(photos lost to conversion in the JamBase purge. left the creds on general principle. excellent collection of photogs!)
JazzFest arrived once again, the savoir from the monotony of winter, precursor to the promise of summer. Each year, the gathering reinvents itself, the form taken by its inhabitants and the experience lassoed in ways seldom seen other times of year. As intoxicating as the Crescent City is, its greatest attributes are its food and music, and to overindulge has become custom.
Tuesday, my arrival eve, wasted no time getting reacquainted with NOLA down at Mama’s Blues with Brotherhood of Groove, whose performance reunited guitarist Brandon Tarricone with former drummer Dan Caro for a rocking set. Fusion jamming, jazz, reggae, bop and funk into a power packed ninety minutes. Wandered deep into the Quarter to a rock and roll bar called the Matador, built “in-the-round” (think Def Leppard Hysteria, but in a bar sized venue), and stumbled upon a Malachy Papers/Critters Buggin freakout. Mike Dillon and Skerik leading lesser known comrades like Brad Houser on a skronk-filled ride through NOLA’s boozy streets. Running through punk, metal, funk, free-jazz and gumbo between, a Skerik and friends highlight: shirtless, golden-maned Matador employee “Bobby” beckoning Skerik’s call, delivering a dead on Brian Johnson screech as the band plowed through AC/DC’s “Back in Black.”
Wednesday found more friends arriving in droves, an Earl King tribute parade (many musicians made mention of his passing throughout the weekend), and more stuffy NOLA heat. The early evening saw Garage a Trois kill it at Twi-Ro-Pa, dropping gems from their recently released album Emphasizer, and going off on tangents like only these four can. Guests spots from Maktub‘s vocalist extraordinaire Reggie Watts on another “Back in Black” (this one a little less punk, a little more swing), Calvin Weston and Elloit (Big Tree) on several blazing Garage joints roofed (as in tear it off!) JazzFest proper.
Back at Tip’s Uptown, Soulive was breaking shit off with Fred Wesley, Karl Denson and a host of others. Hitting up the Maple Leaf late, we found a Mofro party in top form. Vocalist JJhas got what it takes to get a party started and jumping, and his Mofro band mates upped the ante with some choice swamp boogie reminiscent of mid-nineties Galactic.
Very late into the evening I arrived at Mama’s Blues for a nightcap, only to find my buddy Robbie K glowing after having jammed with some luminaries while I ran about town. Assistance came in the form of Adam Deitch’s militant and unwavering wrists, proving once again why he is my favorite drummer under thirty. Deitch, Rob Wasserman, members of Banyan, and others soothed in the morning hours with some syncopated funk and stomp, as I prepared for yet another raucous weekend in New Orleans at JazzFest.
Thursday was an eventful day at the Fairgrounds; crawfish bread, Crawfish Monica, mango freeze, and the other usual suspects were in attendance and being consumed at alarming rates. Woodenhead, with NOLA’s Bonerama horns, wowed with a blistering version of Led Zepplin’s “Kashmir,” the North Mississippi AllStars cut bluesy riffs over swamping rhythms on the Acura Stage, making many new fans and stirring a boiling stew in the beating sun. Only serving to stoke such fire was the Dave Holland Quintet, with Philadelphia’s own Robin Eubanks on guitar. The Quintet’s precise and subtle maneuvering through obtuse compositions delivered to a very mixed and appreciative crowd at the Jazz Tent. However it was Papa Grows Funk who really kicked off the raging JazzFest vibes with a crunk set way out at the Louisiana Heritage Stage. Led by Hammond wunderkind John Gros, a far East Jimi in guitarist June Yamagishi, and drummer for all occasions Russell Batiste, this NOLA funk crew threw down massive. As the sun began to creep away and the Fairgrounds first day culminated, the organ sang and squealed, it was apparent to those grooving to PGF’s bounce that fest was really in full gear.
