|Words by: B Getz | Additional Reporting by Jessica Dore
Jazz Fest At Night | 04.3008 – 05.04.08 | New Orleans, LA
There is nothing in the world like the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival, a veritable smorgasbord of music, culture, food, costume, people and energy, native to the Crescent City but descended upon by folks from the four corners of the globe. This year was particularly special as it was the first time since Hurricane Katrina that the festival returned to seven full days at the Fairgrounds. The numerous events that take place at night (and well into the wee hours of the morning) throughout the duration of the festival are of equal interest to many festivalgoers. This year was no different with after dark voodoo madness restoring an authentic NOLA vibe to a glorious scene. For those who may have missed our coverage from the Fairground check it out here, and for those looking to hear more about the late night freakout times, read on…After a lengthy drive from Florida’s First Coast in the early morning hours of Wednesday, April 29, this writer arrived in Crescent City and made a beeline directly to the French Quarter’s Blue Nile for a unique grouping of NOLA and NYC musicians calling themselves The Quartet. As is the norm at Jazz Fest, these disparate-yet-connected musicians displayed a kinetic kinship. Adam Deitch and Big Sam (of Funky Nation fame) led the charge through an endless songbook of funk headnodders. Ian Neville (Dumpstaphunk) joined in on the fun, along with Neville Brothers bassist/NOLA stalwart Nick Daniels, making their respective presences felt throughout this extended weekend of musical gluttony. The Quartet’s slamming, nonchalant performance was filled with classic funk jams, Deitch’s lead bass pedal driving things. Big Sam was his usual humorous self, rocking trombone solos and swaying his considerable mojo around the room.
The grimy Quartet funk jam was followed by another of the weekend’s breakout stories, The New Mastersounds. This throwback group of Englishman had their rare groove down tight, and invited Karl Denson to sit in for the majority of the set. They were also joined by a pair of bicoastal guitarists, NYC’s Eric Krasno (Soulive) on “Its Your Thing” and the Bay Area’s Will Bernard on “Fireater.” Denson seemed right at home in this relaxed, uninhibited situation.
“The guys are great,” said Denson. “It’s Jazz Fest. I love Jazz Fest. I wanna play in every way, with everybody I can. Spyboy, the Greyboys, these superjams like at the Wolf this year. This is what it’s all about.”Following the natural progression done many times before from Jacquimo’s corn bread and alligator cheesecake straight to cocktails at The Leaf, it was a night of “Mean” Willie Green, Brian Stoltz, Tony Hall and Michael Burkart, aka The Never-Wuz Bros. Such outfits truly make the locals proud, and the “just another night in New Orleans” vibe makes the visitors contemplate relocating. Out from the Neville umbrella, Stoltz, Green and Hall were doing that thing that many New Orleans funk bands do – layering ultra-funky melodies and grooves that work your thigh muscles to create a laidback jam over a super-tight rhythmic backbone. From the “Mean Willie Green Pit” (indicated by neon signage), the drums were always a micro-second ahead of the gang so things didn’t get boring. Burkhart was at his finest. His ingredients were like a good Creole roux, adding just the right thickness behind Stoltz’ melodies. Notables from the first set included Hall’s “Let’s Jam,” Stoltz’ “Norman’s House,” a contemporary southern funk version of Donny Hathaway’s “Voices Inside” and a Led Zeppelin medley.
Darted back to the Quarter for Soulive at One Eyed Jacks. A throwback to glory days of this once-great band, the Soulive Revue was in full swing a la half a decade ago. Sam Kininger, Ryan Zoidis and Rashawn Ross back in the mix, this performance saw the reemergence of keyboardist Neal Evans as de facto bandleader. Highlights included a breakout sit-in from trumpeter Christian Scott, and many older originals, as Soulive kept it mostly instrumental, smooth and damn sexy. Ivan Neville guested on vocals for a climatic “The Message.”
