Friday, April 30, 2010

Aretha cancels Jazz Fest show

Aretha Franklin pulled out of her scheduled performance Friday at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. Earth Wind and Fire will replace her on the bill. Highlight for me is the Mardi Gras Indian Orchetsra making its first Jazz Fest appearance.
Thursday's festival was a beautiful kickoff for the second weekend. The weather was absolutely spectacular and the 101 Runners brought down the spirits. Great band, with a new album just out featuring an incendiary performance on lead guitar from June Yamagishi.
Amanda Shaw continues to grow and sounded great on the Gentilly stage, especially with Trombone Shorty backing her up. Please, Amanda, keep doing what you do and stop with the covers of "Devil Went Down to Georgia" and "Should I Stay Or Should I Go." It's frustrating to see someone as talented as yourself making like a Bourbon Street cover band. Of course if you stuck around to see Elvis Costello and Allen Toussaint close out the day with versions of "Going Down the Road Feeling Bad," "The Race Is On" and -- of all things -- "Happy" you might well ask why I'm picking on you. And you'd have a point.
Bad idea of the day: Steve Martin. The comedian/amateur banjo picker played a desultory set enlivened only by the shtick of "King Tut." Spend some more time at the Fais Do Do stage, Steve, before you come back and try that again.
It's been so hot at the Blue Nile they should have fire trucks outside at all times. Tuesday night Dr. John was messing -- the place finally cleared at 7am -- Wednesday was the "Radiators Reincarnation," a recapitulation of wild days at the Dream Palace, which the Blue Nile was once called. Thursday night local band Doctor Gonzeaux played a terrific warmup set for an off the scale night of Trombone Shorty, who is all over town during Fest as usual.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Josh Charles channels Booker

I keep hearing raves about Josh Charles from New Orleans musicians. I've seen him a couple of times with his band and thought he was very talented but didn't get the full picture. Last night he played two solo piano sets at Checkpoint Charlie and I finally got it. Got why Cyril Neville compares him to James Booker. Got why Dr. John took a personal interest in tutoring him. Got why James Andrews chose him to be in his Crescent City All-Stars band at Jazz Fest, which was one of the high points of the first weekend. At Checkpoint, Charles played Allen Toussaint's "Life," a terrific vehicle for Booker. Charles seemed to channel the Bayou Maharaja under the full Taurus moon, his fingers dancing across the keyboards, producing clusters of sound with an otherwordly cadence. The normally boistrous Checkpoint crowd, which swelled to capacity as he played with all the shutters opened to Esplanade Avenue, hung on every note and showered him with applause at the end. People were throwing twenty dollar bills into the tip bucket.
It was the first solo piano gig Charles has ever played in New Orleans.
It won't be the last.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Fest season rolls on

Just walked out of Louisiana Music Factory where Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue played a spectacular showcase of material from the new album Backatown. "Something Beautiful," which Lenny Kravitz guests on, was a high point. The crowd already knows the shout-outs for "Hurricane Warning." Allen Toussaint's "On the Way Down" fits well with this material. And the title track really smokes. It's amazing how tight and professional Orleans Avenue is. Musicians know what to do in New Orleans, but the lo fi logistics of the small, informal stage at the Music Factory make for easygoing performances. But Shorty's band was letter perfect, the sound balance was extraordinary, and everything went like clockwork.
Monk Boudreaux Jolly House and Cyril Neville are still on tap.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Weather throws another curve at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest fans unfamiliar with the unpredictability of south Louisiana weather got a real shock the last couple of days when the forecast was bass ackwards. Friday was supposed to be OK; Saturday promised tornados. The prognosis was so dire that a number of local bands were told their Saturday shows would be canceled. As it turned out it rained for most of the Fest Friday but the weather turned beautiful on Saturday. The tornados were as bad as predicted but the system missed New Orleans.
The radar screens are clean heading into Sunday, which promises to be a banner finale to the first weekend. Marc Stone, whose just-released album Trickeration and Rascality is well worth a listen, opens up the Acura Stage. Acura has a powerhouse lineup Sunday continuing with a doubleheader from Tab Benoit, first with Louisiana LeRoux then with Voice of the Wetlands. The Levon Helm Band follows with what will undoubtedly be a superb moment leading up to headliners the Allman Brothers.
Congo Square also boasts a killer lineup with Donald Harrison followed by King Sunny Ade, Juan Luis Guerra y 440 and Anita Baker. At the Blues Tent James Andrews and the Crescent All Stars will be followed by the Radiators playing a special set of pre war blues songs. Elsewhere, Theresa Andersson, Marcia Ball and Susan Cowsill all perform on different stages, the Blind Boys of Alabama are at the Gospel Tent and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux leads the Golden Eagles Mardi Gras Indians to the Jazz and Heritage Stage. There are a number of other great sets scheduled but you can't be everywhere at once.

