Spring Quartet, Royce Hall

February 22, 2014

The stunning collaboration of drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Joe Lovano, bassist Esperanza Spalding and pianist Leo Genovese refers to itself as “The Spring Quartet”, and the musical possibilities suggested by this combo were very present at Royce Hall this Saturday.  DeJohnette is the quartet’s “elder” and shows no signs of slowing down after his recent 70th birthday tour. His percussive mastery and approach are simply unmatched. Spalding is a melodic and elastic player who has crossed over to wide critical and popular acclaim through her Radio and Chamber Music Society projects, and Genovese her accompanist for these journeys. Joe Lovano’s hearty post-bop expressions can be found on dozens of his own Blue Note recordings over the past 30 years as a leader, and in support of like minded musicians unafraid of the fringes such as John Abercrombie and Paul Motian to name a few.

 

Joe Lovano and his Borgani tenor, with Jack DeJohnette

Joe Lovano and his Borgani tenor, with Jack DeJohnette

 

Esperanza Spalding, luminous playing and presence

Esperanza Spalding, luminous playing and presence

 

Jack DeJohnette, maestro of the skins

Jack DeJohnette, maestro of the skins

Playing to a capacity crowd in the stately confines of Royce, the Quartet’s 100+ minute, nine tune set covered material from all, drawing from the compositional voice and diversity of each player. The opener, Lovano’s “Spring Day”, came out jabbing with Lovano’s tenor leading the way and meshing intuitively with the others, especially Spalding. Early on, tunes found many free moments as on Lovano’s “La Opportune”. Genovese leading a seemingly boozy flight from the outside in, the ensemble never failing to stick a landing. Spalding introduced one of her compositions by way of Greek parable, the depth of “not knowing” and the human search for answers. The tune was full of promise and mystery, Spalding’s wordless vocals curling around her bass lines, Lovano’s soprano and Genovese’s piano cascading together like a slinky. Genovese’s “The Ethiopian Blues” had the composer going deep inside the box of his instrument, then bouncing between piano, Fender Rhodes and Yamaha Motiff for all kinds of aural color. Spalding’s mischievous “Shaking the Shark” became three horns and DeJohnette stepping into overdrive with Spalding picking up an alto, Genovese a soprano and Lovano his tenor. The Quartet really dug in with “TRF”, a tune that began with a straight on swinging, rumbling blues led by Genovese and found Lovano coaxing a perfectly eerie train whistle from his horn, and finally Lovano’s “Folk Art”, pulsing at what felt like a rapid fire 6/8, than deconstructing and rebirthing a few times over.

 

Leo Genovese looks on Esperanza Spalding runs the neck

Leo Genovese looks on as Esperanza Spalding runs the neck

 

Joe Lovano and Esperanza Spalding

Joe Lovano and Esperanza Spalding

 

Esperanza Spalding and Jack DeJohnette as one

Esperanza Spalding and Jack DeJohnette as one

Lovano managed to work in clarinet and alto flute with his tenor and soprano saxes, and DeJohnette took an extended turn with a melodica in quiet counterpoint with Genovese. Genovese was always moving, bopping and swaying with a big smile, and Spalding’s presence and playing were simply luminous. DeJohnette, Lovano and Spalding all took turns engaging the audience throughout the set and the appreciation was felt from on and off the stage. This was a gorgeous night of music, from the quieter moments to flying fast and low to the ground. Spring has definitely sprung for this ensemble. Fresh, vital and in full bloom.

 

The aptly named Spring Quartet

The aptly named Spring Quartet

 

Waddy Wachtel Band, The Joint

November 16, 2013

 

Waddy Wachtel and Blondie Chaplin

Waddy Wachtel and Blondie Chaplin

Some of rock’s most indelible moments are the work of sidemen and session players, most of whom stay in the shadows, some of whom go on to achieve fame of their own. Over the past 14 years at The Joint, you could wander in from a unremarkable stretch of Pico Boulevard on the occasional Monday night and catch some of these unsung heroes, joined by rock royalty – Keith Richards, Robert Plant, Roger Daltrey, Eric Burdon or Joe Walsh, to name a few. What draws them is the opportunity to sit in with a house band made up of some of the best session musicians and touring sidemen around. And for $10/head, you know they ain’t in it for the money.

The band, headed up by revered axeman and producer Waddy Wachtel, includes longtime Rolling Stones backup vocalist Bernard Fowler, ex-Tom Petty drummer Phil Jones, Fleetwood Mac, David Lee Roth and Coverdale-Page keyboardist, guitarist and vocalist Brett Tuggle, and Neil Young and Joe Walsh alum Rick “the bass player” Rosas. Now, I’ve caught my share of these gigs over the years (without the special guests) and never failed to have a blast. Wachtel’s credits are a veritable who’s who through the 70s and 80s and a road well traveled that still finds him ripping it up at The Joint. This is a cover-centric and barroom right party delivered by some of the best in the business.

 

King of the Sidemen, Waddy Wachtel

King of the Sidemen, Waddy Wachtel

Filmmaker Gary Simson is telling this story in his documentary King of the Sidemen, truly a labor of love project. Simson asked me to come out a few weeks back and grab some stills as he was gathering more live footage for his Kickstarter project.

I was fortunate to catch rising roots rocker Lukas Nelson sitting in. Aside from the Willie family legacy, Nelson’s Wiki page cites Neil Young and Hendrix as main influences and he’s no stranger to the jam band scene having appeared with Furthur, among others. Nelson and Wachtel tangled for a rousing “Further On Up the Road” and Nelson kept it burning for “Hoochie Coochie Man” and Rockin’ in the Free World” in the second set (I wasn’t around for that, but it had to be good). The usual suspects were also joined by Mindy Abair on sax, Blondie Chaplin (Beach Boys) on guitar and vocals, Keith Allison (Paul Revere and the Raiders) on guitar and vocals, Ron Dziubla on sax and Jamie Savko on vocals. Abair added some great sparks to the posse of dudes on stage, and brought the chops to match. Nice stage chemistry.

 

Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, Phil Jones and guest Lukas Nelson roll up The Joint

Waddy Wachtel, Rick Rosas, Phil Jones and guest Lukas Nelson roll up The Joint

 

Mindy Abair cuts loose as Waddy and Phil look on

Mindy Abair cuts loose as Waddy looks on

 

Vocalists Bernard Fowler and Jamie Savko

Vocalists Bernard Fowler and Jamie Savko

 

Wachtel and Lukas Nelson tangled up in blues

Wachtel and Lukas Nelson tangled up in blues

Suffice to say, you should drop by The Joint, throw down your $10 and a cold one (of whatever you like) and most importantly, support working musicians who love what they do, and can’t stop themselves from doing it. That ‘s kinda what it’s all about, anyway.

 

Wachtel and guitar, inseperable

Wachtel and guitar, inseparable

To stay current with the King of the Sidemen film project, point yourself to their Facebook page.

 

Anders Osborne + Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, El Rey Theatre

October 24, 2013

 

JBP_131024_ElReyTheatre_AndersOsborne_ 013

 

Anders Osborne went deep and Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe embraced their inner Ray Charles for a wholly satisfying double bill at the El Rey Theatre last Thursday. The two combined for 3 ½ hours of wall-to-wall intensity, stunning jams and a full on soul dance party.

 

Anders Osborne at the El Rey

Anders Osborne at the El Rey

 

Anders Osborne went deep

Anders Osborne went deep

 

Not just a drummer, Eric Bolivar

Not just a drummer, Eric Bolivar

Osborne’s LA appearances are a rarity, made more of an event in the larger El Rey space and two act offering. Osborne is touring on his latest release, “Peace”, and several tracks were featured including the Cortez-ian title track that opens the album. (I couldn’t help but think that Neil isn’t the only one waging heavy “Peace” throughout the set. The Young influences are more than just the material, but down to the stage posture – lead foot stomping, head and shoulders hunched, scraping every note to the bone). “Windows” flew, “Five Bullets” attacked and “Sarah Anne” took the band into the light. True to form, Osborne opened with the thunderous squonk of “Black Tar” (from 2012’s “Black Eyed Galaxy”), but also went way, way back for “Burning on the Inside” (from 1995’s “Which Way to Here”) that has been a staple in his sets for some time. The fitting highlight was an extended “Love is Taking Its Toll” (from 2010’s American Patchwork”) with a “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door tease before closing with Patchwork’s “On the Road to Charlie Parker”. Osborne is fearless in his playing and his delivery. He has lived the bottom and seen the sun rise and does not shy from taking you on the journey. The result is often dark, always honest and routinely fierce. His bandmates of some time, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar, always have his back (and were filled out by a second guitar player, who tangled nicely with Osborne).