At the new Howlin’ Wolf, the MegaloManiacs Ball was in full swing. Early in the evening, Marco Benevento and Skerik had unleashed respective trios, with Benevento further polishing material from his stellar solo debut, Invisible Baby. Resident percussion maniac Mike Dillon performed with his zany Go-Go Jungle. Next up was Stanton Moore’s Trio, including Robert Walter on organ and Rhodes, and Will Bernard on hollow-body guitar. Moore’s punishing drumming and Walter’s acrobatic handiwork worked the group through myriad original material, with a little Zeppelin thrown in for good measure. The Stanton Moore Trio is not just a haphazardly heaved together super group, but rather a cohesive unit that has only strengthened with time.On the other hand, I would use “haphazard and maybe “unruly” to describe Garage a Trois in 2008. Now utilizing the multiple talents of Benevento (in lieu of original member Charlie Hunter), GAT has progressed into a sinister, demonic collective whose intentions are a far cry from their signature performance eight years ago at the Saenger Theatre (where they blew a much-hyped Oysterhead debut right off the stage). On this evening, the cacophonous sonics and sheer terror within the music made for an eerie, almost fearsome foursome. Relying heavily on chunky newer material, as well as electrified versions of tracks from Outre Mer and a free-jazz ethos that recalled the likes of Pharoah Sanders and Ornette Coleman, GAT drove home a punishing point.
Tipitina’s Uptown hosted a late night event featuring local brass wunderkind Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave. This was a NOLA affair if there ever was one, with Shorty leading his fresh faced yet thorough troupe through a salivating mixture of classic New Orleans melodies and second-line steps. The sold-out crowd was whipped into an all-out frenzy, as Shorty channeled his best Jodeci moves and sultry R&B body talk, undressing amidst pelvic thrusts to the deafening screams of scores of lovely ladies in the house. Like a true jazzman playing a contemporary crowd, Shorty mixed in various Top 40 hits to keep the vibe fresh and relevant. The group delivered renditions of Pharrell Williams’ “Frontin’,” Lenny Kravitz’s “Where Are We Runnin’?” and the funk breakdown from Kravitz’s “Tunnel Vision.” Navigating in and out of James Brown staples, Crescent City classics and all points in between, Shorty was a breakout star of Jazz Fest 2008. Having the “Japanese Jimi” June Yamagishi (Papa Grows Funk) onstage throughout the show didn’t hurt either, as Yamagishi took more than a few mind-bending solos that kept the vibe rockin’. A walloping “When The Saints Go Marching In,” delivered in “rotation-jam” fashion (Shorty on the drum kit, the guitarist on sax, etc.), delivered the sunrise as we two-stepped our way into the morning.Thursday
The evening began with the return of Lettuce proper at the Republic, which is the former Howlin’ Wolf. To say that this was an awakening of sorts would not do it justice. Lettuce only comes together every so often, and just released an album (Rage), linked up with Royal Family Records and welcomed new keyboardists Neal Evans and Nigel Hall. There was a flurry of Jazz Fest activity for the band, and many members found themselves embedded in different combos in the true Fest spirit.It starts and ends with drummer Adam Deitch, whose resume is too long to list and whose reputation precedes him. Going out on a limb, Deitch is the best in the game. The drummer led them through Lettuce joints, several JB’s numbers, and the highlight of the weekend, Nigel Hall’s rendition of the Curtis Mayfield classic “Move On Up.” Although the band calls upon R&B sensation Dwele on their recorded version, Hall made the song his own, getting up from behind the Rhodes to play the energetic frontman. This being his virgin trip to New Orleans, he was clearly a pimp possessed. His stage presence and dynamics added part of what was missing from this band in years past – sexiness and sultriness that transforms them from a Headhunters workout tape (tight as hell, but mechanical) to collar-poppin’, pimp struttin’ swagger. Ironically, it seemed no matter the venue, when guests were called onstage, members of Lettuce were in full effect to throw down. E.D. Coomes, aka Jesus, erstwhile bass player and resident funk yogi, held down the bottom end with Deitch with a boom-bap precision that was simply hard to believe. When Soulive later took the stage, the difference was evident. The torch has clearly been passed.
“Jazz Fest is a spiritual experience. I will never miss it. Watching the Neville Brothers sing ‘Amazing Grace’ was one of many incredible moments,” Coomes said. “I am really happy with the way the scene keeps opening up. Now is the time for all of us to expand on the last 50 years of music, and discover new places where many styles converge. For me, Lettuce is dedicated to keeping ‘the feeling,’ the most monumental element of our art.”Mike Gordon was all over the place at Jazz Fest. During the Russell Batiste And Friends gig at the Howlin’ Wolf, Gordon joined a gang of musicians onstage for a lengthy segment. The show also served as a reunion of sorts for Gordon’s former Phish bandmate Page McConnell joining Batiste and Oteil Burbridge on Vida Blue’s “Most Events Aren’t Planned.”
