Words by: B.Getz
Jazz Fest After Dark :: 05.04.11-05.08.11 :: New Orleans, LA
“It is rare to see crowd surfing at a Jazz Fest show, especially by a guy in a cream-colored suit wielding a trombone” – David Fricke
Jazz Fest is truly an enigma, a gluttonous musical jamboree like no other, the stuff that dreams are made of. New Orleans is a city that could be described in similar tones, a veritable jungle-gym of sorts for audiophiles to frolic upon, within, and in its essence. When the sun goes down in the Crescent City during Jazz Fest, the freaks come out, and for 2011, to quote a bassist they call “Jesus,” it was “FULL RAGE!!” Or as many a fester uttered, “It’s a celebration, bitches!!” The Big Easy outdid itself once again, hosting a bastion of musical merrymaking that rivals any of the other eight Jazz Fests this writer has attended.
Without any further adieu, here’s the field report from Jazz Fest Nocturnal 2011. Welcome to Planet NOLA! Laissez les bons temps rouler!
Wednesday, May 4
Wednesday night unveiled an absurd lineup for the Megalomaniacs Ball at Howlin’ Wolf, a quadruple bill that covered a vast canvas of styles. The Stanton Moore Trio opened up the evening, the drummer flanked by Robert Walter and Scott Metzger. Shortly thereafter, James Singleton’s Illuminasti Trio painted liberating free jazz over spastic hard bop, Mike Dillon’s large mallets gut-punching the trap kit underneath Singleton’s driving upright bass work as Skerik’s sax led with atypically dark blows bouncing against Steven Bernstein’s bright, Sephardic-tinged slide trumpet. The Marco Benevento Trio took the stage rather unassumingly and delivered one of the finest hours of music during this blessed weekend. Augmented by substantial contributions from Reed Mathis and John Spiece, dubbed-out meditative grooves searched for new land, a rapture of melodic details, arriving at a bouncy “The Real Morning Party.” On this raucous romp, the gleeful trio was joined by Stanton Moore, whose childlike frolic on Dillon’s percussion rig highlighted the set.
Benevento has reinvigorated Garage a Trois, evidenced by their feverish set as the evening’s headliner. Showcasing an inspired new record, Always Be Happy, But Stay Evil, GAT unleashed an enraged, punked-up set that married spastic thrashing riffage with spooky, Bitches Brew horror-jazz. Late in the set, Nigel Hall emerged on the B3 and vocals for a humorous take on the improv jam “Fuckin’ Wit’ My Clothes On.” Mike Dillon was in beast-mode, pogo-ing between vibraphones, percussion toys and punk rock frontman, shirtless in a sombrero. Grabbing the mic, Dillon flexed his inner Beastie, torchin’ and crackin and rhymin’ and stealin’, prodded by his maniacal mates. Drummer Nikki Glaspie and vocalist Corey Glover joined the fray as GAT wailed well into morning, setting Jazz Fest’s second weekend on a robust foundation. The encore began as wildin’ white-boy go-go bounce from the District, and traversed a multitude of styles before landing in Sabbath terra firma – a skronk-afied “Sweet Leaf.”
Thursday, May 5
Widespread Panic’s JoJo Hermann curated the eight-hour benefit Down On The Bayou III, which took a hold of Howlin’ Wolf, and is already the stuff of legend. Raising money for the New Orleans Musicians’ Clinic and the New Orleans Musicians Assistance Foundation, over two dozen of New Orleans’ heaviest hitters and their Fest guests shared the stage throughout the night in a multitude of groupings. JoJo’s Mardi Gras Band were the featured act, and 7 Walkers treated festers with a short, explosive set long on good vibes.
7 Walkers drummer Bill Kreutzmann, who spent 30 years holding down the pulse of the greatest American rock band of all time, fully plugged into the Fest spirit, rocking a handful of gigs over the weekend. Kreutzmann was enveloped in Nawlinz, playing cold music to many a barroom floor and performing alongside the likes of Papa Mali, George Porter Jr., Steve Kimock, members of Little Feat, local legend Henry Butler, and countless others. After all these years, Billy is still DEAD to the core.
As if he wielded keys to the Crescent City, Warren Haynes unlocked a revolving door of guests at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, including Man in Motion co-conspirators George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville. Sporting a dapper red hat, Walter “Wolfman” Washington howled at the crescent moon during “Ain’t No Love in the Heart of the City” until he flipped his Kangol backwards and went down on his guitar, tongue, teeth and all. Brian Stoltz and Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews joined the krewe for “On Your Way Down,” and during “Feel Like Breaking Up Somebody’s Home,” Shorty’s fervor was contagious, prompting everybody to raise their own bar.