 

The rhythm section of Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar

The rhythm section of Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar

 

Raw and fearless jamming from Osborne and his band

Raw and fearless jamming from Osborne and his band

 

A gig to smile about

A gig to smile about

I’m relatively new to the Tiny Universe, but have known of the band for well over a decade and familiar with the San Diego native’s work with the Greyboy Allstars and frequent NOLA collaborations. This is not the first time Osborne and Denson have toured, or even dressed up musically together. In fact, a few years back the two teamed up to cover “Sticky Fingers” (which I unfortunately missed). This gig was billed as a “Ray Charles Boogaloo Dance Party” with guest Zach Deputy on vocals, and the nearly 2 hour set of robust and energetic guitar driven and horn-centric funk started high (“The Hen”), and went higher, even covering the Beastie Boys “Sure Shot” along the way. Denson is a powerful and fun player, driving, flying, reaching, hitting, egging others to follow. Guitarist DJ Williams joined in 2011 and came out swinging the whole set. The entire Universe knows this territory well and taking on Ray Charles was a natural fit. The familiar tunes started rolling (“Unchain My Heart”, “Hit the Road Jack”, “What I’d Say” and even, “America the Beautiful”) with Zach Deputy growls that would have made Ray proud. These songs are part of our vernacular. Appropriately celebrated by all involved.

 

Big horns from a Tiny Universe

Big horns from a Tiny Universe

 

DJ Williams took it higher

DJ Williams took it higher

 

Chris Littlefield sees all

Chris Littlefield sees all

If you are a Denson fan, be sure to catch the just announced two nights with the Greyboy Allstars in December at The Mint. Guaranteed sell outs.

 

JBP_131024_ElReyTheatre_KDTU_ 006

Ricky Skaggs & Bruce Hornsby with Kentucky Thunder, Royce Hall

October 18, 2013

 

Skaggs, Hornsby and a whole lot of thunder at Royce Hall

Skaggs, Hornsby and Thunder at Royce Hall

 

Bluegrass is a lot of things. The high lonesome. Bill Monroe. Furious pickin’. Lots of strings. Acoustic instrumentation.  What it traditionally isn’t is plugged in, horns, a drum kit, and rarely, a piano front and center with all those frets. The Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder with Bruce Hornsby performance at Royce Hall took the latter to heart and showed that keys and strings can indeed be natural companions. Touring on the just released live “Cluck Ol’ Hen” recorded during a previous tour when the two first got together, the show oftentimes felt like a primer in Monroe and all things old school. Heck, just listening to Ricky Skaggs and Bruce Hornsby reflect on their collective musical lives was its own show. Skaggs is a master not just of the instrument(s), but as a guardian of the music itself. Pretty much what you’d expect from a guy who first shared the stage with Bill Monroe as a tyke.

 

 

88 keys and a lot of strings meant for each other

88 keys and a lot of strings meant for each other

 

Bluegrass is feel good music, especially in the hands of Ricky Skaggs

Bluegrass is feel good music, especially in the hands of Ricky Skaggs

 

My bluegrass knowledge is not deep, but my appreciation is and runs through the likes of Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Norman Blake and many others. I am, however, an unabashed Hornsby fan and the pairing did them proud. Hornsby’s fingers flew with a flatpicker’s speed, seamlessly blending with a multitude of frets. Bill Monroe staples such as “Toy Heart”, “Bluegrass Breakdown”,  “Blue Night” and “Sally Jo” sat comfortably alongside Skaggs originals such as “Stubb” or the Hornsby classic “The Way It Is” (which found Skaggs taking the vocals in a nice twist).

 

 

Bruce Hornsby with Soptt Muldavil and Paul Brewster

Bruce Hornsby with Scott Muldavil and Paul Brewster

 

Exceptional stringers Justin Moses, Cody Kilby and Andy Leftwich

Exceptional stringers Justin Moses, Cody Kilby and Andy Leftwich

 

Jimmy Martin’s “20/20 Vision” (“and walking ‘round blind”) got the double interpretive treatment, as Hornsby described how LA jazz bassist Charlie Haden put his own spin on it and that Kentucky Thunder bassist, Scott Mulvahil, would go one better, and put his spin on that (no pressure, Scott). Mulvahil’s solo intro had a beautiful sturdy tone closely shadowed by Hornsby’s vocals and Andy Leftwich’s appropriately mournful fiddle and Justin Moses’ dobro. The tune was spare and gorgeous. Later in the set, Hornsby invited the courageous to get their clogs on for the traditional “Sheep Shell Corn”, which drew an impressive audience contingent to the stage. That little Westwood hoedown even transformed stately Royce Hall into a barn for a few minutes.

 

 

Bruce Hornsby in good company

Bruce Hornsby in good company

 

Now, if you are playing with Kentucky Thunder accompanying Ricky Skaggs, you have to be pretty good at what you do. The musicianship on stage was superlative, especially Cody Kilby’s flatpicking, which was just crazy good. There ain’t no where to hide as a flatpicker and Kilby grabbed ahold of every note. Kudos to all the strings, including Kilby on guitar, Leftwich on fiddle, Mulvahil on bass, Moses on banjo and dobro, and Paul Brewster and Eddie Faris on other guitars (and vocals). These guys are the very best.

 

 

Off the charts picking from Cody Kilby

Off the charts picking from Cody Kilby

 

The set closed on a deliciously twisted and feverishly delivered cover of Rick James’ “Super Freak” (or in Skaggs parlance, “she’s super freaky!”). Not Bill Monroe, but not so far afield after the dust settled on this baby. Really. Thunder & Hornsby came back with the traditional “Cluck Ol’ Hen” of the live album’s title and Hornsby’s “White Wheeled Limousine”. Hornsby took his piano to almost classical places, pushed along by Skaggs’ mandolin, Leftwich’s fiddle and solo passages from many that underscored the left at the altar heartbreak of the song, while returning to the freewheeling ‘grass-centric theme – a perfect fit for this unit. Then, Hornsby pivoted into the George Jones classic “Just One More” that turned honkytonk ache into bottom of the bottle tenderness. I was practically bawling by the time it was through. Nice job.

 

 

Super Freaky, clogs and The Way It Is, who knew

Super Freaky, clogs and The Way It Is, who knew?

 

The confluence of traditional Skaggs bluegrass with more modern Hornsby elements is a beauty. This is vibrant, alive, real time music steeped in the present while proudly honoring the past. So, if this is old school, sign me up. I’m almost ready to slap some clogs on.

 

 

Ricky Skaggs, bluegrass for the ages

Ricky Skaggs, bluegrass for the ages

 

John Scofield Uberjam + Dave Holland Prism Quartet, Royce Hall

October 5, 2013

 

Uberjammer, John Scofield

Uberjammer, John Scofield

The 6th annual Angel City Jazz Festival is as unique as the city that bears its name. Multi-venue, multi-media and highly eclectic, predictable only for its unpredictablilty. Not necessarily qualities you would attach to this tentpole town. This year mixed film with music, integrating episodes of the “Jazz in the Present Tense” project with live performances under the theme of “Metamorphosis: Artists on the Cutting Edge of Change”.

John Scofield’s Uberjam Band and Dave Holland’s Prism Quartet are a mighty pairing that land in the event’s sweet spot. While some could suggest the Royce Hall double bill was more in than out, given Angel City’s edgy proclamation, they fall right in between in my book. Both are established and prolific players/composers bonded by different stints with Miles Davis. Holland’s years included In a Silent Way and the transformatively noisy Bitches Brew, while Scofield came later during the early to mid-‘80s. Davis’ electrified shift in many ways was the jazz equivalent to Dylan’s groundbreaking Newport Folk appearance in 1965 – the landscape was never the same. In Davis’ case, jazz fusion was spawned and the illustrious alum have shaped contemporary jazz ever since, with both Holland and Scofield square in the middle of it.

 

John Scofield at Royce Hall

John Scofield at Royce Hall

In recent years, Scofield could be found absorbing New Orleans influences with his Piety Street Band, getting all jammy with Phil (Lesh) & Friends, or engaging the free funk of frequent collaborations with John Medeski and company. No doubt Scofield is a rocker and wears it well, yet recordings such as “I Can See My House From Here” (a personal favorite) with Pat Metheny (Blue Note 1994), also display a gentler side. His current project, Uberjam Deux, is a quartet revisited a decade later with Scofield on guitar, Andy Hess on bass, rhythm guitarist Avi Bortnick, and drummer Tony Mason, and had me at the name the first time. This is a band that both digs and flies. Scofield’s hollow-body fuzz, the rhythm section of Mason and Hess at full gallop or reggae step, sprinkled with Bortnick’s unique Strat meets Mac approach.

 

John Scofield, with Andy Hess and Tony Mason

John Scofield, with Andy Hess and Tony Mason

The Uberjam set pulled almost entirely from Uberjam Deux, opening with the slithery funk of “Snakedance” and the percolating “Cracked Ice”. Both rhythmic grooves from which Scofield quickly took flight. “Curtis Knew” and “Al Green Song” were so much more than homages to 70s soul icons Mayfield and Green. The former built on a sweet theme and the latter a perfect match of Scofield’s thick tone and a rhythm section on slow burn. He did both soul masters proud. “I Brake for Monster Booty”, the only tune from the first Uberjam project (and admittedly one of their more sensitive pieces, Scofield remarked), had Bortnick inserting a Rockit like sample as Point A that quickly morphed into a hot stew. Scofield and Bortnick composed most of the tunes and the electronic infusion was exciting (can’t say I’ve seen many Strat players wield a MacBook Air with their free hand, let alone with Bortnick’s panache). In fact, the sound had me reflecting on the many squelches and hums Joe Zawinul brought to Weather Report, another penultimate fusion pioneer. Character altering, textural, door opening kinds of sounds. The rhythm section, and particularly bassist Andy Hess’ rock sensibilities was also wholly satisfying. “Dub Dub” and “Endless Summer” closed the set with a Regatta era Police infused sway and Scofield finding a quiet solo moment using backward/loop sounding effects.  The literal translation of “uber” from German is “above” or “elevate” (though the English vernacular might be equally applicable here) and Uber Deux more than lived up to it.

 

Plenty o' thrills from John Scofield

Plenty o’ thrills from John Scofield

 

JBP_131005_RoyceHall_ScofieldUberjam-UberjamBand_004

Scofield steps it up with Uberjammers Bortnick, Hess and Mason

I confess I am a recovering ECM addict (it’s a label, not a drug) and bassist Dave Holland had much to do with my dependency. Rooted and experimental, propulsive and tender, I have always had great admiration for Holland’s playing and sound going back to the mid-70s Gateway trio of Holland, drummer Jack DeJohnette (another Davis alum) and guitarist John Abercrombie.  As noted on Holland’s web site, he abides by the Sam Rivers instilled philosophy of “play all of it” and he’s certainly covered the ground to prove it. His latest project finds Holland’s upright bass surrounded by more electrified partners Kevin Eubanks on guitar (yes, Leno’s guy), Eric Harland on drums and Craig Taborn on keys. The challenge of this musical setting is especially intriguing. Hard edged fusion with an acoustic anchor (and as a recent NPR piece dialed in on, no horns and plus keys, both a rarity for Holland).

 

Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks and Craig Taborn, 3/4 of a Prism

Dave Holland, Kevin Eubanks and Craig Taborn, 3/4 of a beautiful Prism

 

Craig Taborn performing with the Prism band

Craig Taborn performing with the Prism band

 

Dave Holland and Craig Taborn lean in

Dave Holland and Craig Taborn lean in

The Angel City/Royce set was deep with material from the just released Prism disk. Opening with the Holland composition “A New Day”, a powerful alignment of players, unique and whole from the first note was fully evident. This was elemental fusion stripped down and earthy. Keys and guitar ascended and descended, passing, lockstepping. Ample and meaningful solo flights all pushed and propelled by the sheer force of the Holland-Harland rhythm section. “Evolution”, a Eubanks tune, began with the composer’s percussive thumbing of his 6-string against Harland’s rim shots, the band growing muscular and angular, all the players circling DNA like around Eubanks’ front line theme. Taborn moved easily between a Steinway and a Fender Rhodes throughout the night, and his Rhodes work had a sandpaper edge that was enjoyably squonky. The evening, however, proved to be a showcase for the monster playing of Eubanks. I have not been so taken by a guitarist as I was with Eubanks in a long, long time.  Incredible runs, amazing tension/release, sizzling tone and integration to perfection with his fellow bandmates. It just kept on coming, and was for me, totally unexpected and exhilarating. “Breathe”, a Harland composition, brought the tempo down with lovely playing from Taborn that explored the belly of his grand for plucked flourishes and unusual vibrations, and had Eubanks using his pedals to bow like effect. The set closed with Eubank’s “The Watcher”, a time bomb ticker lit by the composer’s strings and Taborn’s Rhodes over a high-hat and bass driven churn that was as combustible as it sounds. A great closer that actually opens the disk.

 

Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks (yowzer!)

Dave Holland and Kevin Eubanks (yowzer!)

Leave it to Angel City, co-producers the Jazz Bakery, and UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) who made one of the best shows of the year possible. An exceptional night of music that brought pride to this Angelino.

 

Musical Prism, Dave Holland and company energize the Angel City Jazz Festival

Musical Prism, Dave Holland and company energize the Angel City Jazz Festival

 

 

Jon Cleary & The Absolute Monster Gentlemen, The Tin Men and Paul Sanchez & The Rolling Road Show at The Mint

September 14, 2013

 

Jon Cleary, an Absolute Monster Gentleman

Jon Cleary, an Absolute Monster Gentleman

Saturday’s NOLA triple threat at The Mint was as close to Frenchmen Street as you can get on Pico Boulevard (in fact, last time Sanchez and company played the room in 2010, their gig was billed as the “Return of Frenchmen Street West”). But this evening was as much Napoleon or Carrolton Avenue as Frenchmen Street, with Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen’s satisfyingly feisty 90 minute performance (and long overdue LA appearance) starting the night before the Tin Men and the Road Show took over for a later show.

Cleary’s set wasted no time, diving right into “Fools Game” (from his 1999 release, “Moonburn”) and “Just Kissed My Baby”  (from the Cleary & AMG, self-titled 2002 release). The former a propulsive soul blues romp with enough barroom piano rollick and get in your bones undertow to make every beer go down like an Abita. The latter a showcase for the best of the band, with its sticky Cornell Williams bass break and Cleary’s clavvy keys. Naturally, Professor Longhair’s “Go to the Mardi Gras” was in the mix (featured on Cleary’s 2008, “Mo Hippa Live” release) and Cleary and the AMG had ample opportunity to display their soulful R’n’B side throughout the set (“Help Me Somebody” from “Moonburn”, in particular). “C’mon Second Line” (from the 2006 release, “Alligator Lips and Dirty Rice”) brought out the white napkins and of course Fess stayed in the house with “Tipitina” (also featured on “Mo Hippa”), a legacy that could not be in better hands. It was one of those Festive sets where the next tune just felt better than the last, only because it was the next tune and they kept on coming. Cleary is the swampiest Brit I’ve ever heard and the band of Cleary, Cornell Williams on bass, Derwin Perkins on guitar and Jeffrey “Jellybean” Alexander on drums, played as a tight, friendly unit of innate familiarity throughout the show. Yes, please sir, may I have some more?

 

Derwin "Big D" Perkins and Cornell Williams at The Mint

Derwin “Big D” Perkins and Cornell Williams at The Mint

 

Call him Jellybean, Jeffrey Alexander eyeballing and laying it down

Call him Jellybean, Jeffrey Alexander eyeballing and laying it down

Cleary’s set did not seem to suffer from the early start time (7:00) and the room turned over decently before the Tin Men and Road Show sets got underway a little past 9.

 

Jon Cleary, mid-rollick

Jon Cleary, crosses over

Both The Tin Men and Paul Sanchez are familiar sights at Frenchmen Street venues like d.b.a, and only the insane power trio of washboard, guitar and sousaphone that is The Tin Men could credibly pull off a cover of Zep’s “Immigrant Song”. Seriously. Alex McMurray’s rubbed in gravel vocals, and hollow body string playing are fitting and winning. Chaz and McMurray often alternate vocal duties and Chaz’s thimble laden playing on a washboard rig replete with tin cans and a clerk’s bell may just be the bayou’s answer to the tabla. Anchoring it all are the lungs of Mr. Matt Perrine and the sum of the three somehow pull it off with aplomb.

 

The Tin Men, NOLA's take on the power trio

The Tin Men, NOLA’s take on the power trio

 

Washboard master Chaz, way more than a thimble full, try 10

Washboard master Chaz, thimbles go a long way in the right hands

 

Former Villainess, Arsene DeLay with Washboard Chaz

Former Villainess, Arsene DeLay with Washboard Chaz

The latest edition of Irish Channel troubadour Sanchez’s Road Show had a Villainous infusion. Former Vaud & the Villains vocalists (and LA to New Orleans transplants) Arsene DeLay and Antoine Diel were front and center throughout the 20+ song set, adding generous sparks and chills to what has really become a family affair, if not a musical haven for a few freshly minted New Orleanians (Sanchez and the post-Katrina displaced know something about relocation, so it only seems natural). Even Vaud himself (Andy Comeau playing sax), as well as Silky (vocalist Thomas Silcott) and Two Boots (David Silverman on sousaphone) joined the party. Sanchez sings of what he’s lived and tunes such as “Stew Called New Orleans”, “Hurricane Party” (from the 2009 and 2008 releases of the same name, respectively), “Rebuild, Renew” (from 2012’s “Nine Lives” and Colman DeKay’s lyrics) and “Foot of Canal Street” (from “Hurricane Party”) emotionally and affectionately express the smiles, tears and resiliency of his home town. This particular Road Show featured the Tin Men, Sanchez on guitar, the aforementioned Villains and early Sanchez collaborator Vance DeGeneres on bass for a few tunes. The set was about songs and stories, familiar and retold to a receptive and appreciative Threadhead crowd. The world’s good fortune of Sanchez as troubadour cannot be overstated, and I have to admit, is just plain fun.