I shuffled over to the annual Bayou Rendezvous at Howlin’ Wolf, an annual event that takes a new shape each and every year. In essence, it’s an unrehearsed “super-jam” of sorts, where killer players from all over come together for some Cajun ragin’ at the Wolf. This year, Russell Batiste led a troupe of heavy hitters including guitarists Eric Krasno (dude was everywhere), NOLA’s own Leo Nocentelli (The Meters) and others.
A difficult act to follow, relative newcomers Global Noize took the stage with some star power of their own. Taking a break-beat/down-tempo turn, Global Noize set a euphoric tone with a demonstrative performance. Their distinctive sound was enhanced by the turntable tactics of DJ Logic, the classically trained piano virtuosity of Uri Caine, the sax combo of Karl Denson and Topaz (with Denson also on flute) and Mike Dillon’s exotic, erotic vibraphonics. The diversity of Jazz Fest was on full display at the Bayou Rendezvous as Global Noize slithered their way through a snake charming set.
I followed Denson over to the House of Blues for the first of three Greyboy Allstars shows over the weekend. The Thursday HOB late night for KDTU was indeed “the place to be” for the majority of the past decade. Always the scene of the ultimate throwdown, on this night the situation was far different. Only two-thirds full, with the formerly rollicking balcony now closed, GBA ran thru a set of standard fare. There was little in the way of fireworks, dynamic jams or shot-in-the-dark guest spots, and it was hard to tell this was a Jazz Fest show. Many walked away somewhat disappointed well before 5 a.m.
Friday and Saturday
Since the GBA show Thursday night had left a bit to be desired, the spirit of sound led me to Tipitina’s French Quarterfor white-hot jam band The Heavy Pets. Many esteemed colleagues and fellow tour/fest veterans have more than signed off on these guys, however, in limited experiences with them, this writer had not been sold. Boasting a new drummer and a larger catalog, the Pets delivered a positively blistering 75-minute set that displayed the growth, chops and integrity that pulsates through this band. Guitarist-frontman Geoff Lloyd was a man-child possessed, tearing up and down the fretboard with reckless abandon. Like most bands, it starts and ends with the drummer, and the difference here showed. The band tore through their songs with ferocity and a tightness that can only come with a torrid tour schedule. The gem of the band is keyboardist Jim Wuest, whose tasty Rhodes licks and smooth organ washes were the perfect yang to Lloyd’s intense yin. Wuest was the vibrancy and color that often gets lost in jam band shredery. This classiness, and the pure execution of their set, slowly but surely won over the audience. And the enormity of the performance was not lost on Wuest.”That was the most exciting, and gratifying 75-minutes of music I’ve played in as long as I can remember,” said Wuest. “We drove 26 hours, 13 each way, for a 75-minute set. It’s an honor to play in New Orleans at Jazz Fest, especially to an audience who loves music on the level that we do.”
The Pets were followed by the single most electrifying performance of the weekend for this writer, Lettuce’s headlining sets at Tip’s FQ. This was the true coming out party for a well-kept secret, with the crowd littered with a who’s who of the music scene. Neal Evans was a giant, standing at his arsenal of keys like a fat kid at the bakery, a sinful smirk betraying sinister intentions. His original composition “E.Vill” was just a monster, a swirling stomp of neck-snappin’ wickedness with Deitch commanding the brigade with the most militant beats. Krasno stepped out of the smooth box with aggressive, distorted tones on several cuts, wildly thrashing as rhythm cohort Adam ‘Shmeeans’ Smirnoff held down the chicken scratch. Again, it was Nigel Hall who stole the show with his moving dedication to J Dilla, “Song for Dilla”, an homage to the late producer who helmed so many hip-hop and modern R&B classics. This night’s “Move On Up” was for the ages, as the crowd’s decadent costumes, dirty dancing and uninhibited enthusiasm grabbed hold of the blaxploitation landmark and launched it skyward. The energy in the room as that fat brass head soared above the clouds was priceless. Ivan Neville, who seemed to pop up everywhere, got onstage and led the crowd through a few numbers, while trumpeter Christian Scott jumped on for a few killer turns.”To me, Jazz Fest is a spiritual rage,” commented Nigel Hall. “It is spiritual above all else, but it is also a rage. This is my first trip to New Orleans, my first Jazz Fest. I’ve been hearing about this since I was three years old growing up in D.C. It’s an absolute honor to get onstage with these cats, to play this music to these people in this incredible city. I am a long ways from Bangor (Maine, where he lives). This is important to me on a deep, deep level. Seeing Stevie Wonder, for me was like [he trails off, lost for words].” Even for the performers, being part of Jazz Fest is humbling and a potentially otherworldly experience.