Rain or rain at Jazz Fest

Jazz Fest has always brought a temporary influx of people to New Orleans from around the world, a pilgrimage that roughly doubles the city in size for the 11 days of the festival. Even if it's just for this small window of time, these people have adopted the city and consider it home. It's interesting to listen to the conversations, like the couple from Toronto I heard comparing notes with vistors from Colorado about dozens of local restaurants. They definitely knew what they were talking about. Now that Treme is showing how the magician does all his tricks everyone will be an expert on New Orleans. That can only help the city in the long run, and if you're a local and don't like the influx of tourists, you can sit home and listen to the festival on the radio, which is pretty cool, too.

Day One was a wonderful waterlogged world, although I can imagine some folks being a little upset that their ticket turned out to be for a water park more than a music festival. That's why they call it rain or shine.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Synth turns 40

Easter 2010 is the 40th anniversary of the first-ever live public performance with a MiniMoog.

On Easter Sunday 1970, David Borden and Steve Drews of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. - the world's first synthesizer ensemble --performed "Easter" (Borden's first tonal pulse-piece composed for the Moog) to audiences at Cornell University's Sage Chapel, in Ithaca, NY. They used the MiniMoog prototype, thanks to Bob Moog.

For Borden's reminiscence of this event, see his website:

Across the decades, Borden continued to lead Mother Mallard, whose synth instrumentation would expand to include additional electric and acoustic instruments -- and notably, Apple's new personal computers and eventually, laptop Macs. From his first days employed as the keyboardist to Cornell's dance program, Borden would eventually become Head of Cornell University's new Digital Music Program. Effectively, his career and the work of Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Company formed a living bridge from Moog and the Analog Age to the days of Apple and Digital music -- the missing link, if you will, between MiniMoogs and iPods.

Recordings from Mother Mallard Portable Masterpiece Co. have been reissued by Cuneiform records as *Mother Mallard's Portable Masterpiece Co. 1970-1973" -- which includes "Easter"[19:23] -- and *Like a Duck to Water*,--which includes a Quicktime movie featuring Mother Mallard in its early, Moog-based days.

As a composer, Borden would go on to create some of the most significant Minimalist works of the 20th C. -- equal to the works of Riley, Glass and Reich, despite the fact that Borden has never been as widely known as those acclaimed masters. Critics have called Borden's "Countinuing Story of Counterpoint" series, released in a series of 3 CDs on Cuneiform, "the Goldberg Variations of Minimalism". Now retired from his Digital Music position at Cornell, Borden continues to compose prolifically today, and to perform live with his ongoing group Mother Mallard.

For Mother Mallard/David Borden works on Cuneiform, please see:

On April 17th, David Borden will be performing with Josh Oxford at the Museum of Making Music in Carlsbad, CA, as part of the "Waves of Inspiration" exhibit -- the first exhibit of artifacts from the Bob Moog's archives. Borden, on the MiniMoog Voyager, and Oxford, on the MiniMoog Model D, will perform Borden's landmark 1970 work "Easter" as well as his new composition "Dreams of Jimmy (in memory of Jimmy Guiffre)" The concert will be at 7pm.

Earlier on the 17th, at 1pm, Borden will lead a tour of the Moog exhibition with the exhibit's curator, Tatiana Sizonenko.

For more on the Borden concert and exhibition tour on April 17th, see:

For more on the Moog exhibit, "Waves of Inspiration," see: