RatDog with the Chris Robinson Brotherhood, Greek Theatre

July 2, 2014

 

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Hard to believe that the Dead offshoot, RatDog, has been at it for almost 20 years. The band, formed by Bob Weir not long after the death of Jerry Garcia, has become the longest running gig for any founding member outside of the Dead. In that span, guitarist Weir has taken on the appearance (and the role) of elder, bringing along a younger fan base that never experienced Winterland, Oakland or MSG. RatDog is a kindred unit, well suited to Weir’s truly unique guitar talents (inspiring legions of kids to be “rhythm” guitarists, myself included). Jay Lane on drums helped get the whole thing going with Weir in 1995, Furthur’s Jeff Chimenti provides the keys, Rob Wasserman is a wonderful bass player and frequent Weir collaborator, and Steve Kimock an important figure in the jam band world and occasional member of other Dead related projects. Brit Robin Sylvester fills out this version of the band on bass, as well. With Furthur on hiatus, both RatDog and Phil and Friends shows take on more importance and delight, each diving headfirst into the Garcia canon, adding a twist on interesting covers and exploring their leader’s compositions with abandon.

The Greek is always a gorgeous setting and has been Furthur’s LA home for some time. It’s only appropriate RatDog follows suit, having last played the venue in 2009. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood in all its Black Crowes meets jam band glory was a bonus pairing, and got underway early. CRB hit many Dead-esque passages with some satisfying trippy explorations and fine twin guitar interplay between Robinson and Neal Casal. Robinson’s distinctively raspy vocals were driven by material much closer in bloodlines to the headliners than the Crowes.  The rousing closer, “Rosalee” from their 2011 debut, capped a surprisingly enjoyable set. By the time RatDog took the stage around 8, daylight lingered and the crowd was certainly primed.

 

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Chris Robinson on stage at the Greek

 

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CRB’s Neal Casal and Adam MacDougall

 

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Chris Robinson and Neal Casal

 

Chris Robinson, sans Brotherhood

Chris Robinson, sans Brotherhood

I confess to being a Deadhead of a certain vintage and reasonable mileage, yet had not come around to a RatDog performance until now. My expectations were modest, but with Kimock in the lineup I was feeling potential. While Garcia’s spirit will never depart, and Dead incarnations past and present may embrace or flee that musical elephant, Kimock brings a little of both that is a particularly good fit. True to form, the band settled into a nice loping groove that landed on “Feels Like a Stranger”. The vertically unchallenged Bill Walton was all grins adding mallots to Jay Lane’s kit in the early going. Kimock swapped his Explorer for a fat hollow body Vega on the Weir staple “New Minglewood Blues”, while Weir switched from his Hoeg Strat to his vintage sunburst ES-335, a guitar I swear he’s had for at least 45 years. “Used to Love Her” quickly hit its stride as I’m thinking these guys are on to something. There is an ease and churn to their feel that I rather enjoyed. Dropping into Garcia’s “Mission in the Rain” felt right. Chris Robinson came to the stage for Otis Redding’s “Hard to Handle”, one of the most identifiable Crowes tunes and one covered early by the Dead with Pig Pen. This was a sly and slippery take with Weir and Robinson trading vocals. The gal holding the “it’s my birthday – Lovelight, please” sign had to be pretty happy as Robinson stuck around to close the first set and coincidentally honor the occasion (it was on the set list).

 

Ready for RatDog

Ready for RatDog

 

Weir here

Weir here

 

Steve Kimock playing with RatDog at the Greek

Steve Kimock playing with RatDog at the Greek

 

Weir and mallot man Bill Walton banging on Jay lane's kit

Weir and mallot man Bill Walton banging on Jay Lane’s kit

 

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Bobby jams and Bill looks pretty stoked with the whole thing

 

Weir still here

Weir still here

The second set had an unplugged start with Dylan’s “Paint My Masterpiece” and “Friend of the Devil”, Chimenti adding riverboat piano flourishes to the latter. We all have our Weir favorites, mine has to be “Playing in the Band”. Lucky the night not long into a second set, the Dead and audience would explore the further reaches together only to come back light years later to the chimey guitars and foot stomping celebration of the coda. This was not that night, but it was still solid. Besides, ”Lady With a Fan/Terrapin Station” followed, so this was turning out to be pretty good all around. The band fell into a blues like strut (simply billed as “Stuff” on the set list) before closing with “Dear Prudence” and a feel good “Going Down the Road”. A “Touch of Grey” encore spoke to 80% of the crowd (and maybe even some their kids).

 

Bobby being Bobby

Bobby being Bobby

 

Piano man Jeff Chimenti

Piano man Jeff Chimenti

 

More Weir here

More Weir here

 

Weir gear

Weir gear

 

Weir here again

Yup, Bob Weir

 

Bob Weir and Steve Kimock sync up

Bob Weir and Steve Kimock sync up

 

RatDog's Bob Weir, Steve Kimock and Jay Lane

RatDog’s Bob Weir and Jay Lane, as Steve Kimock runs out of neck

 

RatDog 2014 at the Greek

RatDog 2014 at the Greek

So, RatDog delivered the goods. Those of us who lived the Dead knew that while the bus would eventually stop, the music wouldn’t. With Phil in his fit 70s and Weir getting deeper into his 60s, these gigs really matter. Yes, they are still a band beyond description, they’ve just assumed different form. All the more reason to appreciate each and every show – strong, scattered or middling. This one was enjoyed by all, especially me.

 

Bob Weir

Bob Weir

Reflections of a Wandering Jazz Fest Photographer

 

Pumped for Jazz Fest 45

Pumped for Jazz Fest 45

Years come and go. Jazz Fests do not. They endure. Each seemingly better than the last. Each its own indelible stamp on the soul. Jazz Fest 45 had everything going for it and, man, it did not disappoint. From the time the lineup dropped in January and headliner after headliner brought smiles, to the days of Fest without a drop of rain and temps in the 70s and 80s, to the ensuing butter and crawfish withdrawl, Fest 45 delivered. The big moments were big – Springsteen and New Orleans deepening their love affair, an epic crowd for Clapton, Phish’s return after 18 years and Robert Plant flashing some legend. But the small moments were big, too. Kindness spread generously throughout the Fair Grounds for seven days and musicians who were on stage one day would be roaming around the next. Locals Johnny Sansone, Irvin Mayfield and James Singleton were regularly spotted throughout the Fest.

Photographer and fan frequently collide within me. Call it an occupational hazard. Stay on task, cover ground, hit my stages. But sometimes, you gotta just put the gear down and take it all in. I actually managed to do that (a little).

I’ve come to the conclusion that FOMS (“fear of missing something”) is not an anxiety disorder and that overcoming it is tantamount to some form of minor enlightenment. After all, Jazz Fest is about falling for the moment, over and over again, because they just keep coming. There’s a take away in there somewhere…

 

FIRST WEEKEND

DAY 1

The first weekend I was on assignment for the NOJHF Foundation Archive whose mission is to document all things Fest each day every year. The challenge is balancing assigned stage coverage (in my case, Acura and Jazz) while wedging in other acts, and it requires plenty of stamina and hydration. Day 1 kicked into gear with Wayne Toups and Zydecajun at the Acura Stage. I try and hit these guys most years and if there is such a thing as accordion zydecajun jam rock they are it, and they were smokin’ (especially “Ramblin’ Man”). A stop into the Blues Tent for Little Freddie King was a must. Newcomer Laura Mvula brought soul, spirit and unique arrangements to Acura, as well as the first harp (err, with strings) I’ve seen featured on that stage. The squonks coming from Roger Lewis’ Baritone Bliss in the Jazz Tent were unmistakable. While I missed Honey Island Swamp Band’s Samsung Galaxy Stage set, I was told it was a burner and looked forward to catching up with them around town before Fest was done. I did make the start of Jason Isbell’s set on the same stage. Still touring behind the critically acclaimed (and deservedly so) “Southeastern”, this was some of the best stuff I heard all weekend and the former Trucker had the crowd with him (and his band) every step of the way. Isbell’s place front and center on the roots-Americana charts is completely earned. Wanted to stay for more, but had to press on. The Infamous Stringdusters jamgrass at Fais Do Do was a very worthy follow-up (after a quick stop in the Jazz Tent for Irvin Mayfield, cultural ambassador, former mayoral candidate and band leader/trumpeter). Closers were quite the mélange. Santana at Acura, Public Enemy at Congo, Gregory Porter in the Jazz Tent and The Avett Brothers at Samsung Galaxy. Oh yeah, I wanted a piece of all of them, but was especially excited to see Carlos in action, so my fourth lap around the mile long track was looming. There is no guitar voice like Santana’s. It simply comes from a higher place. This iteration of the band featured two vocalists of different styles (Tony Lindsay and Andy Vargas) and it worked for me, as much as Santana vocals can. Their latest disc, “Corazon” is a Latin all-star guest collection of Spanish language tunes and instrumentals ala 1999’s “Supernatural”.  My samples grabbed hits and slices of “Corazon” nicely spiced by a three piece horn section. While Carlos rambled on oddly towards the end, Quint gave him wide berth and the band went on to encore until 7:30. It all added up to a fine start to Fest 45.