 

Antoine Diel, Paul Sanchez and Arsene DeLay roll on

Antoine Diel, Paul Sanchez and Arsene DeLay roll on

 

The Irish Channel troubadour, Paul Sanchez, with Arsene DeLay and Matt Perrine

Irish Channel troubie, Paul Sanchez, with Arsene DeLay and Matt Perrine

 

The lion roars, Antoine Diel

The lion roars, Antoine Diel

Suffice to say that this same night/two shows Mint weekender fortifies the venue’s importance in connecting SoCal to the heart of New Orleans contemporary music. As other NOLA acts grow in popularity and play to bigger crowds, The Mint keeps the NO/LA connection vital and real. Meet me on Pico Boulevard.

 

JBP_130914_TheMint_SanchezRoadShow-MintSign_001

Reflections and Musings of a Jazz Fest Photographer

 

Jazzfest 44 was something to celebrate

Jazz Fest 44 was something to shout about

The 44th annual New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival is a few weeks past and my rear view reflections only seem to sweeten the experience. This Jazz Fest, my 10th overall, is best summarized by an exchange between two Festers NOLA bound from NYC by train, one a dear friend, composer and 3-timer, the other a vet from a krewe known for their affection for Fezs (yeah, you heard that right).

“Hope to see you next year”….

“You will, and every year after that until I die.”

What Rolling Stone calls the “greatest music event on the planet” inspires such pure devotion. 60+ acts a day, 12 stages and tents, 7 days (no repeats, Coachella, you listening ACL?). Most of my time these days is in the pit or hustling from one stage to the next, trying to burn more calories than I eat while keeping up with artists and bands older and younger than I am (not in my 40s anymore).

Fest photographers do not get to enjoy whole sets. Far from it. With 3 and outs for most big names, as well as other random acts, and much ground to cover, the feast becomes a mountain of nibbles (but you still walk away stuffed). The upside is hitting the last few songs when energy is at its highest and moments most prime. As NPR took note recently, Fest photogs have our own culture. Some are gamers who rarely interact, usually on real time deadline, others (like myself), rabid enthusiasts who let it show. We all keep coming back to the same well.

This year brought the elements. Downpours, muddy slop, wind, epically beautiful skies and a few cool days. While the BNAs didn’t draw me like other years, it’s not about them anyway.  At the end of it, I still found myself pulled to the New Orleans acts that are the essence of the Fest. Anders Osborne, Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, Galactic, Bonerama, Tab Benoit, Trombone Shorty and so many others. Year after year. It’s just gravity.

 

WEEKEND 1 HIGHLIGHTS

DAY 1

Day 1 was not shabby, but a little soggy. The Jazz Fest crew worked hard over night to throw sand and boards over wet areas of the field from a Wednesday storm that brought tornado warnings to the north. Gentilly alone featured the Carribean funk antics of Flow Tribe, Jamaal Batiste pumping up the family tradition, everyone shaking their brass with the Soul Rebels, Anders Osborne with Black Crowe and North Mississippi Allstar Luther Dickinson slinging it out, Gary Clark, Jr.’s thunderous return and Seattle alt-rootsers Band of Horses. While I missed Dr. John’s new Nite Trippers band at Acura, I did catch some of John Mayer and can say I dug him without shame. Joshua Redman’s quartet with Terence Blanchard drummer Kendrick Scott in the Jazz Tent was exquisite. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners kicked it up good at Congo, where George Benson is still a crowd favorite. Missed Sonny Landreth in the Blues Tent, but caught him at the Maple Leaf with Johnny Vidacovich and GPJ the night before. The sacred steel of the Campbell Brothers was a hands raising knockout. Even squeezed in a taste of NOLA’s resident troubadour Paul Sanchez and a road show that keeps on rolling and growing. With more of me to go around, I could have checked out Corey Ledet, then Terrance Simien at Fais Do-Do, Los Po-Boy Citos at Jazz & Heritage and the under the radar and overly chopped New Orleans Guitar Quartet, another quasi incarnation of the legendary Twangorama and Woodenhead. No such a thing as a bad day at the Fest and we were off to a fine start.

 

Just one of the horns in the Soul Rebs arsenal

Just one of the horns in the Soul Rebs arsenal

 

JBP_130426_NOJHF_GPJ&RunninPardners_001

George Porter, Jr., off and runnin’

 

Anders Osborne, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bloivar face off

Anders Osborne, Carl Dufrene and Eric Bolivar face off

 

Gary Clark, Jr , whoa...

Gary Clark, Jr….whoa

 

John Mayer getting down early

John Mayer getting down early

 

JBP_130426_NOJHF_GeorgeBenson_001

The very smooth George Benson

 

Carl Campbel, hands up, y'all

Carl Campbell, hands up, y’all

 

DAY 2

Day 2 brought drier, warmer conditions. Most of my time was around the Gentilly and Acura Stages, as well as covering other areas for the Jazz Fest Foundation’s Archive. There was good reason to be anchored around Gentilly. The inimitable songster/stringer Alex McMurray, A Tribe Called Red’s uniquely North American EDM spin, the unmistakable thrills of Bonerama, the philthy double bass attack of Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and the howling blues union of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. Yeah, that’s solid. The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars lit up the Acura Stage (with Michael Doucet now taking the fiddle role), setting the table for the always nattily attired Allen Toussaint and closer Billy Joel pushing back the weather demons of 2008 (leave it to Quint Davis to schedule these piano men/songwriters back-to-back). While I missed out on shooting the headliner, there was a good buzz about Joel’s hit laden set and only scheduled performance of the year (my consolation was catching him behind the keys for a stealth sit in at the Carousel Bar mid-week). Managed to sprinkle in the zydepunk of the Lost Bayou Ramblers at Fais Do-Do and Jon Cleary holding court in the Blues Tent with his Diabolical Fandangos. Andrew Bird had every gal swooning at the Fais Do-Do rail. My clone would have worked in Jason Marsalis’ sticks and salsa legend Eddie Palmieri in the Jazz Tent, Jill Scott at Congo Square and the Sidney Bechet Tribute at Economy Hall. Let’s just say FOMS are a high class problem.

 

Crooner, stringer and funny man Alex McMurrray with Matt Perrine and Carlo Nuccio

Crooner, stringer and funny man Alex McMurrray with Matt Perrine and Carlo Nuccio

 

Bonerama's Mark Mullins, wah-wah to the 'bone

Bonerama’s Mark Mullins, wah-wah to the ‘bone

 

George Porter, Jr. and Anders Osborne raise their musical voice

George Porter, Jr. and Anders Osborne raise their musical voice

 

Anders Osborne lets  loose with the VOW All-Stars

Anders Osborne lets loose with the VOW All-Stars

 

JBP_130427_NOJHF_VOWAS-Benoit&Sansone_001

VOW All-Stars swamp boogie with Tab Benoit and Johnny Sansone

 

Piano man and New Orleans legend, Allen Toussaint

Piano man and New Orleans legend, Allen Toussaint

 

Diabolical Fandango, Jon Cleary

Diabolical Fandango, Jon Cleary

 

Blues driven Ben Harper

Blues driven Ben Harper

 

Attention getter, Andrew Bird

Attention getter, Andrew Bird

 

