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Jazz Fest – First weekend picks

23rd April 2012   ·   0 Comments

By Geraldine Wyckoff
Contributing Writer

A variety of flavors marks Jazz Fest’s first weekend with the sounds of Africa prominently featured. The importance of continuance and remembrance also plays a part in many of the scheduled performances from both national and local artists. Tributes include Irma Thomas honoring our own Mahalia Jackson in the Gospel Tent and a slew or rhythm and blues vocalist who benefited from the great Wardell Quezergue’s stellar arrangements performing some of them in the Blues Tent.

Next generation musicians from Louisiana’s fantastic abundance of musical families — Ford, Paulin, Sharif, Joseph, French, Jordan, Pay­ton, Delafose, Carrier, Wil­liams, Chenier, Landrum – carry on traditions or in some cases take the music to another level.

With all that’s offered, remember an always good motto: “When in doubt, go to the Gospel Tent – it always swings.”

Friday, April 27, 2012
National Fav: Cubano Be, Cubano Bop: Poncho Sanchez & His Latin Jazz Band featuring Terence Blanchard, Jazz Tent, 5:30. In 1947, worlds collided in a most marvelous way. Cuban-born conguero Chano Pozo met jazz trumpeter Dizzy Gillespie in New York City and the result was heard on their collaborative album, Cubano Be, Cubano Bop. In recognition of this historic duo and the music they composed and performed, conga player and bandleader Poncho Sanchez and New Orleans trumpeter Terence Blanchard – both Grammy Award winners in their own right – released the 2011 CD, Chano y Dizzy! Even those not fully versed in Afro-Cuban jazz should recognize the melodies of such standards as Pozo’s “Manteca” and Gillespie’s “Con Alma.” Sanchez’s steaming band back the the two masters on jazz you can dance to.

Local Fav: The Electrifying Crown Seekers, Gospel Tent, 11:15 a.m. The Crown Seekers, as the group from Marrero was known before it added its aptly descriptive adjective, “electrifying,” should prove better than a cup of espresso for getting the blood moving on this opening day and set. The group, founded in 1965, offers a taste of country-style gospel before the leader and original member James Williams Sr. gets down for some testifying. The always-awaited highlight is when the ensemble’s “secret weapon,” Greg Sanders, takes over the mic bringing his incredible falsetto to “Walk Around Heaven” and then goes up for the high notes.

Definitely Worth Checking Out: Texas Tornados, Fais Do-Do Stage, 5:30. Texas Tornados fans from around the world can sing every word of the all-star group’s first, self-titled, Grammy-winning album. It’s one of those rare discs with not a weak sister (brother) to be found – “Hey Baby, Que Paso,” “Loredo Rose” and on. It was pure genius to combine the accordion of king of the Tex-Mex style, Flaco Jimenez, the soulful vocals of Freddy Fender, steel guitarist Doug Sahm and keyboardist Augie Meyers. (The latter two also worked together in the Sir Douglas Quintet.) Sadly, the world has lost Fender and Sahm though the music lives on with Sahm’s son, Shawn ably filling his father’s big spot. Jimenez, the son of the legendary Santiago Jimenez, is a giant of the Tejano style and has won multiple Grammy Awards for his own work.

Personal Fav: Seun Kuti & Egypt 80, Congo Square Stage, 3:25. Vocalist and saxophonist Seun Kuti is the youngest son of the renowned Afrobeat originator Fela Kuti. When his father died in 1997, he took over his band, Egypt 80. As leader, he continues Fela’s legacy both stylistically and in keeping its political and social messages. Like reggae, Afrobeat delivers highly danceable music while the lyrics remind one of the world’s inequities. Seun performs material from his father’s as well his own pen. And, oh yeah, it can get funky.

Saturday, April 28, 2012
National Fav: Bobby Rush, Blues Tent, 4:25. Actually, vocal and guitar dynamo Bobby Rush could be considered a local favorite as he was born in Homer, Louisiana. The energetic Rush, 76, left his home state for Chicago in 1953 though his penchant for soul blues and entertaining, still reflect his roots here. A signature of his shows is when he brings out and dances with his booty-endowed dancing ladies.

Local Fav: The Gospel According to Jazz, Jazz Tent, 6:00. Fans welcome back to the scene, Lady BJ, the New Orleans Tony and Grammy winner who had spent time recovering from a stroke. For this set, she’ll employ her know-how, exuberance and warmth to gospel material delivered in a jazz style. That the two genres are closely linked can be particularly realized in this city’s traditional brass bands. Also onboard for the performance are Danon Smith, Yolanda Williams and Judy Davis.

Definitely Worth Checking Out: Cheikh Lo of Senegal, Congo Square Stage, 1:40. Cheikh Lo boasts a knockout voice. The Senegalese native enlists its power and range on original material that draws from an array of influences. Donning dreadlocks and often offering up some reggae along with Afro-beat, this world-renowned artist is often mistaken for a Rastafarian. The vocalist also draws from his early appreciation of Cuban music.

Personal Fav: Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Jazz Tent 2:40. To paraphrase R&B great, Ernie K-Doe, Irvin Mayfield may be cocky but he’s good. The talented trumpeter knows how to put things together as displayed in NOJO where some of this city’s finest musicians are prepared for tight ensemble work and free-flowing solos. Mayfield draws on classics from Duke Ellington, resurrects material from the late bandleader Clyde Kerr Sr. and puts his own pen to work. A set by this stunning ensemble never fails to elevate.

Sunday, April 29, 2012
National Fav: Al Green, Congo Square Stage, 5:40. Some will remember the days when Al Green, the soulful hit-maker of such now classic tunes as “Love & Happiness” and “Here I Am, Come and Take Me,” refused to sing secular material and would only perform gospel classics even at an outdoor stage at Jazz Fest. While the reverend still maintains his faith and performs at his Full Gospel Tabernacle Church in Memphis, the legend now pleases his many, many fans by offering his classics and handing or throwing roses to the faithful.

Local Fav: Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews, Acura Stage, 1:45. Trombone Shorty needs no introduction in his hometown of New Orleans. We’ve watched him from the time when his ‘bone was bigger than he was. He added vocals and trumpet to repertoire and grew as a bandleader of his group Orleans Avenue. Since the release of his two hot discs on Verve Forecast, Backatown and True, the 26-year-old streetwise musician and New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) graduate is equally regaled and loved around the world.

Worth Checking Out: Janelle Monae, Gentilly Stage, 5:35. When asked the question, “Who is your greatest influence?,” Janelle Monae immediately and ardently replied, “James Brown!” That aspect can be appreciated in the Grammy-nominated rhythm and blues vocalist’s stage presence, sense of drama and towering pompadour hair style. Always clad in a refined, form-fitting tuxedo, the 26-year-old vocalist, whose stark delivery gives the music a futuristic edge, can put down some dance moves too. Her talents gained further attention at the BET and Grammy award shows.

Personal Fav: Nicholas Payton with Vincent Archer and Jeff “Tain” Watts, Jazz Tent, 5:40. Trumpet master Nicholas Payton never stops exploring the music. So it’s always best to expect the unexpected from Payton though his great chops, tone, imagination and roots always reign. He’s joined by two exceptional musicians who have plenty of connections to this city. Bassist Vincent Archer gained early recognition performing and recording with saxist Donald Harrison Jr. Drummer Jeff “Tain” Watts joined the Wynton Marsalis Quintet in 1981 and moved on to the Branford Marsalis Quartet in 1989. Watts, a real giant, has also released some super solid albums as leader.

This article originally published in the April 23, 2012 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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