of as playing in the tradition. At the Jazz & Heritage Stage, the large ensemble complete with veteran and young musicians on three trombones, two saxophones, three trumpets and congas along with tuba and bass drum, rolled with a more modern flair. “We want to rock with the big stars,” declared McCarver after a rendition of “We Got That Fire!”
At the Economy Hall Tent, trumpeter Mark Braud rightfully dubbed his band the Jazz Giants with monsters like drummer Herlin Riley, pianist Torkanowsky, trombonist Lucien Barbarin, clarinetist Tom Fischer and bassist Neal Caine (from Harry Connick Jr.’s band) onboard. Even the often over-performed “St. James Infirmary” took on a new life with a soulful interpretation with Barbarin’s muted trombone and Fischer’s rich-toned, quite aggressive clarinet. Thumbs up for Braud, the nephew of trumpeter Wendell Brunious, reinventing the lyrics of “Darktown Strutters’ Ball” and singing”Hip hip Strutters’ Ball.” Dig it.
Speaking of Brunious, he stood at the same spot the following day with a strong band playing classic New Orleans jazz including tunes like “Azalea” and “Don’t Forget our Monday Date,” a tune that found a rebirth when Kermit Ruffins and then Bob French played at the now-defunct Donna’s Bar & Grill every Monday night. Pianist Tom Hook impressed many with both his piano and vocal skills.
Wow! Pianist/vocalist Henry Butler with horns! The formal name of this New York-based group is Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9. It’s a new world of sound from Butler who now resides in the Big Apple and has obviously been influenced by its sound and musicians. Though Butler was behind the piano and keyboards at the side of the stage, he was at the center of the music with trumpeter Steven Bernstein directing the ensemble that included saxophones, trombone, bass, violin and our own Donald Edwards on drums. Very urban… Allen Toussaint took over the baby grand to duo with Butler on “Jock-A-Mo.” The band’s debut release will be out in July.
Sunday morning with the legendary Rocks of Harmony, a group that has been going for 64 years, proved again to be inspiring. Old-time gospel is the Rocks specialty with a strong emphasis on vocal harmonies, testifying and dancing at the front of the stage (and, on this day, down on the floor with the audience) and excellent musicianship. The guitarists here stung! As heard on “God’s Got the Power,” these veterans haven’t lost a thing when it comes to screamin’ as several took turns at the microphone. Pianist/vocalist Davell Crawford, who knows a thing or two about gospel music, was in the audience and ended up making an unplanned appearance on organ with the next act, pianist/vocalist Cynthia Girtley.
The Acura Stage was once again Neville-ized on Sunday with the arrival of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. This harmony-heavy, bass-heavy, funk-heavy band that includes Ivan on organ and his cousin Ian on guitar was joined by announced guest, Art “Poppa Funk” Neville dueling with Ivan on organ. Then along came Cyril Neville to kick up the vocals and add tambourine on “Fiyo on the Bayou” and more. The Grooveline Horns punctuated the rhythm of a set that felt at once nostalgic and fresh.
Those adjectives could also be used in describing Chick Corea & the Vigil’s striking performance though, of course, the groups had little else in common beyond excellent musicianship. There was some, hard to define element in Corea’s music that brought to mind the late 1960s or ‘70s. Perhaps it was the abundance of Latin rhythms from the young artists who came from around the globe or the saxophonist’s use of modal forms. “I just call it a potpourri of music,” Corea explained.
The last sets on the last day of Jazz Fest are often bittersweet. As a breeze passed through the open flaps of the Jazz Tent, trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s music seemed to pick up on that open and welcoming atmosphere. We dug that Kendrick Scott’s drums were up on a riser near the front of the stage offering a good look at how he creates his rhythmic magic.
Standing just down from the Jazz Tent the Stooges Brass Band was digging into the lament of “Oh Why?” and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews gave a bow to the Dirty Dozen Brass Band playing its classic “Blackbird Special.”
At the end of the day, it was all about New Orleans.
With one weekend to rest, the New Orleans festival season continues with the Bayou Boogaloo, May 16 through May 18, 2014. The free event that takes place along lovely Bayou St. John in the area near Orleans Avenue begins on Friday evening at 5 p.m. and then on Saturday and Sunday the music starts at 11 a.m. A few highlights include the increasing popular and pretty funky Tank & the Bangas at 4 p.m. on Saturday and one of New Orleans’ finest bassists, Chris Severin, leading a band that features pianist/vo-calist Davell Crawford at 12:15 p.m. on Sunday. Beyond the three stages of music and the relaxing setting by the waterway, there will naturally be lots of food and a kids’ area.
This article originally published in the May 12, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.