Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Jazz Fest's triumphant first weekend

"Four years ago people said there would be no 40th anniversary of Jazz Fest," the preacher said in a stentorian cadence to the crowd in the Gospel tent on the first weekend of the festival. "But they don't know that JESUS lives in New Orleans!"
It was news to me as well, but it's certainly clear that the whole range of global spirits are pumping their blessings into New Orleans during this remarkable time. Much of the city is still in ruins, but its culture is unassailable, bolstered by an astonishing array of fellow travelers from around the country and all across the world. Bands from Africa, France and Brazil were among the first weekend highlights, and a new generation of local musicians are stepping into the role of carriers of the flame for New Orleans music and for the emperiled future of southern Louisiana in general.
The death of Snooks Eaglin and Eddie Bo, two of the most iconic Jazz Fest performers, expanded the giant loss of the old school New Orleans legends that has accelerated in the aftermath of the hurricane Katrina flood of 2005, leading OffBeat magazine to raise the heretical question: "Is New Orleans R&B dead?" Though most of the practioners of this cherished tradition are indeed gone their music lives on in younger players who are carrying the spirit of their music forward.
Though he no longer resides in New Orleans, Wynton Marsalis has assumed an elder statesman's role in New orleans music. His masterpiece, Congo Square, will be remembered as one of this festivals' highlights, and he also performed a wonderful Duke Ellington tribute with his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, an organization that continues to spotlight talented young jazz musicians from New Orleans.
Other young players stepped up their game at Jazz Fest to fill the giant shoes of their musical forebearers -- Trombone Shorty, Schatzy, Amanda Shaw, Marc Broussard, Benjy Davis and the Pine Leaf Boys all turned in outstanding sets.
The young artist that has shown the most growth since Katrina, though, is Tab Benoit, the Cajun vocalist and guitarist who has become the leading voice for saving the wetlands that are literally all that's left of all southern Louisiana, a landscape that is rapidly being sucked into the Gulf of Mexico by massive erosion.
The organizers of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival have done an outstanding job of linking the city's indigenous music to related sounds from around the world. The first weekend witnessed great performances from South Africa's Hugh Masakela, who plays the flugelhorn with a bright intensity over a bed of African rhythms that are cousin to the pulses heard in New Orleans R&B.
France contributed two of the most interesting acts of the weekend, Tarace Boulba, a combination brass band and vocal group that created a sound totally suited to the streets of New Orleans (they also played a late night gig at the Blue Nile) and Bombes2Bal, a stripped down rhythm and voice ensemble from France that used call and response chants, an archaic fiddle, accordion and percussion to fashion a hypnotic dance music. They played at the children's tent and induced nearly the entire crowd to form a giant ring dance in front of the stage.
The music drives relentlessy on. Monday night the new Rock & Bowl hosted a tribute to Snooks Eaglin, who played there regularly, curated by one of the city's greatest musical resources, guitarist Brint Anderson. Anderson skillfully led his own group through several sets of Snooks favorites before bringing up Tab Benoit, Anders Osborne, George Porter Jr. and finally Big Chief Monk Boudreaux to pay tribute to Snooks.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Wynton returns

Wynton Marsalis returned to New Orleans for a spectacular performance of his masterpiece, Congo Square, presented in all its glory in the only truly appropriate setting on Planet Earth, the Congo Square stage at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. The event, which felt like Marsalis was plumbing the deepest roots of his cultural history, was a homecoming for Wynton on a scale with his historic performance of Majesty of the Blues, a turning point in his career. Wyon plays again today with his Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra, and is reportedly going to sit in with Irvin Mayfield tonight at Irvin Mayfield's Jazz Playhouse in the Royal Sonesta Hotel.

Friday, April 24, 2009

New Orleans Jazz Festival opens with strong lineup

The New orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, the world's greatest music festival, begins today. This 40th annual renewal has an incredibly strong lineup that makes creates some very difficult choices. At some point this afternoon I'm going to deviate from my schedule to just circle the Fair Grounds and let whatever is happening hit me.
Friday's MTA: Joe Cocker, Spoon.
Recommended itinerary:
11:15-11:40 High Ground Drifters (Fais Do-Do)
11:45- 12:10 Mem Shannon (Acura)
12:15-12:40 Como Now (Gospel)
12:45-1:15 Connie Jones (Economy Hall)
1:20-1:30 Benji Davis Project (Gentilly)
1:35-2:00 Willis Prudhomme (Fais Do-Do)
2:05-2:30 Semolian Warriors Mardi Gras Indians (Jazz & Heritage)
2:40-3:45 Roy Rogers (Blues)
3:50-4:10 New Orleans Night Crawlers (Jazz & Heritage)
4:15-4:35 Donald Harrison (Jazz)
4:40-7:00 Wynton Marsalis (Congo Square)

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Jazz Fest pumps New Orleans economy