Thursday evening saw us begin with the NOLA power trio Porter/Vidacovich/Yamagishi at Tipitina’s French Quarter. This venue is phenomenal, and although it rarely hosts gigs these days, when they do it pays to go. All the pluses of Tip’s uptown plus its one third its size and in the middle of the Quarter! The trio, led by inimitable drummer Johnny Vidocavich and his patented shufflin’ boom bap, tore through a plethora of swinging grooves augmented by George Porter‘s muscular basswork and June Yamagushi’s acrobatic axe-wielding. As we patiently waited for Moore and More, my evil cell phone rang with some news, “Lenny Kravitz just walked into the House of Blues.”
I had already planned to see Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe late at the HOB that evening, yet this was another matter. I had already missed the last Lenny/Karl fest collaboration a couple years ago, so I wasn’t going to miss another. So I just bailed the Tip’s gig and hustled over a block to KDTU.
By Dr. Shouse
After the typical HOB line madness, I walked in to the greatest gift. The man, Lenny Kravitz, onstage with my favorite band, his former employee’s group, one that long surpassed his own: KDTU. The results were breathtaking. Lenny just borrowed a Fender Twin amp and Brian Jordan’s scorching green Gibson SG and plugged in. On paper, it was a typically sweet and succinct first set, yet Mr. Kravitz lends a level of cool and an aura that simply cannot be surpassed nor replicated.
The second set, albeit without Mr. Kravitz, was equally hot, and lengthy as well. Showcasing new drummer John Staten, whose hoppin’ feet kept us moving well into the morning, the set was tight as can be. I would most certainly return to the HOB in twenty-one hours for another dose of Denson.
Friday’s evening would begin with a visit to the New Orleans Coliseum to see my Philadelphia Sixers cancel the season on the New Orleans Hornets, a welcome diversion from the music halfway through my fest. Soon after I hustled down to Tip’s French Quarter for Robert Walter’s 20th Congress, just missing their performance (Robert had a late night appearance scheduled so they played early.) I did certainly enjoy some more Mofro, particularly some authentic blues and even a sweet Yellowman cover, complete with JJ explaining the British rasta slang. Mofro’s drummer’s kit was miked so well I even approached the soundman to commend him on his craft. Sounded like Chuck Biscuits on the first Danzig record. Props.
Cruised down Frenchman Street to the Blue Nile for the American Jamstand, which was a superjam featuring Robert Walter, George Porter (seen left “chillin”), Mike Clark, Jim Payne, Dave Fucyzinski, Topaz, and others. The crew threw down some funky jams; while it was impressive, it was also somewhat meandering. Often the superjams don’t go anywhere, especially if those participating haven’t played much together. Sometimes it works, other times it doesn’t. When they busted yet another “Cissy Strut,” that was my cue. While American Jamstand was entertaining, I knew I was missing some heat down at the House Of Blues, so there I returned.
KDTU was rocking another hoedown, as I arrived the second set began, complete with a sweet appearance from rare-groove technician Melvin Sparks on guitar. He and Jordan passed the scorch torch to and fro, while KD and trumpeter Chris Littlefield matched with bright horn parts interspersed within the decadent jamming. The KDTU chestnut “Can You Feel It” was the band at maybe its finest I’d ever heard them, courtesy of Jordan, Johnson and Staten’s vicious sensual elixir. Spearhead’s Radioactive came with a freestyle and some scat to change up the game a bit, but it was the “BBQ song/Groove On” encore that sealed the deal for the heads and the haters who thought the Tiny Universe was just another funk band.
Saturday at the Fairgrounds was your typical scorching hot afternoon eating Cajun and Creole delights. Astral Project and Nicholas Payton & Sonic Trance opened some conservative festers’ eyes in the Jazz Tent this afternoon. Nicholas was big pimpin in his zebra hat and white suit, but his horn sounded a lot like the Miles in the 70’s that everyone misses. However, it was LL Cool J who really proved how bad he was this afternoon.