 

Little Freddie King in the Blues Tent

Little Freddie King in the Blues Tent

 

Wayne Toups gets all zydecajuny

Wayne Toups gets all zydecajuny

 

A Mardi Gras Indian moment

A Mardi Gras Indian moment

 

Laura Mvula from the Acura Stage

Laura Mvula from the Acura Stage

 

Bliss, baritone style with Dan  Oestreicher

Bliss, baritone style with Dan Oestreicher

 

Jason Isbell, excellent all the way around

Jason Isbell, excellent all the way around

 

Irvin Mayfield leading the NO Jazz Orchestra

Irvin Mayfield leading the NO Jazz Orchestra

 

Stringdusting infamously at Fais Do Do

Stringdusting infamously at Fais Do Do

 

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And more stringing with The Avetts

 

Not the flavor of the month, Public Enemy at Congo Square

Not the Flavor of the month, Public Enemy at Congo Square

 

Gregory Porter, "the jazz singer with the soul voice"

Gregory Porter, “the jazz singer with the soul voice”

 

Carlos Santana always feels it

Carlos Santana feels deeply, and it’s in every note

 

It's a Phish phamily

All in the phamily

 

DAY 2

How much of a Phish phest would this be? Would the legions of phans overrun the joint like 1996? As a more elder jam fan weaned on the Dead, I’m more cold Phish than not, but was way curious about putting my toe in the pond. In the meantime, the day started with some more zydeco fire at Acura with Zachary Richard. Accordions rule is all I can say. With a name like Ironing Board Sam, I had to check out the Blues Tent. Any Fest set by Anders Osborne is not to be missed and no coincidence he launched before Phish. Meanwhile…The Mavericks at the Samsung Galaxy Stage had huge buzz, but alas, I missed this one. Caught them last year and thoroughly enjoyed Raul Malo’s tight infectious alt-country punches. To my surprise, the Fair Grounds barely rippled as Phish o’clock approached. A three hour slot, no less. When the boys hit the stage, Trey surveyed the crowd and was all smiles kicking off their 2014 tour. Opening with “Kill Devil Falls” into “the Moma Dance>”Rift” (thank you Jam Base), all was good with the world, and I must admit to totally digging the vibe and the up close and personal from the pit with Trey’s Paul Lanquedoc axe. But, the other end of the Fair Grounds was calling and I mobilized to hit Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters (with a Keb Mo’/Fais Do Do detour). A critic friend tipped me that this outing was not to be missed, having seen Plant in L.A. late last year. Their set was a one off and took some real wrangling from Quint Davis to pry him away from London, where Plant was putting the finishing touches on his next release. In fact, he flew in just for this performance and went back the next day. Good thing he did. What I heard was a knockout. Opening with “Babe, I’m Gonna Leave You”, followed by a slow dark take on the already black Howlin’ Wolf “Spoonful” and a “Black Dog” that reinvented and embraced the Zep-ness of the tune, Plant was every part up to the task. A rock legend that has aged with power and, dare I say, dignity. The Space Shifters, including guitarists Liam Tyson and Justin Adams and augmented by Gambian griot, Juldeh Camara, playing a riti (a single string Gambian ”fiddle”), mixed texture with formidable might. Definitely a Fest highlight and the rest was supposedly just as strong, with Zep heavy fare including “Going to California”, “Bron-Y-Aur Stomp”, “What is and What Should Never Be”, “Whole Lotta Love” and “Rock and Roll” (check out NOLA.com’s Keith Spera’s excellent write up). Shooting the first three turned into 30 minutes, but with one more lap to go I had to move on. Bypassing Robin Thicke (really?), I landed at the Blues Tent for a few tunes of Boz Scaggs. While I’m not much of a fan of Scagg’s hit laden 80s repertoire but embrace his bluesier leanings, I was clearly in the minority and the material had a soft spot with a very enthusiastic crowd (especially for “Harbor Lights”). Branford Marsalis brought his quartet to the Jazz Tent, but my focus was circling back for the end of Phish (which turned out to be two sets, a Fest first?). While I am a reluctant phan, I was still bummed to miss “Free” and “Harry Hood” towards the end. I arrived in time for “Grind” and the “Julius” encore which all went until about 7:20. Bookending a Phish show may seem heretical, but it’s Jazz Fest and I couldn’t do it all. Let’s just say showing up for the last phew songs is like walking in at the end of an epic movie. I get that. Add it all up and it was a killer Day 2.

 

True to his name, Ironing Board Sam in the Blues Tent

True to his name, Ironing Board Sam in the Blues Tent

 

Blue sky and Anders Osborne = Fest at its best

Blue sky and Anders Osborne = Fest at its best

 

Keb Mo' right at home at Fais Do Do

Keb Mo’ right at home at Fais Do Do

 

Phishin' with Trey, good times

Phishin’ with Trey, good times

 

Robert Plant flashes some legend and musical vision

Robert Plant flashes some legend and musical vision

 

Boz Scaggs in the Blues Tent

Boz Scaggs in the Blues Tent

 

DAY 3

The crowd for EC had already swollen Acura to the back track early on. While I was geeked about Clapton, the earlier part of the day proved potent (and the North Mississippi All Stars, Tab Benoit, Slowhand tee up was Quintessential). Brothers Luther and Cody Dickinson’s band seemed to pull out every homespun string instrument imaginable. Their moonshine roots rock was highly entertaining, with plenty of instrument switching and a world boogie drum line into the crowd that worked up a nice lather. Enjoyed them so much, I missed out on the New Orleans Guitar Quartet (a must for string nerds) at Lagniappe for yet another year, so I could make Bombino in the Blues Tent. The Taureg guitarist from Niger plays an indescribable trance influenced jam blues sung in his native tongue. His 2012 appearance is still talked about and I managed to see him in a small room in Los Angeles later that year. It was unlike anything I had ever heard. The intensity and exultation he brought to the Blues Tent this year was extraordinary. Stops at the Jazz Tent for Astral Project and back at Acura for Irma Thomas, meant missing Bonerama (FOMS strikes again). Astral Project is a constellation of New Orleans players whose first Fest appearance was in 1978 and is always a treat for the ears, while the Soul Queen of New Orleans wrung everything out of her cover of “Forever Young” as an encore, that she seemed on the verge of tears, in a good way. John Boutte has found the following he so deserves and the Jazz Tent was at rapt attention when I stopped by. Tab was cooking when I swung by Acura, and an appropriate slinger to precede the headliner. I wasn’t short listed to shoot Clapton, and those few that were, got pushed back to the sound board for the first two songs, so I opted for a loop to hit Galactic, John Hiatt, Vampire Weekend and Rodriguez before finding my way back to Acura. Galactic always brings it at the Fest, but the addition of Maggie Koerner on vocals takes these guys up another notch. Fierce, fearless and with stage presence that raises the bar on Grace Potter, she is a great match for the band. John Hiatt at Fais Do Do was next. I had not seen Hiatt since my first Fest in 2000. His songbook stands on its own with great covers by Bonnie Raitt, Dylan and other luminaries showing respect. This was another strong set from end to end and well received all the way around and I would have liked to have stuck around for more. On to Vampire Weekend. While I was jonesing to get to some of Clapton, I had to check out the band that landed Rolling Stone’s best album of 2013. Much has been said about layered sophistication cloaked in a more confectionary package and when the band hit, I was engulfed by a sea of estrogen singing every word. Opening with “Diane Young”, the energy was rather infectious. Tons of fun. I departed for the reclusive Rodriguez in the Blues Tent, which proved to be disappointing, even with the crack pickup band of Russ Broussard, Alex McMurray and John Fohl behind him (more poignant now with the very recent passing of Waiting for Sugarman director Malik Bendjelloul).  By the time I worked my way back to the huge throng at Acura, Clapton was winding down. In fact, he ended a full 10 minutes before his 7 PM scheduled close. I am a huge Clapton fan and he was one of my big personal draws. Rarely miss a tour and this Fest date was one of only four scheduled for the US in 2014. Reviews were mixed for some since the set was more blues than hits heavy, with an acoustic break and ample room for solos and turns from his bandmates. If the rest of the set sounded even half as good as the last two numbers I managed to catch (“Cocaine” and “High Time We Went”), it is one of my only Fest regrets to not have made more of Slowhand. The band was snare drum tight, his playing relaxed and fiery and the spirit all there. Damn.

 

NMAS take their world boogie to the crowd

NMAS take their world boogie to the crowd

 

Johnny V. with Astral Project

Johnny V. with Astral Project

 

Bombino, transcendentally blues

Bombino, transcendentally blues

 

John Boutte in the Jazz Tent

John Boutte in the Jazz Tent

 

Tab Benoit, pre-Slowhand

Tab Benoit, pre-Slowhand

 

John Hiatt, great songs, strong set

John Hiatt, great songs, strong set

 

Maggie Koerner took Galactic even higher

Maggie Koerner took Galactic even higher

 

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend

Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend…

 

...and adoring fans

…and adoring fans

 

Rodriguez in the Blues Tent

Rodriguez in the Blues Tent

 

WEEKEND 2

DAY 4

Second weekend Thursday is usually lower impact and I was happy to be shooting as a floater with more flexibility to roam at will. The semi-traditional jam band slot featured the Fest debut of String Cheese Incident at Acura opposite Lyle Lovett at Samsung Galaxy. The rest of the day had a very local flavor and began with Gal Holiday & the Honky Tonk Revue living up to their name at Samsung Galaxy. Swung back to Acura for the New Orleans Suspects – Reggie Scanlon (Radiators), Willie Green (Neville Brothers), Jake Eckert (Dirty Dozen Brass Band), CR Gruver and Jeff Watkins. The Suspects had been busy during Fest time including a Howlin’ Wolf gig with Little Feat’s Paul Barrere and Fred Tackett and the 10th Annual Threadhead Patry, and made their Acura set count. A pass by Fais Do Do for Lil’ Nathan & the Zydeco Big Timers, then Congo Square to find the Soul Rebels and guests in full twerk. The Blues and Jazz Tents had Johnny Sansone blowing it out and Stanton Moore in jazz trio mode, respectively. Moore’s trio with “Jim” Singleton on bass and David Torkanowsky on piano was as dexterous as a jungle cat and to hear Moore flat out fly in a jazz setting was simply splendid, and a Jazz Tent highlight. Long tall Marcia Ball was stirring it up quite nicely at Samsung Galaxy, but the bone pummeling low end at Congo Square was too much to linger for the Wailers. Greensky Bluegrass at Fais Do Do was a great tease for SCI at Acura (with a Soul Rebs drop in), but another lap was calling for Lyle Lovett via Blues and Jazz, where Bernard Allison was tearing into “Voodoo Chile”, while Dr. Lonnie Smith was spinning some of his B3 magic. No large band for Lyle. Just suits and skinny ties for his five-piece (including cello, and session legend Russ Kunkel on drums) as they worked through some of the best of his catalogue, with particularly tender tellings of “North Dakota” and “Nobody Knows Me”. Another fine Fest day.