Ruthie Foster announced she just received the American Music Award for Best Female Vocalist before victoriously singing an accapella “Grinnin’ in Your Face” to open the second set. The Dirty Dozen Brass Band emerged for a dirty, dark rendition of “John the Revelator,” oozing Crescent City swag. Anders Osborne and Preservation Hall Jazz Bandtoured the ubiquitous “St James Infirmary,” where Haynes and Osborne traded soulful verse and lick. The following evening, at the cozy Preservation Hall, the legendary house band and Warren Haynes Band again teamed up for an intimate night of majestic Cajun soul; the diversity and dynamics of this unique pairing were sights and sounds to behold, indeed.
The Royal Family Ball offered a large bill of NOLA and NYC favorite sons, working the Contemporary Arts Center into a feverish dance party for five hours. Early jams from George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville gave way to an elongated Soulive set, where the boys took turns as trio, and supplemented by the Shady Horns and Donald Harrison and Pee Wee Ellis on saxophones. While Soulive reestablished themselves as a preeminent soul groove band and lathered up the masses proper, it would be the show’s final act, the inimitable Lettuce, who provided the fireworks we have come to expect from the Royal Family at Jazz Fest.
NOLA Jazz Fest ups the funk ante exponentially, a fact not lost on the b-boys in Lettuce, who mercilessly uncorked tightly wound crunk workouts for nearly two hours. Merely two songs into the set, Lettuce unleashed new banger “Star-Children,” a tune penned long ago by rhythm guitarist Adam “Shmeans” Smirnoff but finally perfected in rehearsal sessions the day before the Ball. The long-lost bastard son of its P-Funk namesake, this slowed n’ throwed neck-snapper was a bombastic dose of slimy funk with drummer Adam Deitch and bassist E.D. Coomes fearlessly stomping the groove onward, their inner boom-bap makin’ heads bob like emergency brakes. The omnipresent Shady Horns channeled forefathers’ The Horny Horns, and regional ragers Big Sam and Donald Harrison got busy on “Blast Off.” Nigel Hall arrived on stage tuned up and ready to take it back to D.C. with Chuck Brown-styled go-go (a prevalent theme over the weekend) “Making My Way Back Home.” The tremendous event culminated in a soaring guest turn from Warren Haynes, who playfully nudged Eric Krasno aside and proceeded to bring the house down with wailing Gibsonics over the Curtis Mayfield medley “We’re a Winner > Move On Up”.
Heading uptown, we arrived at Tipitina’s Uptown to an enormous scene; a crowded stage and packed house for the only Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe booking of the weekend. Well aware that many acts have taken The King of Late Night’s blueprint and ran with it, Karl D called in the troops to cement his reputation. This was to be a cavalcade of stars; the stage was in constant motion, with players rotating on and off with aplomb. For the first set, KDTU was joined by drummer Terrence Higgins, Bay-Area guitarist Eric McFadden, keyboardist Ivan Neville, and the chameleon-like percussionist Mike Dillon. “Once You’re There”, the Jazzanova inspired house cut engulfed Fess’s church en fuego!! A spirited cover of “Mexican Radio” tore the roof off to close the opening frame. Jam Cruise veteran Taylor Hicks took his star turn on the legendary Tipitina’s stage. With double drums, double keys all night long, and more horns than you could shake your hips at, this was an absolute eruption; the type of gig that crowned Karl the undisputed King of Late Night many a Fest morning this past decade-plus.
KDTU’s second set was a blur of funkadelic bliss with Nigel Hall, Particle’s Steve Molitz, Marco Benevento and Ivan Neville taking turns with David Veith on various keyboard duels, weaving in and out of Rhodes, B3 and analog synths.Sam Kinninger, Ryan Zoidis, Rashawn Ross and Maurice ‘Mo Betta’ Brown stormed the stage for an elongated take on the Afrobeat ecstasy that is “Elephants,” while former Beyonce drummer Nikki Glaspie, who was everywhere all weekend, forced KDTU drummer John Staten to push the envelope. An imbibed Tony Hall called his shot, offering big smiles and bass gymnastics on a charging “Chance With You,” and Karl D captained the mothership into a new dawn, delivering an otherworldly “Can You Feel It?” all sultry and sexy for the lovers courting sunrise. Until nearly 6 am, KDTU reestablished themselves as THE preeminent late-night juggernaut. A weary and wired Tip massive spilled into the streets exhausted, migrating to early hours watering hole Igor’s for the traditional Jazz Fest morning cap. Here, funkateers, musicians and good Nawlins folk shared stories and glories as the sun beckoned Friday’s arrival.