DAY 3

The forecast was ominous for days. Definite weather anxiety. Keeping the gear dry, slogging through the mud to hit my stages. While it is was raining pretty steady throughout the AM, we seemed to get a break and rain stayed away for a good part of the afternoon. Half an eye was glued to iPhone weather maps, and all signs pointed to a major hose down before the day was through. I stayed Acura and Gentilly heavy, but bounced all over the Fair Grounds from start to finish. This was one day when there was truly too much of a good thing. Couldn’t miss the super horns of the Midnite Disturbers and I was on a mission to shoot 87-year old B.B. King in what could be his last Fest appearance. The Rads + Papa John arrangement of Raw Oyster Cult delivered as the rain abated. Khris Royal & Dark Matter took their brand of NOLA jazz funk to the Gentilly Stage. C.J. Chenier’s foot stomping accordion and zydeco lineage were matched by an even bigger smile. Dropped in for a few minutes for “King of Treme” Shannon Powell working the skins with his quintet in the Jazz Tent, then jumped over to Blues for Luther Kent & Trickbag just when guitarist Jonathon Boogie Long was shredding the place with his ES-335. The Nevilles minus Aaron were fresher than recent Neville Brothers performances (which seemed to be running on fumes), at least from the small bit I heard. I am a big fan of Baton Rouge songwriter Kristin Diable, who brought her full band, The City, to the Lagniappe Stage. The tex-mexaltation of Calexico back at Gentilly was surprisingly fun. Anyone who has heard the collection of the best horns in one place either side of the Mississippi that is the Midnite Disturbers knows they literally wear their musical roots on stage and are ground zero for an only at Jazz Fest experience. Worked back for a taste of Dianne Reeves in the Jazz Tent. Her nuanced, soulful and spiritual vocals were gorgeous and left quite an impression on many first weekenders. By this time, skies were darkening and DMB’s start time was minutes away. When Matthews took the stage, molecules were thick with moisture. DMB got through most of the opener (“Seven”) before the drops multiplied. I knew what was coming. A few minutes into “Still Water” (ironic) the valves fully opened and torrents unleashed. I bagged up my gear and hightailed it to find refuge between acts in the Jazz Tent. Those photogs that did stick around captured some pretty dramatic and waterlogged shots of what turned out to be an abbreviated set because of weather. With the gear secured, I caught up with the Mediterranean guitars of the Gypsy Kings at Gentilly, then turned around for another lap to make sure I caught Lucille’s master in the Blues Tent. All these years, I had never shot B.B. King and poignancy hung in the air. I was positioned dead center at his feet and we were all able to shoot for about 30 minutes. What I didn’t expect was to capture 87 years of the blues written all over his face. A satisfying close to the first weekend, soaked and all.

 

Doing the Fest rain dance

Doing the Fest rain dance

 

Dave Malone and Frank Bua win best band name

Dave Malone and Frank Bua win best band name

 

Baton Rouge's Kristin Diable, is one rockin' chanteuse

Baton Rouge’s Kristin Diable is one rockin’ chanteuse

 

Skerik gets personal with photographer Zack Smith while follow Disturbers look on

Skerik gets personal with photographer Zack Smith while fellow Disturbers look on

 

Dianne Reeves was spellbinding in the Jazz Tent

Dianne Reeves was spellbinding in the Jazz Tent

 

A dry Dave Matthews (but not for long)...

A dry Dave Matthews (but not for long)…

 

Lucille and friend

Lucille and friend

Especially memorable

Anders Osborne’s takes on the David Crosby penned “Almost Cut My Hair” and the Dead’s “Franklin’s Tower”…First duck po-boy…Covering Gary Clark, Jr. for the fourth time in a year and loving every minute of it… A youth band busting out their sticks en masse around a trash can and sounding better than most drummers you’ll ever hear…First cochon dulait…The Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars, this time and every time…Dianne Reeves enrapturing the Jazz Tent…Skerik getting the mic up in Photographer Zack Smith’s grill so he could sing along to “Buck It Like a Horse” in the Midnite Disturbers pit…The, whoa, who is this guy moment hearing Jonathon Boogie Long for the first time…Allen Toussaint’s intro of B.B. King and King toasting the audience at the end of his set “if I can’t be with you next week, think about me some time”. Chills…Walking through an endless swamp of abandoned camp chairs at Acura leaving the Fair Grounds.

 

WEEKEND 2 HIGHLIGHTS

Nature figured prominently as the second weekend rolled around. Steady rain on Tuesday and a slightly drier Wednesday still the left the infield in terrible shape. By Friday, the place was a big bowl of brown slop (worst conditions I had seen in my 10 years attending). But Festers spirits do not dampen. Rain and mud are just crazy juice to fuel their inner “laissez le bon temps roulet”.

DAY 4

Thursday the second weekend is always lighter in attendance, easier to navigate and a great day to get bearings for first timers, with Widespread Panic taking the quasi-traditional jam band headline slot at Acura this year. While I missed Mia Borders at Acura, and the B3 Woodshed in the Jazz Tent with Joe Ashlar, my early afternoon arrival found me appreciating 78-year old Edward “Kidd” Jordan’s Improvisational Arts Quintet in the Jazz Tent, Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone owning the Blues Tent and understanding why there’s no mistaking who “Miss Rosie” Ledet & her Zydeco Playboys are. Henry Butler is always on the list. His boogie makes my ears happy and longtime guitarist, Vasti Jackson is a photographer’s dream to go along with his fire breathing chops. I was tipped to check out Fi Yi Yi & the Mandingo Warriors at the Jazz & Heritage Stage by a photog buddy. The sight of a 6-7 year old furiously slapping a tambourine and dancing in full Indian regalia while elders looked on was potent. I managed to catch the end of Glen David Andrews set in the Blues Tent (a quart or two of sweat later). Always the showman, and freshly post-recovered, GDA was on his game, even managing to suit up and hold a triumphant pose not lost on all the cameras. Me, I’m not a huge Widespread fan, but they have a loyal following, for sure and I had to hang for a bit. Then reversed course to Gentilly. I had never seen Patti Smith and worked my way through the rain and mud for the first few songs of her set. An early departure swung by Roy Ayers in the Jazz tent, a great vibes player who went the smooth jazz route long ago. Not my thing and I was ready for dry feet and a cold beer.

 

Unscripted "Kidd"

Unscripted “Kidd”

 

Johnny Sansone, not holding back

Johnny Sansone, not holding back

 

They call her Miss Rosie

They call her Miss Rosie

 

Oh, Henry...

Oh, Henry…

 

Fi-Yi-Yi for all generations

Fi-Yi-Yi for all generations

 

Glen David Andrews aims high

Glen David Andrews aims high

 

String bender Jimmy Herring with Widespread Panic

String bender Jimmy Herring with Widespread Panic

 

Patti Smith is happy

Patti Smith is happy

DAY 5

While Friday was dry, it was cold, damp, cloudy and impossibly muddy (footware became a major lifestyle choice and you couldn’t find a pair of shrimp boots anywhere in town). Another post-2 PM arrival and we were fully underway around 2:30. Quint definitely Texas-fied the Gentilly lineup with the Mavericks and Marcia Ball, leading up to Willie Nelson. The Mavericks were a total shit kick (and helped make up for missing the Iguanas). I would have made it to Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet, the always entertaining Amanda Shaw, the Summers-Mayfield Latin tag team of Los Hombres Calientes and the Coco Robicheaux Tribute with Walter “Wolfman” Washington, but an early start was so not in the cards. Getting fed and navigating the grounds took a little more strategy than usual and was a priority. Landed at the Jazz Tent for Astral Project, one of the first jazz acts I encountered at the Fest. The band has been playing it for 24 straight years, and it shows. Johnny V. is a wonder and there is special chemistry in how that rhythm section of Vidacovich and bassist James Singleton mix with Steve Masakowski’s 8-stringer and Tony Dagradi’s tenor (btw, vocalist Sasha Masakowski, Steve’s daughter, was playing at the Lagniappe Stage at the same time). Next stops of Beausoleil at Fais Do-Do, Papa Grows Funk’s last Fest appearance at Congo and trumpeter Nicholas Payton’s XXX at the Jazz Tent (with drummer Lenny White, and where Payton often doubled at keyboard while playing his horn) kept the afternoon rolling. But my day was fixated on master stringer Jerry Douglas’ set at Fais Do Do. Douglas has defined, embraced and expanded the realm of the dobro in stunningly jammy ways and it is rare for a West Coaster like myself to hear him and his band perform live (and I had to forge a sea of muck to do it). I arrived early in the set with Douglas wielding an electric dobro to spectacular effect (“power tools”, he chided). Turning strains of bluegrass to fiery ends, it was an incredible instrumental display. Switching to the traditional steel instrument, Douglas’ digital dexterity just kept flowing. It was an indefinably beautiful and satisfying set, and a highlight of the entire 7 days. This was one of those not quite under the radar bookings that you either eagerly anticipated or stumbled upon. I was also excited to see Willie Nelson for the first time. The 80-year old opened with “Whiskey River” and while I only was able to stay for a few songs, the set list was loaded with favorites and only Willie could pull off a set ender like “Roll Me Up and Smoke Me When I Die” in all seriousness. The day was far from over as I headed towards the Blues and Jazz Tents. Now, I’ve seen Tab Benoit a bunch of times, but never, I mean never, have I seen him tear the place up like he did this year. His blistering Thinline Tele and rhythm section were all he needed to take the place down. After Tab’s smoldering set, the Jazz Tent was still going with Cookers, featuring Eddie Henderson, Billy Harper, Craig Handy, David Weiss, George Cables, Cecil McBee, and Billy Hart. Yeah, another only at Jazz Fest kinda day.

 

Astral Project's rhythm sectio of Johnny Vidacovih and James Singleton, 24 and counting

Astral Project’s rhythm section of Johnny Vidacovih and James Singleton, 24 and counting

 

Mavericks Raul Malo and Robert Reynolds

Mavericks Raul Malo and Robert Reynolds

 

Funk goes out in style with "Papa" John Gros

Funk goes out in style with “Papa” John Gros

 

Jerry Douglas has fun with power tools, incredible

Jerry Douglas has fun with power tools, incredible

 

No stranger Wille Nelson is 80 years old and still smokin'

No stranger Willie Nelson is 80 years young and still smokin’

 

Tab tears it up in the Blues Tent

Tab tears it up in the Blues Tent

 

Billy Hart cooking

Billy Hart cooking

 

DAY 6

The rain was gone, the sky impossibly blue, the temps unnaturally cool. When we entered the Fair Grounds, our krewe was inserted into a sea of humanity that backed across the track up to the Beaufort gate. Were there really that many Fleetwood Mac fans in the world? Turns out that much of the interior was still almost impassable due to mud, so everyone crowded along paved walkways or the track and the automysophobia was rampant (look it up). Too late for the musical shenanigans of the New Orleans Bingo Show!, prodigal-openers-for-not-much-longer the Revivalists and the calming sounds of Cowboy Mouth, I was not going to miss the Meters rhythm unit of George Porter, Jr. and Joseph “Zigaboo” Modeliste scatter their fleur debris in a jazz setting with trumpeter Nicholas Payton and David Torkanowsky on piano. A few tunes of Eric Lindell in the Blues Tent and then on to Galactic at Gentilly, just in time to hear David Shaw of The Revivalists take the Corey Glover part for “Hey Na Na” (nice job, Shaw, you nailed it and the crowd loved you). Corey Henry’s daughter, Jazz, joined her dad on trumpet. A sweet moment that took some courage. Shot over to Fais Do Do for The Little Willies featuring Norah Jones dressed in country colors, then to the tail of Terence Blanchard, and his sonic portraits in the Jazz Tent. The Preservation Hall Jazz Band in Economy Hall was a delight. I could not cell divide enough for the closing acts, even with being shut out to shoot the Mac. Phoenix, Frank Ocean, Los Lobos and the Stanley Clarke/George Duke Project. Had to catch/shoot ‘em all. Phoenix was the big alt-rock act of the Fest and fresh from headlining slots at Coachella. I’ve wanted to embrace their musicality, but Thomas Mars mid-80s new wave encased vocals turned me off, at least on the studio tunes I was familiar with. That changed live, especially with Thomas Hedlund on drums anchoring the whole affair. Must say, I quite dug what I heard at Gentilly. No egos, playing like a unit, having a great time on stage. Like the 2005 White Sox. New Orleans native Ocean captivated his fans, but was more of a drop in for me. The best band from East L.A., was humming in the Blues Tent (second “Dear Mr. Fantasy” of the weekend, including Widespread’s). George Duke and Stanley Clarke seemed like a gift pairing. Just got there for the end of a rousing “School Days”. “Dr. Funkenstein” was a bit of a schtick, but this was a groove fest and a worthy capper for the non-Mac crowd. The word on the Fleetwood Mac set sounded inspiring, even moving. Since I experience the Fest camera first these days, I had to live vicariously.

 

Zigaboo in a jazz mood

Zigaboo in a jazz mood

 

The Henry father-daughter act

The Henry father-daughter act

 

Revivalist David Shaw with Galactic

Revivalist David Shaw with Galactic

 

Norah Jones gets countrified with the Little Willies

Norah Jones takes a country road with the Little Willies

 

Terence Blanchard paints with sound

Terence Blanchard painting with sound

 

Pres Hall in Economy Hall

Pres Hall kicking it up in Economy Hall

 

Phoenix definitely rising, c'est bon

Phoenix definitely rising, c’est bon

 

New Orleanian, Frank Ocean

New Orleanian, Frank Ocean

 

Lefty Cesar Rosas is with the best band from East L.A.

Lefty Cesar Rosas is with the best band from East L.A.

 

Duke and Clarke conjure up Dr. Funkenstein

 

DAY 7

Back in long sleeves (a Fest first for this photographer), the last day would be Acura and Gentilly heavy, starting with the Meter Men and Phish’s Page McConnell behind the keys. The 3M +1 config were locked in and very tight, but I didn’t want to miss the “soul queen of New Orleans”, Irma Thomas at Gentilly, the rollicking ruckus of the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at Jazz & Heritage or John Boutte hushing the crowd to Leonard Cohen’s “Halleluah” as only he can in the Jazz Tent. Excited to see The Black Keys and got my fix with the tremolo drenched “Howlin’ For You” opener. A misjudged refreshment break scuttled Hall & Oates at Gentilly. While Hall & Oates singles were everywhere back in my day, I was always a bit indifferent to their pop oriented brand of blue-eyed soul. As it turns out, this was another set that had lots of people talking. Oh, well.  A lap back to the Jazz Tent for the Wayne Shorter Quartet with Brian Blade, John Pattitucci and Danilo Perez. Shorter’s set three years ago was magical and I arrived towards the end when the now 80-year old Shorter and his soprano were taking flight. Brian Blade is a marvel to hear, watch and shoot. Few drummers play with such unbridled joy, whether spaces or strikes. Managed to get to the pre-tuba part of blues-rock patriarch Taj Mahal’s set (with the Real Tuba Band, they squeezed 10 of those big horns in for the finale). Aaron Neville had the usual three and out and the last hour of the Fest was approaching. After grabbing my shots, I headed for a stop at Fais Do Do for a taste of Del McCoury with the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Del and the boys with the PHJB are a fine (and not obvious) match of two of the best forms of traditional American music. But the sun was getting low. It was time to close it out with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at Acura. Arriving in the middle of this historic set was shape shifting. I’ve seen Shorty dozens of times, but nothing like this. They played big. They played to the moment. They played to the passing of the torch from years past with the Neville Brothers to the now and beyond. As the sun was setting, the cool air genuinely dry, color splashed everywhere, Troy and the band were a Tesla coil for the masses. He was generous with every one of his players. Heck, drummer Joey Peebles ear-to-ear grin couldn’t contain his exuberance. Never more so, then when all six band members grabbed sticks for an extended “solo”. During “Do to Me” towards the end of the set, Shorty descended into the crowd, deep into the crowd, working everyone to get down low and to get up high. This may play in a club, but when it works with 40,000+, you have a bond for life. Quint let Shorty go well past 7 (as well he should) and the crowd loved it. Before he departed the stage, Andrews, trumpet in one hand and trombone in the other, raised his hardware high above his head and let out a celebratory yell for the masses. Do to Me, indeed. This was Jazz Fest history at its best.

 

Leo the Meter man ready for his close up

Leo the Meter man ready for his close up

 

New Orleans soul queen, Irma Thomas

New Orleans soul queen, Irma Thomas

 

John Boutte hushes the crowd

John Boutte hushes the crowd

 

Mardi Gras indian face time

Mardi Gras indian face time

 

Black Keys' Patrick Carney making some noise

Black Keys’ Patrick Carney making some noise

 

Other Key, uber producer/guitarist Dan Auerbach

Other Key, uber producer/guitarist Dan Auerbach

 

Wayne Shorter, gorgeous soprano from a master

Wayne Shorter, gorgeous soprano from a master

 

Brian Blade's joyful playing

Brian Blade’s joyful playing

 

Taj Mahal, pre-tubas

Taj Mahal, pre-tubas

 

Solo brother Aaron closes Gentilly

Solo brother Aaron closes Gentilly

 

McCourys and Ben Jaffe

Two McCourys and a Jaffe

 

Pete Murano gets some encouragement from Troy "Shorty" Andrews

Pete Murano gets some encouragement from Troy “Shorty” Andrews

 

All hands "solo"

All hands “solo”

 

Two horns are better than one, and Shorty rules

Two horns are better than one, and Shorty rules

 

Especially memorable

Mardi Gras colors young and old with Fi Yi Yi and the Mandingo Warriors…Johnny Sansone emptying boxes of harps to the crowd, one undoubtedly caught by the next great NOLA blues talent in the making…Jerry Douglas amid the slop, instrumental musicianship and soul deeply felt and appreciated…Tab Benoit simply going to town in the Blues Tent, when I was almost going to skip it…crawfish enchiladas and soft shell crab po-boys…Norah Jones’ smile from a few feet away…how much I totally enjoyed Phoenix…Clarke and Duke going at it like youngsters…wanting to hear more of everything, but especially Terence Blanchard…Debbie Davis’ son zonked out on her lap backstage with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers making a lovable racket and the smile on mom’s face….the attention of the John Boutte crowd in the quietest moments…going face-to-face with a Buffalo Hunters and Apache Hunters Mardi Gras Indian chief as the parade came through…Shorty’s Jazz Fest triumph…worn and torn by Day 5 of shooting and knowing we will always be back after Day 7.

The tribe of photographers is tight and I am fortunate to not just be working among so many talented people, but to count some as my friends. Rolling Stone, Offbeat, Nola.com and just about every music blog imaginable, feature the fine work of many colleagues, writers and performers. Also, for the first time, Jazz Fest was televised, with AXS TV providing over 30 hours of coverage and many full sets. The DVR helps with the detox.