 

Gal Holiday at the Samsung Galaxy Stage

Gal Holiday at the Samsung Galaxy Stage

 

Lil' Nathan goes back-to-back

Lil’ Nathan goes back-to-back

 

Not so usual Suspect, Reggie Scanlon

Not so usual Suspect, Reggie Scanlon

 

An outstanding set from the Stanton Moore Trio

An outstanding set from the Stanton Moore Trio

 

We can twerk it out, the Soul Rebels with Big Freedia

We can twerk it out, the Soul Rebels with Big Freedia

 

The spirit was moving Jumpin' Johnny Sansone

The spirit was moving Jumpin’ Johnny Sansone

 

Long tall Marcia Ball

Long tall Marcia Ball

 

The Wailers at Congo Square

The Wailers at Congo Square

 

One good slide deserves another, Greensky Bluegrass' Anders Beck with Roosevelt Collier

One good slide deserves another, Greensky Bluegrass’ Anders Beck with Roosevelt Collier

 

Bill Nershi, what was the String Cheese Incident?

Bill Nershi, what was the String Cheese Incident?

 

They be jammin'

They be jammin’

 

The Dr. and his B-3, Lonnie Smith

The Dr. and his B-3, Lonnie Smith

 

Blues runs in the family, Bernard Allison

Blues runs in the family, Bernard Allison

 

You gotta Lovett

You gotta Lovett

 

DAY 5

Second Friday was looking light. Nobody I had to see (though I was looking forward to Alabama Shakes) and a chance to check acts I wouldn’t normally seek out. First up was Cowboy Mouth at Acura. Fred LeBlanc, John Thomas Griffith and company continue to put on completely entertaining, seriously playful and energetic performances year after year. Jazz and Blues stops hit Jason Marsalis in mallet heavy mode with the Vibes Woodshed and the booming blues of “Big Al” Carson.  I rounded the track to get to Hooray for the Riff Raff at Samsung Galaxy and found Alyndra Lee Segarra’s band captivating and thoughtful with a distinctive musical voice that stood apart from so much of the folk strung sound elbowing for space these days. I swung back towards Acura for some Amanda Shaw, then a food break for alligator sauce piquante (after much encouragement from Steve, a staffer at Acura), that was rich, tangy, spicy, generous and a new Fest favorite. Word on JOHNNYSWIM was intriguing and the band fronted by Amanda Sudano (and also daughter of the late Donna Summer) and Abner Ramirez fit squarely between Hooray for the Riff Raff and Samsung Galaxy closer Alabama Shakes (no accident there). Nicholas Payton brought along Monster Gentleman Derwin “Big D” Perkins on guitar, Russell Batiste, Jr. on drums and Braylon Lacy on bass as the New Orleans 4 in the Jazz Tent, after which I hit the tail end of Alejandro Escovedo at Fais Do Do, and was left underimpressed. I was looking forward to Alabama Shakes and the chunk I caught had me from the moment Brittany Howard picked up her SG and unleashed her soul with every howl and chill. That woman is a force of nature and the band matches her with a deceiving front porch stride. Chaka Khan had a good crowd going at Congo Square, but I was determined to get back to the Jazz Tent for Pharoah Sanders, with a Blues tent detour for Charles Bradley & his Extraordinaires. Sanders, along with pianist McCoy Tyner, remain forever linked to John Coltrane’s legacy and he is moving slower than his 73 years. Sanders’ tenor is truly a cosmic sound and the brief and stirring passages I heard left me thinking he really is planted in another place. Where else can one follow-up Pharoah Sanders with Christina Aguillera, but we arrived at the diva’s set in time for her goose bumpy (and now signature) take on Etta James’ “At Last” and a fun cover of Zep’s “Whole Lotta Love”. She brought the pipes and the entertainment quotient to match, not to mention being seven months pregnant, though I confess to departing before her encores wrapped. Just wasn’t that into the gaggle of dancers and stage initiated beach ball party at that point.

 

Believe Cowboy Mouth's Fred LeBlanc and Casandra Faulconer know how to work a crowd

Believe Cowboy Mouth’s Fred LeBlanc and Casandra Faulconer know how to work a crowd

 

Applause worthy Hooray for the Riff Riff

Applause worthy Hooray for the Riff Riff

 

Been there and done that

Been there and done that

 

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes is all in

Brittany Howard of Alabama Shakes is all in

 

Chaka Khan at the Congo Square Stage

Chaka Khan at the Congo Square Stage

 

Charles Bradley sans Extraordinaires in the Blues Tent

Charles Bradley sans Extraordinaires in the Blues Tent

 

Jazz at a higher plane with Pharoah Sanders

Jazz at a higher plane with Pharoah Sanders

 