Running across the street, I ran into guitarist Brian Jordan, who had played with Particle at Jazz Fest. He explained to me how the new batch of Particle material had diverse guitar parts, and he enjoyed adding his flair to their self-proclaimed “porn-funk.” On this night, however, Jordan was on his way to The Parish to sit in with The New Mastersounds. Deitch, Krasno and others would also join in the Englishmen’s hoedown well into the morning hours.
Next door at the House of Blues, Umphrey’s McGee was serving the NOLA freaks with the first of their two-night, late night stand. Friday, an actor dressed as Andy Kaufman’s Tony Clifton alter ego came onstage a few songs into the group’s second set, jabbering nonsense into the microphone, in character, as the band rocked along with the rant. A few dancers then mounted the stage, including one that did her best Hustler Club routine before being chased away.It is hard to believe that it has been five years since the mammoth Gov’t Mule “Deepest End” concert at Jazz Fest 2003, and it has become an annual Mule celebration of sorts when the boys hit Jazz Fest. This year saw numerous guests join the band on both Friday and Saturday nights at the Contemporary Arts Center. Mike Gordon teamed up with Particle’s Steve Molitz for a huge “Loser” > “Terrapin Station Jam” > “Loser” sandwich during Friday’s second set. Umphrey’s Jake Cinninger got a head start on his own late night festivities by joining in on “Dear Prudence.” New Orleans got in on the fun when the Dirty Dozen Brass Band appeared, as did Henry Butler and Roosevelt Collier. Opener Grace Potter helped on covers of Ike & Tina’s “Nutbush City Limits” and Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love.” Walter ‘Wolfman’ Washington, Ivan Neville and Papa Mali got in on the act, too, and Cyril Neville closed out the numerous sit-ins on night one.
The second night of the Mule was just as electrifying, as the parade of guests and stellar playing continued. George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville joined the band for several songs including “Fortunate Son.” Owen Biddle and Capt. Kirk Douglas of the legendary Roots crew, fresh off their blistering Fairgrounds performance (with Ludacris!), got their Zeppelin on with “When the Levee Breaks” (a poignant song choice in these parts). Sonny Landreth, Eric McFaddenand Grace Potter got involved as well. The second set on Saturday night was one of those legendary NOLA Mule sets, beginning with “Africa” featuring Cyrille and Ivan Neville, Eric Krasno and Stanton Moore. Henry Butler, as well as Kofi Burbridge, amongst others, also made their way into the Mule stew. Appropriately, it was the core four Mule brethren onstage for the final number, the quintessential “Soulshine.” Not enough can ever be said for the beauty, integrity and sheer eloquence that Warren Haynes, Danny Louis, Andy Hess and Matt Abts bring to a NOLA stage.
Way uptown at the Maple Leaf, generations and geography were being tossed by the wayside. Marco Benevento, in full trio mode most of the weekend (save for GAT shows), invited Matt Chamberlain and NOLA drumming legend Johnny Vidocavich to join him for a late night of free jazz, standards and some of Benevento’s solo work. The limits of what is free and what is just out there were tested, and it’s safe to say Sun Ra would have been proud. This set was equal parts downtown Manhattan avant-garde and New Orleans swing, with a little ’50s hard bop thrown in for good measure. Mike Gordon stopped by to lend his former GRAB-mate a hand, and really dug in with Vidocavich. Earlier in the evening, down in the Quarter, Benevento added Reed Mathis to the Chamberlain mix for a set of Invisible Baby material.After a Radiators early show, Tipitina’s Uptown was the sight of another raucous Galactic sunrise show. They are clearly in a different form when in this room, and there was a special occasion this evening. Stanton Moore’s fiancé was having her bachelorette party at the show! Lots of ladies with crazy wigs and attire milled about, and the platform was set for an outrageous and atypically bizarre performance. With the help of Chali 2na (Jurassic 5) and a hype man, the storied NOLA funk ‘n’ punk faction brought out the artillery. They reached back to Crazyhorse Mongoose, dropped many of the hip-hop oriented joints on recent records, and threw in a little taste of everything in between. A crushing, deafening “Immigrant Song” pushed the boundaries of full-on bedlam as Tip’s rocked and shook from the foundation to the rafters. Bassist Rob Mercurio pounded his neck and head-banged while Jeff Raines‘ patented distorted twang rang out through the tubes. Moore shared his kit and pounced on cymbals while Rich Vogel held things down in outer space, his synth lines and keyboard flourishes filling the colors in the void. This was Galactic at its frenetic, throbbing best, equal parts groove, punk and all things NOLA.