So many people make the Fest possible, with the biggest shout outs to the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival and Foundation to all the staff, grounds crew, security, food vendors, medical crew, sound/lighting techs and stage managers. It takes more than a village to raise this barn.

Summer’s close and the Fest glow recedes, but one thing is for sure. I will be back. Next year, and every year after that I am able and breathing. It’s just gravity.

 

 

 

Robert Randolph presents The Slide Brothers, with the Otis Taylor Band, Royce Hall

February 23, 2013

 

The Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

The Slide Brothers at Royce Hall

We’re all told to respect our elders, to learn from the generation before and to pass along tradition. Wise words musically speaking, and fundamental to any jazz or blues playbook where family legacies span generations and old sounds are regularly rediscovered and reimagined.

Now, I hail from about as far from a Pentecostal upbringing as one would expect for a ‘60s kid raised in the relative comfort of a West Los Angeles lifestyle. But when I heard Robert Randolph for the first time, I was floored. I had no clue about the roots of Sacred Steel in the church tradition, but the Hendrix like intensity he brought to the pedal steel was pretty religious in my book and I’ve been a fan ever since.

Randolph’s latest project, the Slide Brothers, pays homage to those roots. Randolph has brought together the “greatest living musicians who embody the Sacred Steel tradition” (as described on the Slide Brothers’ web site), a tradition that dates to Depression era times where steel/slide guitar and vocal melodies were all but interchangeable in church music. Calvin Cooke, Chuck Campbell, Darick Campbell and Aubrey Ghent are the Slide Brothers – a direct legacy to a musical tradition rarely heard beyond church walls. Randolph, himself a son of a deacon and a minister, saw to it that the world gets to hear these guys with the release of the self-titled debut studio album and this current tour (with dates in California and Nevada). I hadn’t heard any of the album before the show, but the mix of material from the Allman Brothers and George Harrison to more traditional spirituals sounded awfully good to me.

The Slide Brothers (with Carlton Campbell on drums and Randolph regular Ray Holloman on bass, but without Darick Campbell) got into position with the pedal steels of Randolph and Chuck Campbell bookending Calvin Cooke and Aubrey Ghent, who played their lap steels on stands (Cooke plays the same instrument his mother bought for him to this day). That’s a whole lot of strings on stage and anticipation of their confluence was obvious. Not something you are going to hear or see, well, err, almost ever.

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-CalvinCooke_002

Calvin Cooke, “the B.B. King of gospel steel guitar”

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-Randolph&Campbell_001

Youngin’, Robert Randolph

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-AubreyGhent_001

Aubrey Ghent, nephew of Willie Eason who started it all

The set was way more blues rowdy than pew churchy, and shifted into high gear early. Many Sacred Steel players start as drummers, and the percussive gallop of a trap kit boogied easily on the Brothers strings. I also finally got how the steel guitar voice can stand in for so many others and I swear I heard sax, harp and vocal (especially low strings for baritone) lines at many points. The set generously focused on the debut album including the Elmore James staple, “The Sky is Crying”, and the Brothers really tore into the ZZ Top like stomp of “Help Me Make It Through” with Calvin Cooke sharing some life perspective along the way. But with Randolph’s thwacka-thwacka intro to Hendrix’s “Voodoo Chile” the place took off and the power Randolph and the Brothers brought to the tune was magnified many times over to cyclone like intensity (no surprise that the band was featured as part of the Hendrix Experience tribute tour last year and, as I just learned, the new album is produced by Eddie Kramer, who twisted knobs on some of Hendrix’s most famous recordings). By the end of the set, the audience was on its feet with hands up high and a distinct Sunday morning feel in the air. Randolph switched to his Tele (as he did earlier in the set), and as the band left the stage, he kept going from the wings (and of course, circled back with all of the band to close it out). The Slide Brothers encored with a stirring cover of the Allman’s “Don’t Keep Me Wonderin’” (ironic for me, hearing Greg Allman do his tune in the same room last month) and the oft-covered classic “It Hurts Me Too”.

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-Chuck&CarltonCampbell_001

Chuck Campbell on pedal steel, nephew Carlton Campbell on drums

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-RandolphCampbellCooke&Holloman_001

Randolph and Cooke on their feet, with Ray Holloman and Carlton Campbell

While at times it was difficult to sort out the solos from seated players on a slightly elevated stage, the sound of so much grit and slide, sweet and burn, all mashed together with such intuition was stunning. It must really be something for Randolph to share the stage with the progenitors of Sacred Steel he so revered as a young musician.

 

JBP_130223_CAP_SlideBros-RobertRandolph_006

Robert Randolph, standing tall among giants

The roots of the Slide Brothers are largely non-secular, but they are making music for everybody to hear and celebrate. That is worth praising whatever your beliefs.

The Otis Taylor Band opened the show underway with their unique style of “trance blues”. Taylor, who spent many years away from recording until 1996, just released his 13th album, “My World is Gone” on Concord Music. Their set was moody and meditatively jammy, yet didn’t peg with anything rote or traditional. This was not a push/pull, light/dark blues take, but much more of an ebb and flow that was entirely captivating (of course, he did manage to throw “Hey, Joe” in there, too). The Taylor Band includes Anne Harris on fiddle, Shawn Starski on guitar, Todd Edmunds on bass and Larry Thompson on drums. Harris’ lively stage presence, and slippery-fiery playing (with no doubt some serious classical background) thoroughly enriched the set. Props to UCLA’s Center for the Art of Performance (CAP) for pairing the Otis Taylor Band with the Slide Brothers.

 

JBP_130223_CAP_OtisTaylor-Taylor&Starski_001

Trance blueser Otis Taylor, with Shawn Starski

 

JBP_130223_CAP_OtisTaylor-AnneHarris_004

Anne Harris, exuberant in attire, performance and playing

 

3 Brave Souls, Kirk Douglas Theatre

February 8, 2013

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-Trio_001 3.29.06 PM

3 Brave Souls at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

Friday’s “3 Brave Souls” CD release event at the Kirk Douglas Theater in Culver City is just one of many ongoing performances held by the Jazz Bakery as they await construction of their Frank Gehry designed new home next door.  John Beasley has been a familiar presence in the new year, with a residency at the Blue Whale encompassing big band, latin and more intimate motifs. The “3 Brave Souls” performance is a fitting cap to a busy January with this special collaboration of Beasley with Rolling Stones bassist Darryl Jones and Ronald Bruner, Jr. on drums (as well as vocalists Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley). I had not been that familiar with Beasley’s career until this project, but the opportunity to catch two former Miles band mates in Beasley and Jones, with drummer Bruner, Jr. (who has been playing since he was 3, seriously), was too good to pass up. The “3 Brave Souls” project has been described as “ass-wiggling funk/jazz” and made the cut of top 2012 jazz CDs by Jazz Inside magazine. Me, I was just curious to see how resumes that spread from Suicidal Tendencies, Flying Lotus and Kenny Garrett (Bruner, Jr.), to Miles, Steely Dan, Freddie Hubbard and James Brown (Beasley) to the Stones, Sting, Peter Gabriel, Madonna and Miles (Jones), would fare in head to head funk driven jazz. No doubt, these 3 can play absolutely anything (and at the highest level), so the prospect of them cutting loose with a set of sticky-sharp grooves sounded pretty appealing.

The Douglas seats about 300 in stadium style seating and there’s not a bad seat in the house. It is a worthy sanctuary on the road to the Bakery’s permanent location.

As Beasley took a seat behind two layers of electric keys, a piano and a MacBook Pro, the 3 fell in behind Jones’ bubbling bass line for “Back Friday” (which also opens the album). Beasley swirled around the rhythm section landing on the groove for a round or two then departing again mixing synth sounds with electric piano. It didn’t take long for the unit to build to a nice froth, than pull back for Jones to dance with Bruner, Jr.’s snare and Beasley’s flourishes. Tasty, tasty, tasty.  Apropos of the group’s lineage, the 3 covered Miles’ “Decoy”, (which from the same titled 1984 album, on which Jones appeared) building from a snare rim/Jones pulse into a throbbing platform for Beasley to explore. This was vintage ‘70s-‘80s infused stuff and I was struck how perfectly absent a guitar was to this sound. Much of the set included the vocals of Dwight Trible and Nayanna Holley, with both singers digging into the pure funk of “Wanna Get Away” from “3 Brave Souls”. Holley found just the right reach with the bluesy “Nothing Left to Say” (from “3 Brave Souls’) and Trible and band worked up “Backlash Blues (from 2011’s “Dwight Trible Sings, John Beasley Swings”). Jones even busted out the vocals for his tune, “Stay” (from “3 Brave Souls”). In the back half of the set, the singers left the stage, Beasley moved to the piano and the trio took flight, leaving the funk behind. Propelled by Ronald Bruner, Jr., the trio was dizzying in intensity and simply flying under Beasley’s piano. The set closed with Bob Marley’s “Exodus”, which swelled beautifully in the hands of these Souls. Trible’s vocals were stirring as he alternated Marley’s chorus with a quiet refrain of “3 Brave Souls”.