Friday, May 6
Anders Osborne’s Backbeat Presents show at The Temple saw the likes of Bill Kreutzmann, Carl Dufrene, Billy Iuso and the Little Feat duo of Paul Barrereand Fred Tackett join the camelback axeman for a special evening. Former KDTU drummer Eric Bolivar joined Kreutzmann on a second drum kit. In addition to his own material, Osborne dropped classic Grateful Dead (a scorching “Franklin’s Tower”) and Little Feat (“Spanish Moon”), as well as CSNY’s “Ohio.” Anders, in name and note, could be heard frequently throughout the weekend, no matter when or where you were listening.
One of the most crucial Fest experiences is the Creole Queen Riverboat, a mini-Jam Cruise of sorts that sets out on the Mississippi River with a few hundred freaks and heaping portions of funk. Kirk Joseph’s 504 Brass Band, ably assisted by Steve Bernstein, kept asses shaking on deck as we awaited departure, an appropriate soundtrack to the Crescent City skyline illuminated in the distance. Opening for Soulive, the NYC/NOLA supergroup Dr. Klawdemolished this club-on-water, upstaging the headliner with merciless aggressive stomps through crunk netherworlds a bazillion leagues beneath the seas on which we traveled. Led by the warrior Adam Deitch’s bludgeoning beats and capo Nick Daniels’ vigorous modulation directives, the crew welcomed The Shady Horns to a cramped stage and let loose two choice takes straight from George’s Mothership. Uncompromising and severely dope, both “Dr. Funkenstein” and “Chocolate City” crushed astounded spectators, many of whom were unfamiliar with this ruthless posse. Nigel Hall delivered, confident and chiming in with vocals and more bounce to the ounce. A scorching “Leave Me Alone,” belted out in high register by Daniels and Hall, let everybody on that boat know just exactly what time it was.
Eric Krasno pulled double duty, playing in Dr. Klaw and captaining the Soulive ship through another sweltering set of their patented Brooklynized bump n’ grind. The Klaw was indeed a tough act to follow. Reduced to their rawest essence though, the Brothers Evans plus Kraz brought that seminal sound, killing them on the Mississippi not-so-softly with classics like “Tuesday Night Squad” and “Do it Again.”
Superjams are a hallmark of Jazz Fest, and on this late Friday night in the Quarter, two magnificent options were available. The first was the Bear Creek All-Stars at One Eyed Jacks, where a collective of musicians who have shared the stage at the monumental Bear Creek Music and Art Festival came together at the behest of BCMF Guru/General Paul Levine. His marching orders: Bring the funk. The core group consisted of Eric Krasno, Skerik, Ivan Neville, Alan Evans and Kirk Joseph, but the three-hour expedition incorporated a plethora of diverse players.
Joseph was a star on this night, mimicking the likes of Bootsy Collins and Larry Graham, and doin’ it to death with gulping-bass rolling underneath growls of distortion. Nikki Glaspie took the drum sticks from Evans and proceeded to serve up a lesson on how to make and keep “the pocket.” Lengthy funk grooveathons ensued all night, from The JB’s to The Meters and all points between; with the Shady Horns, Kofi Burbridge, Matt Grondin, and Andrew Block all making their formidable presences felt.
Late night in the Quarter, George Porter Jr., Brian Stoltz, Adam Deitch, and Marco Benevento united the Big Apple and Big Easy once again (a recurring Fest theme) for one of the finest collaborations of the weekend offering two sets of mind-numbing, Floydian improve. Porter was the mastermind of this tour de force, funkifying The Parish and stoking the flame of drummer wunderkind Deitch and the sonically possessed Benevento. Between these three musicians, the ethos of Jazz Fest, in its purest, most unadulterated emotion, was on display for a truly lucky audience. After an array of improvisational jamming, Benevento steered the crew home with a quirky run through Cee-Lo Green’s “Fuck You,” which Porter amused for moment before he led them into a powerful take on the War classic “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
England’s boogaloo badasses The New Mastersounds stormed the Quarter for a pair of 2 am engagements at the House of Blues. Many artists who performed throughout the weekend dotted the teeming audience, which rabidly grooved to the foursome’s up-tempo until 5 am. Revealing a sack of new tracks from the forthcoming record Breaks from the Border, the Brits were a fine tuned machine. On “Make Me Proud!,’’ “Take What You Need” and the now-classic “Carrot Juice,” bassist Pete Shand and drummer Simon Allen led the push toward morning, as Eddie Roberts nimble guitar shone brightly against Joe Tatton’s massive B3 turns during “The Vandenberg Suite.” The band was graciously joined by Adam “Shmeans” Smirnoff (Lettuce, Robert Randolph & The Family Band), vocalist Michelle Sarah (Coppertonic), Robert Walter, and Miles Tackett (Breakestra) over the course of two monster gigs.