DAY 6

Saturday was all about Bruce, for me, and for most of the legions at the Fest. No camera gear (wasn’t cleared to shoot this one), just a fan. But that was later, there was more than Springsteen to make the day. Got it started with Jimmy Buffet joining Allen Toussaint at Acura for “Fortune Teller” and “Wave Bye Bye”. Joe Krown’s trio with Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Russell Batiste, Jr., in the Blues Tent had some oomph for the organ trio format. Then on to The Revivalists, who kick some serious ass on big stages (like Samsung Galaxy). Singer/guitarist David Shaw is magnetic, frequently jumping in and out of the crowd to sing. Ed Williams flashes his screaming pedal steel like the sharp blade it is and the rest of the band, including Zack Feinberg on guitar, George Gekas on bass, Rob Ingraham on sax, Andrew Campanelli on drums and Michael Girardot on keys/trumpet fill out what has to be one of New Orleans best straight ahead rock bands. Then I went old school for Butler, Bernstein and the Hot 9 in the Blues Tent before the end of the Voice of the Wetlands All Stars at Acura featuring Anders Osborne, Cyrille Neville, Johnny Sansone, Tab Benoit, Big Chief Monk Boudreaux, Michael Doucet and Johnny Vidacovich. But as the day grew deeper, so did the anticipation. Missed out on the Midnite Disturbers at Brass and Heritage – a ridiculous who’s who of horns that come together during Fest. Any hankering for The Head and the Heart, Foster the People or Johnny Winter was left in the dust (take that FOMS). It was Bruce time and I wasn’t moving. The nearly three hour show was the centerpiece of this year’s Fest. Whether taking the “Saints Go Marching In” down to a whisper, digging into the hits or Seeger Sessions traditionals, the show was a celebration of the New Orleans spirit (“where it all started”). Springsteen communed with the crowd throughout, at one point chugging down a beer from a fan, other times bringing the horns and the party to the masses, and, of course, the obligatory “Dancin’ in the Dark” pick ‘em. This was Springsteen’s third Fest appearance, including the City lifting 2006 performance and then again two years ago. While Steve Van Zandt sat out this tour, guest guitarist Tom Morello joined the E Streeters for the ride. Morello and Springsteen exchanges bordered on a mind meld, the emotion and excitement all over their faces when trading solos. Morello’s shredding on “Ghost of Tom Joad” was simply off the charts. The Seeger Sessions songs resonate deeply in New Orleans and especially with the Fest. “How Can a Poor Man Stand Such Times and Live?”, “O Mary Don’t You Weep”, and “Pay Me My Money Down” were perfect companions alongside more recent fare such as “Wrecking Ball” and “Shackled and Drawn”. John Fogerty joined in for “Green River” and “Proud Mary”, and “Badlands”, “Hungry Heart”, “Born to Run”, “Tenth Avenue Freeze Out” and “Thunder Road” were given the full treatment. The E Street horns, including and especially Jake Clemons embraced the New Orleans moment and did it proud. Forget my words, read two excellent perspectives of the show from Keith Spera, and Steve Hochman writing for Fender.com. This was a day to remember.

 

Jimmy Buffett sat in for a few...

Jimmy Buffett sat in for a few…

 

...with Allen Toussaint at the Acura Stage

…with Allen Toussaint at the Acura Stage

 

Joe Krown bluesing it up

Joe Krown bluesing it up

 

Big things will come for  the Revivalists, with David Shaw and Ed Williams

Big things will come for the Revivalists, with David Shaw and Ed Williams

 

Henry Butler old schooling it with Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9

Henry Butler old schooling it with Butler, Bernstein & the Hot 9

 

Anders Osborne is not the only one having a good time with the VOW All Stars

Anders Osborne having a good time with the VOW All Stars

 