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-DarrylJones_001 3.29.06 PM

Darryl “The Munch” Jones, unStoned

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-JohnBeasley_002 3.29.06 PM

John Beasley is 1 brave soul

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-DwightTrible_001 3.29.06 PM

Dwight Trible at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-Holiday&Trible_001 3.29.06 PM

Nayanna Holley

Bruner, Jr. (who filled the spot of Leon “Ndugu” Chancler from the record) has been playing for most of his 30 years on the planet and it shows (check him out with the late Austin Peralta on McCoy Tyner’s “Passion Dance” from 2006, off the charts stuff). He’s now set to tour with Prince and will be back in LA with Chick Corea and Stanley Clarke in April. After having just caught Billy Cobham and his monster kit that he played down in size, Bruner, Jr. was the counterpoint. A model of simplicity (1 rail/1 floor and a minimum of hardware) he played big, and that kit sang all night long. Wow is both worthy and insufficient.

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-RonaldBrunerJr_001 3.29.06 PM

Prince, Suicidal Tendencies, Chick Corea, 3 Brave Souls = Ronald Bruner, Jr.

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-Trio_005 3.29.06 PM

3 Brave Souls on stage at the Kirk Douglas Theatre

This performance was jazz with a personal feel. Superb music played by superb musicians in a superb setting. Definitely a buzz from the crowd as the lights went up. Hats off to Ruth Price and the Jazz Bakery for making this show happen.

You can catch more of John Beasley with his 17-piece MONK’estra big band at Vitello’s on February 20th and Typhoon on March 11th. John Beasley will also be directing the International Jazz Day concert hosted by Herbie Hancock and the Monk Institute in Istanbul, Turkey on April 30th, with over 30 global all-star jazz musicians participating, and hitting the road with Stanley Clarke in late Spring-early Summer.

 

JBP_130208_3BraveSouls-Bows_001 3.29.06 PM

A bow well earned, thank you Jazz Bakery

Billy Cobham’s Spectrum 40 Band, The Mint

January 26, 2013

 

Billy Cobham performing with the Spectrum 40 Band at The Mint

Billy Cobham and Ric Fierabracci at The Mint

Mahavishnu Orchestra is in the pantheon of jazz fusion pioneers. Black hole density, volcanic intensity and ridiculous virtuosity. I had never heard anything quite like John McLaughlin’s searing fretwork, Jan Hammer’s prog-funk sounds and Jerry Goodman’s violin thrown to the front of what truly seemed to be an inner mounting flame. Not for the faint of heart. Beneath it all was drummer Billy Cobham, who played at Mach tempos and time signatures with the necessary muscle to stir the mix.

While Mahavishnu (especially in its original lineup for three brilliant albums) occasionally slowed down, more often than not, there was an avalanche of notes and spaces were usually avoided. The influence of McLaughlin’s Eastern spiritualism was very much present and the music omni-powerful. After Mahavishnu, McLaughlin turned away from the fire and the volume way down with his acoustic Indian trio Shakti, Jan Hammer went on to Miami Vice fame and blazed rock fusion territory with Jeff Beck, and Billy Cobham recorded his first solo album, 1973’s “Spectrum”. Cobham brought along Hammer, session master Leland Sklar on bass and guitarist Tommy Bolin (all of 21, before he went on to play with the James Gang and Deep Purple), as well as the great Ron Carter on acoustic bass and Joe Farrell on reeds/winds. A mix of funk and fusion, Hammer’s trademark mini-moog squelches and electric piano, Bolin’s cross-over agility, and Cobham’s furious chops placed up front, in the middle and sideways, “Spectrum” stands on its own as one of the seminal albums of its genre. Opening with a stampede of toms (“Quadrant 4”) and closing with Crusaders like funk (“Red Baron”), the album still holds up, even 40 years later.

Cobham has been recording at a Woody Allen like pace over the years, with over 40 albums under his own name and a resume that includes Miles, Sonny Rollins, Horace Silver, Quincy Jones, McCoy Tyner and other jazz luminaries too numerous to mention (I’m partial to 1976’s “The Billy Cobham – George Duke Band: Live on Tour in Europe,” with John Scofield and Alfonso Johnson). Looking back on where it started seems appropriate.

To say Cobham is almost machine-like in his playing is more a testament to his strength and precision than a description of his breakneck pacing and explosive fills. In fact, on more recent listening, it is Cobham’s snare that is the constant. Always bubbling and percolating under whatever he is playing. While his double kick drum set up is rock in posture, it should not be taken as a jazz equivalent of Spinal Tap. Far from it (though I was curious how his traditionally monster kit plus band would fit on the snug Mint stage).

The Spectrum 40 tour reunites Cobham with Mahavishnu violinist Jerry Goodman, with Cobham vets Dean Brown on guitar, Gary Husband on keys and Ric Fierabracci on bass. The tour had been in the Northeast and followed that up with West Coast dates in L.A, Santa Cruz and Oakland.

 

Jerry Goodman locking in with Dean Brown

Jerry Goodman locking in with Dean Brown

 

Billy Cobham performing with the Spectrum 40 Band at The Mint

Billy Cobham performing with the Spectrum 40 Band at The Mint

 

Former Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman

Former Mahavishnu Orchestra violinist Jerry Goodman

Beginning with a snare roll that barreled into the theme of “Mushu Creole Blues” (from 1994’s “The Traveller”), the Spectrum unit started to swing quickly as Goodman and Brown enthusiastically tangled with each other. Husband’s topically named “If the Animals Had Guns, Too” (from his 2012 release, “Dirty & Beautiful, Volume 2”) went to darker, freer corners in a more compact tune. Husband is an exceptional drummer in his own right, which must bring added intuition to his keyboard interplay with the bandleader. Cobham was relaxed and loose with the crowd as he introduced the band, admittedly a bit “fuzzy” after their escape from New York, just before a Nor’easter shut down travel. After the intros, the band jumped into Dean Brown’s “Two Numbers” (from Brown’s 2012 release, “Unfinished Business”), which found an interesting African marimba like feel at its mid-point. An extended Cobham solo stitched rhythmic fits and starts into a locomotive, mixing sheets of tom fills with his snare and cymbals, drawing the snare down to the barest paradiddle before an inundating flurry of strikes that launched “Stratus” (from the original “Spectrum” album and a fusion “greatest hit”, deservedly so).  This being the first time I saw Cobham live, I was struck by how he played such a large kit (2 kicks, 2 floors, 4 rails and enough metal to melt into a car) like one half its size.  That’s finesse.

 

Dean Brown, Strat in hand

Dean Brown, Strat in hand

 

Billy Cobham, doubling up on the sticks

Billy Cobham, doubling up on the sticks

 

Billy Cobham, from a paradiddle to a roar

Billy Cobham, from a paradiddle to a roar

 

Dean Brown locking in with Jerry Goodman

Dean Brown locking in with Jerry Goodman

The second set began with Goodman’s “Brick Chicken” (from 1999’s, “Stranger’s Hand”, a collaboration of Goodman, harmonica player Howard Levy, drummer Steve Smith and bassist Oteil Burbridge), and a flat out boogie that wouldn’t be out of place as a jam band crowd pleaser. “Fragolino” (also from “The Traveller”) and Ric Fierabracci’s “Sphere of Influence” (from 2007’s “Hemispheres” with Phil Turcio, Brett Garsed and Joel Rosenblatt) brought some (relatively) gentler passages between feverish highs. The set closed on the heels of another Cobham solo with “Quadrant 4”(from “Spectrum”), a total stomp with rock hero sensibilities and a 405 pileup of a crescendo. “Red Baron” had to be the encore (which also appropriately closes “Spectrum”), the band returning to its feel good theme many times over and leaving the stage to a very happy and appreciative audience. This was an outstanding night of music and the material a worthy revisit 40 years later.

 

The Cobham touch

The Cobham touch

A special shout out to The Mint. The Spectrum 40 show was the second KKJZ sponsored event at the venue in a week (following Joe Lovano and the US 5 with Esperanza Spalding), and if these shows are any example, the versatile booking of The Mint is a welcome and vibrant addition to the Los Angeles jazz scene. The room is a not a traditional clinking glasses, hushed at your seat jazz club. It is informal, open and intimate (but be prepared to stand). With Stanley Clarke leading his band through a three date run across town, not a bad week for Los Angeles jazz either.

 

Billy Cobham

Billy Cobham

Check out this recent interview with Billy Cobham talking about the tour and the band. Good stuff.

For the drummers reading this, Billy Cobham also teaches online at ArtistWorks (and gives students feedback on their playing, really). Pretty cool.