While I still think they should honor Dr. John for speaking his mind instead of browbeating him, the corporate honchos at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival have created a powerful economic engine for the city of New Orleans. Jazz Fest is now the city's signature event alongside Mardi Gras. Check out Jay Mazza's excellent history of the first 20 years of the fest:

http://www.louisianaweekly.com/news.php?viewStory=1227 =

Monday, April 20, 2009

French Quarter Fest Day Three

Wow. Tom McDermott, a true New Orleans piano hero. The Nightcrawlers, a band started by McDermott but now on their own, once again featuring the great sousaphonist Matt Perrine. Jason Mingledorff on saxophones. Davis Rogan leading 100 kids from the International School in awesome versions of "What A Wonderful World" and "Mardi Gras Mambo." Some of the city's best known names could learn a lesson in sincerity from the emotional commitment the kids brought to those songs. Alvin the tray player from Pat O'Brien's jamming with the Bucktown All Stars. Trombone Shorty, whose charisma seems to grow daily, blistering the paint off the hulls of passing tankers with the intensity of his band's sound. The Radiators closing it all out like only they can do. It was unfortunate timing for Gambit's Music Awards to be taking place at the same time as French Quarter Fest. It was even more unfortunate that the Radiators walked over after finishing their gig only to be snubbed in the voting for Best Rock Band, an award which was unjustly presented to Rotary Downs, a fine band but simply not in the same league as the Radiators. On the plus side, Gambit publisher Clancy DuBos gave a stirring speech denouncing Gov. Boobie "Earthquake" Jindal's jerkwater pogrom against public arts funding. Boobie must have nightmares about "Pisschrist" showing up at a local museum. Inherit the wind, Boobie. Clint Maedgen was really entertaining as the show's main host and scene stealer. Art Neville was cracking the audience up with his ad libs and lack of interest in the teleprompter script. "I can't even see that thing," Art said.
The most spectacular moment of the night was Theresa Andersson's performance, a stunningly cutting edge and creative showcase of her vocal, instrumental and electronic skills. The crowd ate it up. Theresa continues to evolve into one of the city's truly original new artists.
Dr. John won a couple of awards and got a chance to answer the corporate critics who've been lambasting him for having the temerity to suggest that Jazz Fest sponsor Shell should bear some of the blame for the destruction of the Louisiana coastline that led to the inundation of New Orleans. Dr John was forced to offer a detailed apology to the Jazz Fest and Shell in Sunday's New Orleans Times Picayune. So much for free speech. But Dr. John had the last word: "If you don't stand for something, you've got nothing to stand on."
Thank you, Mac, and as for Shell, I'd like to know how much of that precious money goes to Louisiana artists as opposed to carpetbagging has beens like Bon Jovi and the usual overpaid corporate executives.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

French Quarter Fest Day Two

Pity the poor musicians who had to play opposite the Lost Bayou Ramblers Saturday at the U.S. Mint. Not only did the Ramblers draw everyone to their stage, they had a huge crowd backed up on Barracks Street. The band is the latest example of a new generation of Louisiana roots music, a hybrid of Cajun, Zydeco and rock sensibilities. The fiddler saws away in the great bayou tradition, but the way the bassist slaps and sunders his upright goes right past punk, back to rock's ancient roots in rockabilly. Shades of Jay Miller's Crowley studio!
Big ups for Fatien, another terrific hybrid of African drumming with local musicians including Dr. Michael White on clarinet, Jason Marsalis on vibraphone and Michael Skinkus on drums. Marc Stone is out of this world on steel guitar in this lineup.
The original Hurrican Brass Band ought to make commercials for the chamber of commerce. "We want you to go back to the rest of the United States," they told the crowd, "and tell them New orleans is back." As if to put an exclamation point on the message, the band proceeded to play "Back Home in Indiana."
Though they're not part of the Fest, check out the Shufflin' Crustaceans at the Crazy Lobster.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

French Quarter Fest

French Quarter Fest began with a bang Friday as two of the best acts in the whole lineup, Marc Stone and Brother Tyrone, kicked off the proceedings at 11 am Friday. Stone, a great guitarist and songwriter, played some of the outstanding new material from his forthcoming album. Brother Tyrone has been around forever but is just breaking outwith his great classic soul sound. French Quarter Fest has become a Godzilla monster since its halcyon days as a laid back festival for the locals on the streets of the French Quarter. Back then the music was almost all traditional jazz and brass band music, but today it's a sweeping reflection of Louisiana music in which the French Quarter stages are completely swamped by the massive crowds gathered along the river and at the U. S. Mint. My Friday highlights included the great young Cajun band Feufollet, the Soul Rebels, and The Posse, a terrific band led by drummer Kevin O'Day and bassist Reggie Scanlan, featuring the incomparable Tim Green on tenor. Really enjoyed the Tin Men, driven by the amazing percussion work of Washboard Chazz, Matt Perrine's virtuoso sousaphone playing and the great songwriting and guitar playing of Alex McMurray. Perrine had a great time answering the bellowing blasts from the Steamboat Natchez as it left the dock. The interaction of the river and the music is one of the most endearing things about French Quarter Fest. There are some very cool little hangouts associated with the whole deal as well, like the back garden of MRB on St. Philip Street, where international traditional jazz bands realize their dream of playing New Orleans jazz in the Crescent City in front of exuberant crowds that are well oiled with New Orleans jazz juice.