The Derek Trucks Band teamed with The Funky Meters at Howlin’ Wolf Saturday night as well. Early in the festivities, Trucks’ wife Susan Tedeschi helped out on “Anyday,” “Get Out Of My Life,” “Down Don’t Bother Me” and “Done Got Over.” Later, Tedeschi returned alongside Eric Krasno and Trucks’ brother for the set closers “Standback” and “The Weight.” During the headliner’s set, Krasno, Trucks and Mike Gordon joined The Funky Meters.We decided to step out of the box a little bit for the ?uestlove and M.I.A. gig at 619 Frenchmen. The wait for ?uestlove was fun but it was hard not to wonder what live music was going on outside at Blue Nile, Howlin’ Wolf or Tip’s on the last Saturday of Fest ’08. ?uestlove kept it busy with a ferocious, danceable DJ set that seemed to go on for hours, mixing the right amounts of golden-era hip-hop, Afrobeat and Michael Jackson. At 2:45 a.m., M.I.A. finally showed up, looking like a decked-out little hornet in a shiny yellow getup complete with Left Eye-style pimp cap. It felt like the funky Good Witch of the East had arrived via bubble and was spreadin’ booty shakin’ love with the whole town. After the long, hot, sweaty wait, M.I.A. played for 45 minutes. If it weren’t for the refreshing feel of her distinctive sound – which is unlike any other jazz, funk, hip-hop or reggae act I’d seen yet during the week – I’d probably have felt more gypped. But, it was only disappointing because she was so damn good, bouncing around and owning each track like the Sri Lankan champion she so obviously is. She did around ten songs; about half from her 2005 release, Arular, including “Bucky Done Gun,” “Ba-na-na Skit” and college radio hit “Galang;” and a few from her latest release, Kala, like “Bamboo Banga,” “Bird Flu,” “Boyz” and her last song after a quick break, “Paper Planes,” which wrapped up around 3:30 a.m. She also did a cover of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?” which has been done by others but nowhere near like by Miss M.I.A.
During the ?uestlove/M.I.A. mania, down the block U-Melt and DJ Logic collaborated for the first time at the Blue Nile. Logic dropped a tasty DJ set, and then shortly after that U-Melt got onstage and made their way into the now classic Logic original “French Quarter.” As the night wore on, the foursome-plus-one segued in and out of a number of U-Melt originals, burning down the house with “The Eternal Groove.”
Elsewhere, Deitch and Big Sam’s Quartet grew into nearly a dectet at times, with the punishing riddims and sheer bombast at full throttle. This NYC/NOLA musical mob, which enlisted most of Lettuce, Dumpstaphunk and whoever else was nearby, was ready and willing and one of the most thrilling parts of the weekend. No matter where you turned, their was Deitch, Ivan Neville and the rest of their respective crews.
The end was near, and per usual, still a plethora of different acts to witness. Frenchman Street went off again with Garage a Trois throwing down at DBA, a phenomenal spot to close out the Fest. Down the street, Hyena Records showcased Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and their new opus, Lil’ Tae Rides Again, as well as John Ellis and Double Wide. At Howlin’ Wolf, the annual Krewe of Zigaboo was in full effect, with a stream of musicians lending a hand to the original Meters drummer.For this writer, there was no better place to finish the marathon than at Tipitina’s Uptown, where Ivan Neville and Dumpstaphunk closed out a hectic Jazz Fest weekend with a guest-heavy jam. Several artists in town for their own gigs stopped by for a final jam including George Porter, Jr., June Yamaguchi, Matt Grondin, Cyril Neville, Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, E.D. Coomes, Nigel Hall, Terence Blanchard, Efrem Townes and Warren Haynes, who showed up after playing with PBS at the Howlin’ Wolf earlier.
The material was all over the map, including a smoky, bluesy cover of The Rolling Stones’ classic “Miss You.” Haynes lent his strum to a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival’s “Fortunate Son.” As the end drew near, it was fitting that the same NOLA/NYC mob was onstage slamming for one last time. Ivan asked, “Is Deitch too drunk to play?” After a few seconds, 40 oz in hand, the Jedi appeared, swaying tipsy but in full effect. No matter how imbibed, a lead foot is a lead foot, and Deitch put it down. A Herbie Hancock workout ensued, circa Thrust, tight as can be. We skanked our way toward the dawn and back into the normal woodwork of life, at least until next year.
JamBase | New Orleans
[Published on: 5/16/08]
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