Saturday, May 7
Another enormous collaborative effort titled “A Night in Treme” went down at the Howlin’ Wolf. An all-star affair that culled its playlist from a who’s who of Nawlinz music and culture, this show featured local legends Ivan Neville, Joe Krown, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, and the Rebirth and Treme Brass Bands. Later, Tony Hall led a different localized troop through stomping James Brown covers and funk exercises drenched in boiled Bayou boogie.
Meanwhile, at the Mahalia Jackson Theater, local behemoths Galactic and The Funky Meters united their tribes on an early double bill. Galactic blazed the building with whopping renditions of ”Boe Money,” “The Moil” and a sinister “Crosstown Traffic.” Between sets, the groups unified as one, blessing the people with exclusive takes on “Night People” and “Cabbage Alley.” Late night at Tipitina’s Uptown, The Greyboy Allstars debuted a load of new material (“Multiplier”), interspersed with immortal tunes like “Planet of the Superkids” and “Happy Friends.” The boogaloo champs then hosted a party on the Riverboat Creole Queen the following evening.
In one of the most intriguing and eclectic bills of the weekend, Insomniac’s party at The Sugar Mill was a throwdown of epic proportions. Two newer bands, Orgone from the West Coast and Toubab Krewe from North Carolina, warmed up the massive with another in a series of impressive performances from this weekend. These young guns brought heat to every room they set foot in all weekend long. The Hot 8 Brass Band, fresh off their dynamite backing of Mos Def the previous weekend and Ms. Lauryn Hill earlier that day, kept the people moving as the star-studded crowd filtered in for Thievery Corporation. And boy did the headliner deliver in spades!
The Eighteenth Street Lounge crew, led by Rob Garza and a robust backing band, slew The Sugar Mill with authority for two hours of dancehall energy and electro grooves. There was nothing downtempo about this rager; it was soundsystem rollers a’pumpin’, subs a’woofin, the rugged and rump-shaking lower register anchoring soaring ragga melodies set ablaze. Eclectic musicians and instruments abounded, a swollen Thievery Corporation boasting a myriad of femme fatale vocalists, emcees, and sing-jay’s gracing their stage. Garza and company led the entranced crowd through reggae-fueled medleys of their best work. “Lebanese Blond” with its bodily seduction and slinking sitar set it off, and “Until the Morning,” delivered in heart-throttling dubsonics, catapulted the set skyward with triumphant horn breaks and Ras meditation chants proliferating our minds and souls. The set peaked with grandiose forward rush of “The State of the Union” and later “Amerimacka.” Eschewing any world beat tendencies, Thievery channeled the sound clashes of yesteryear, turning The Sugar Mill into a yardie party, the band slamming and sexy with untouchable swagger. One of the greatest out-the-box Fest bookings in recent memory.
Clearly stoked on by Thievery’s colossal display, labelmates Paper Diamond and Break Science stepped their respective games up proper, going into the wee hours at Republic. Alex B began the adventure, dropping the massive “Levitate” and then taking what Yeezy taught him and putting it to proper use with a colossal remix of Kanye West’s “Power.” Break Science unleashed an array of extremely varied material – machine gun electro funk, mushroom jazz, hip-hop, dub soundsystem and dubstep, all of it “crunk in yo system.”
The magnificent marriage of virtuoso that is Borahm Lee and Adam Deitch deconstructed the elements of live electronic music and slashed apart any preconceived notions, only to destroy and rebuild in brick and mortal live before our eyes. Production soaked electro numbers were altered and undressed, then thrown to instrumentation, and vice versa, for an unrestrained adventure in bass mechanics. Mixing the likes of Jay-Z, James Brown, Lee Scratch Perry and running the gamut all over IDM grooves and lighter, beat-oriented passages, this dynamic dub duo reinforced their rep as the best in the game at what they do. To add insult to injury, the boys welcomed saxophone maven Topaz for a heated electro-Afrobeat anthem, whilst members of Toubab Krewe adjoined worldly flavors to the blissful breakbeats. Break Science has arrived They are the future, and the future is now.
Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey covered NOLA literally from top to bottom, playing late-night sets both uptown at the Maple Leaf; and deep in the Quarter at the Blue Nile. Brian Haas and the revamped Oklahoma faction welcomed Johnny Vidacovitch, Steven Bernstein, Jeff Coffin, Mark Southerland and Matt Leland to their stage for a newfangled Fred equinox. Chris Combs’ lap steel playing has added a fresh frontier to both the sound of JFJO and the maniacal brain of Fred founder Haas. Their Maple Leaf gig didn’t wrap until after 7:15 am, truly a breakfast of champions.
Billed as “The Prophylactics,” New Orleans crunk titans Galactic rendered a special “secret” show late Saturday night at One Eyed Jacks. Announced on the humble, this was an exclusive gig, and Galacticfunk was in full effect on the very streets they first cut their teeth on over 15 years ago. The intimate concert starred an array of Fest guests, as native son Cyril Neville, guitarist Jonathan Freilich and keyboardist Robert Walter enhanced the krewe, swelling their already globular sound to outrageous proportions. The horn section of Naughty Professor also got in on the routine. On this night, the baby faced, youthful exuberance and furious bass work of Robert Mercurio spearheaded G-funk’s prophylactic attack until six in the mornin’.
Sunday, May 8
Perhaps the most talented and influential drummer in New Orleans during the weekend, Zigaboo Modeliste and his Funk Revue opened things up at Howling Wolf for the Fest’s final Sunday night. Zigaboo was selfless, spacious and empowered – no unnecessary contact was made between stick and skin. Later, Dr John and the Lower 911, with Ken “Afro” Williams, Shannon Powell and a three piece horn section, laid down an immortal New Orleans groove. Delivering a 15-minute “Qualified,” a spirited cover of Ray Charles’ “Mess Around,” Cajun-sizzle rhythms and way funky blues in a monster set that had Festers shaking ‘til 3 am, the Night Tripper put pungent punctuation on the flambeaux festivities.
True to tradition, Dumpstaphunk had the honor of closing out the Fess Jazztival at Tipitina’s Uptown, this year being a Mother’s Day mambo at the corner of Napoleon and Tchoupitoulas Streets. Though Festers and the bands were on their proverbial last legs, this was indeed a very funky fais do-do. The first set was firing D-Phunk, bursting out the gates with “Gasman Chronicles” at a breakneck pace. Nick Daniels sang “The Big Payback” with Raymond Weber nailing the Clyde hits as guest Skerik added a devilish, demented pimp strut. Ian and Ivan Neville shined on Sly Stone’s “Stand,” and Cyrille Neville rode in to bless a set closing “Chug a Lug.” To bring it home, good replaced evil (in the form of Karl Denson relieving Skerik for the second set) and the Diesel tore through “Paper Chasin’ Britney” and “Oughta Know Betta,” Appropriately, a subterranean “Deeper” closed down Tipitina’s 2011 Fest.
An impromptu lagniappe hoedown developed at Siberia on St. Claude later Sunday night, as Nigel Hall, Nikki Glaspie, Kofi Burbridge and others showed up for a loud and late jam session, but the NOPD came and shut it down. Big Sam hosted “The Funky Butt Revisited” at the Blue Nile, along with Marco Benevento, Doug Wimbish and Khrys Royal. Meanwhile, this writer followed in Skerik’s footsteps and made one final venture into vieux carre’ for a final dose of Garage a Trois’ paroxysmal dementia at d.b.a. Closing Fest 2011 with four of the hardest working men in the game (Stanton Moore played 27 Jazz Fest engagements in ten days!), this absurd freak show unraveled whatever energies may have been left within revelers and bartenders alike. Somehow, these four tyrants managed to play past 5 am with the same chaotic fury that they greeted us with upon arrival about 110 hours earlier.
When it was over, my feet hurt, my heart swelled, and we finally rested. I packed up the fly-guy attire, finished a final Igor’s Bloody Mary (or mimosa), and departed back to reality. There really ain’t much left to be said other than a glorious chorus of “Thank You’s!!” to the musicians who cheated death and kept crazy hours to deliver us all week, to the bartenders and staffs at the abundance of venues that hosted our soirees, to Igor’s for tolerating early morning shenanigans that are better left unsaid, and lastly, the loudest and largest salutations to the wondrous City of New Orleans, the gift that keeps on giving.