I divided the rest of my afternoon with a little bit of Widespread Panic, but concentrated greatly on the spooky British reggae vibes of Third World at the Conga Stage. Their rendition of “Now that We’ve Found Love” was a bit cheesy, but the dub vibrations and a choice version of Bob’s “Natural Mystic” proved soothing to the weathered soul. At the Jazz Tent, Herbie Mann, complete with with oxygen tank, Larry Coryell, David “Fathead” Newman, and Chuck Rainey, were tearing through Herbie’s catalogue with reckless abandon. Saturday was a school day here in NOLA, no matta who’ya’ ahh!
I began the evening at an all-star jam that did indeed, prove to work, and well. The East vs. West Bayou Rendezvous was well attended and the musicians didn’t seem too worried about how to pull it off. I was only able to stay for the East Coast half of the show, but Marco Benevento and Joe Russo (whose duo were EVERYWHERE) led a serious wrecking crew through jazz standards and crunk grooves that seemed to peak and mellow at all the right times. Topaz, Cochema Gastelum (newly transplanted to Brooklyn), Sam Kinninger, Eric Krasno, and Justin Wallace killed it for just over an hour. Kraz took a screeching distorted hollowbody solo that recalled Gypsy-era Jimi, and it bled through the Howlin’ Wolf rafters.
I left the Rendezvous early so I could see Colonel Claypool’s Bucket Of Bernie Brains in its entirety. And I was not to be disappointed. Think Tool, Faith No More, 80s Primus and then warp it through the millennium. Buckethead, Bernie Worrel, Brain, and Les Claypool turned out another stellar 90 minute improv session of mammoth proportions. Pounding skins from Brain set the beatscience foundation for the other musicians, particularly Buckethead’s animated antics and fretboard mastery. Buckethead and Claypool acted out a strange play death scene in the rafters, then returned for some drums.
By Dr. Shouse
I followed Buckethead over to the Howlin’ Wolf for another improv jam with the Cajun Fried Recipe, which included Mike Clark on drums, Rob Wasserman on basses, Ben Ellman on sax and Rich Vogel on keyboards. The results were good, although some parts were better than others. Mike Clark came up huge with metal-funk drumming, and Vogel’s arsenal of keyboards and synths fit nicely within Buckethead’s demented musical carnival. Highlights were the Floydian version of “Colma,” and the lunacy of Buckethead’s solo gig oddities. Not to mention his prosthetic hand and plastic toys.
Late in the morning we wound up at Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey at the Blue Nile, with the sun coming up, this southern tweaked trio serenely welcomed the new day with a small but ensconced group of worshippers.
Sunday’s Fairgrounds highlights were blurry as I barely made it to the Fairgrounds at all. The Neville Brothers brought their NOLA blend to the Acura Stage in a festive family affair, the world’s greatest bar band the Radiators juiced the Louisiana Heritage Stage, but the afternoon belonged to the O’Jays. The Motown vibes and soultronic force was evidently warming the heated NOLA massive, but like the 6PM breeze that flowed through, so did the vibration from these musical heroes. “Love Train” united all revelers in the iriest of energy, and the dirtiest bass line ever played, “For the Love of Money,” really resonated with the funky NOLA folk seeing the Fairgrounds through one more year.
By F. Hirtzel
Sunday evening, I was a bit disappointed in the Claypool Frog Brigade show at Tipitina’s, it simply couldn’t compete with last year’s epic JazzFest closer. Sure, it had its moments, but the “2,000 Light Years from Home” was light years from last year. It all just seemed a little redundant. Even a Mike Gordon appearance couldn’t save the show. However the evening was indeed saved by a crucial set down at the Shim Sham Club from Cut Chemist. Just raw funk 45’s and smooth R&B that was soothing and calming for the JazzFest comedown. A proper Igor’s morning sendoff, and my JazzFest 2003 was complete.
I know I missed a lot, and I saw even more, but hard as ya try you’ll never see it all. See ya next year!
JamBase | From Across The Universe To NOLA And Back Again
Go See Live Music!