DAY 7

After six days of Festing and shooting, it didn’t seem real to do it one more time. The weather stayed gorgeous, Shorty would be closing out the big stage and there was something for everyone on this last Sunday.  Jonathon Boogie Long, remember that name.  He had an early afternoon time at Acura and after seeing him as a sideman to Luther Kent in the Blues Tent last year, I knew he was not to be missed. The Baton Rouge native is poised to follow Joe Bonamassa as a blues master of jaw dropping ability, copious showmanship and original material you can’t believe you haven’t heard before. Absolutely electric. Glen David Andrews was working the Congo Square Stage crowd and it’s great to see GDA in good form and riding a wave of positivism, including a well received new album. Every time I hear George Porter, Jr. live, my appreciation and respect for his playing grows. The end of his Samsung Galaxy set with the Runnin’ Pardners (including Kris Royal on winds and guitarist Brint Anderson) featured propulsive and punchy runs on his Lakland bass that left me grinning. Back around the track to catch some of Dumpstaphunk at Acura. Their latest, “Dirty Word”, is good stuff and with a horn section for the Fest, they really put it in the dumspta. Meanwhile, over at Congo Square, I missed Big Sam proposing mid-set. Congrats, SW. Perfect setting. Blodie’s Jazz Jam featured Dirty Dozen alum Gregory Davis and Roger Lewis in horn heaven in the Jazz Tent. Arcade Fire, a headliner on any other day took the pre-Shorty stage at Acura to the strains of “Iko-Iko”, accompanied by Mardi Gras size heads of the likes of Obama and the Pope. Kicking into “Here Comes the Night Time”, the theatricality of the band was a lens full. I stayed through the three I could shoot and then headed to the Jazz Tent for a far too brief stop of Chick Corea & the Vigil. Corea in tee-shirt and jeans in an acoustic mood with the Vigil’s hugely talented ensemble including Marcus Gilmore on drums and guitarist Charles Altura. In keeping with the spirit of musical whiplash, my next stop was Robert Earl Keen at Fais Do Do. Sporting a Sears sucker suit and the wit to match, it was a pleasure to hear some of this great songwriter’s musical stories. And then the home stretch. John Fogerty opened the only way he could, with “Born on the Bayou”. Creedence was everywhere when I was a kid and the songs and Fogerty’s voice endure well. He definitely brought his A game, wringing every solo out of his gold Les Paul, running all over the stage, Kenny Aronoff pounding it home (some think too much so). Stayed for “Green River” and “Who’ll Stop the Rain” and the rest of the set list looked just as satisfying. Another Fest highlight, for sure. My last lap finished up with the Terence Blanchard Group in the Jazz Tent (sublime, as always) before closing it out with Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue at Acura. Orleans Avenue has been steady for years, three horns on top of some serious rock and rollers, flecked with street soul, funk and RnB . Shorty owns this spot now. Going out with “Do to Me”, Troy hoisted his horns in Fest celebration and the joyous yell we all felt.

 

Remember the name, Jonathon Boogie Long, wow

Remember the name, Jonathon Boogie Long, wow

 

Glen David Andrews hears you

Glen David Andrews hears you

 

George Porter, Jr. four string funk had me grinning, too

George Porter, Jr.’s  four string funk had me grinning, too

 

Put that in the Dumspta, Tony Hall

Put that in the Dumspta, Tony Hall

 

Blodie's Jazz Jam had some horns

Blodie’s Jazz Jam had some horns

 

Win Butler, Arcade Fire and the Pope, no punch line

Win Butler, Arcade Fire and the Pope, no punch line

 

Wrong turn on E Street

Left turn off E Street

 

Robert Earl Keen sings some great stories and looks good in a suit

From the heart of Texas, Robert Earl Keen sings some great stories and looks good in a suit

 

Chick Corea stays Vigilant

Chick Corea stays Vigilant

 

John Fogerty brought it on home

John Fogerty brought it on home

 

Terence Blanchard led his Group through another sublime Fest set

Terence Blanchard led his Group through another sublime Fest set

 

Troy speaks for the crowd to close Fest 45

Troy speaks for the crowd to close Fest 45

After seven days of Festing, another one was in the bag. Number 11 for me (still a newbie). Best Fest ever? I say that every year. This year, I really mean it. At least until 2015.

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

 

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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.

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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

 

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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.

 

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

 

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Youngin’, Robert Randolph

 

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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”.

 

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Chuck Campbell on pedal steel, nephew Carlton Campbell on drums

 

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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.

 

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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.

 

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Trance blueser Otis Taylor, with Shawn Starski

 

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Anne Harris, exuberant in attire, performance and playing