Tag Archives: funk
June 13, 2012
There is no sound quite as satisfying as a Hammond B-3 organ through a Leslie speaker. In the right hands, the B-3 can be pure blues drenched, Sunday church joy, straight up bop, prog rock majesty, soul master and classic rock anchor. While the last B-3 rolled off the line in the mid-70s (says Wiki), the legacy of the sound is completely unmistakable. It has been a signature for the likes of Gregg Allman, Stevie Winwood, Keith Emerson, Booker T. Jones, Stephen Stills, Jimmy Smith, Ray Manzarek, to name but a few. More recently, a newer generation of players, some with deep New Orleans ties, have led B-3 driven ensembles including the likes of Marco Benevento, LA’s own Mike Mangan and Robert Walter, who began a June residency at The Mint last week.
Southern California native and New Orleans resident Walter chose his Mint residency to reconvene the 20th Congress for their first performance in 5 years. The former Greyboy launched the Congress in the late ‘90s and counts Stanton Moore, Will Bernard and Joe Russo among its alumni. This gig featured original Greyboys Walter and Chris Stillwell, bass, with Cochemea Gastelum, sax/flute (Sharon Jones), Chuck Prada, percussion (Snoop Dogg), and Simon Lott, drums (George Porter, Jr.). The 20th Congress moves from straight up horn and keys driven funk and blues, to the more quixotic, while right at home in the soul jazz spectrum. Like Marco Benevento, Walter mixes the B-3 sound with electric keys and occasional effects.
While Walter did not have his B-3 in tow for this gig, his Yamaha nicely emulated the experience through a vintage Leslie. Another rack of keys sat atop the Yamaha and (to my delight) a Fender Rhodes filled out the array. Opening with the chunk of funk “Sweetie Pie”, the 20th jumped right into the fray led by some fine Rhodes work and Gastellum’s alto. The next tune started with an extended Walter solo, then had drummer Simon Lott, hoodie and all, drop into a hard groove and pretty soon it was feeling like 70’s vinyl. No surprise the set list revealed the third tune to be from Walter’s 1997 release “Spirit of 70” (“Corry Snail and Slug Death”, no explanation to that one). Gastellum switched to flute for the next tune “Fathom 5”, from his 2010 solo release “The Electric Sound of Johnny Arrow”. The piece started spare, with Gastellum’s flute and Walter’s reverbed Rhodes a snug unit, bassist Stillwell adding a tease of samba undercurrent.
Walter was easy and chatty with the crowd and introduced “Dog Party” with good humor. Disclosure, I love the Fender Rhodes sound almost as much as a B-3, whether it’s early Chick Corea or Royal Scam era Steely Dan. Walter did not disappoint, moving into territory that would make the 1973 Eumir Deodato proud. The set closed with “Who Took the Happiness Out”, a Dirty Dozen Brass Band composition, and a great showcase for the entire 20th .
The second set kicked off with “Movin’ on Out” and as the set progressed, a few guests spelled Simon Lott and Chris Stillwell for a tune each, stepping in pretty seamlessly, given some of the angled time signatures. Walter also dug more into his effects pedal, pushing the Rhodes tone to its edges and back again. The set list revealed songs from 2001’s “There Goes the Neighborhood” (“2% Body Fat”), 2008’s “Cure All” (“Maple Plank”, “Snakes and Spiders”) and 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ” (“Adelita”, “Kicking Up Dust”). Apparently, one of the tunes had something to do with brushing your teeth, but hey, that’s instrumental titling for you.
The 20th Congress is often fast paced. Borderline frenetic, but not overly hyper. Always finding a groove to draw your attention. Along the way, Robert Walter will move from bluesy flourishes to dizzying ascending/descending runs. At least a few times Wednesday my head checked Welcome to the Canteen era Traffic and Caravanserai era Santana while the 20th was rolling. This is not retro stuff, just a continuation of a story and great sounds fully embraced. Me, I never left the time zone, so it works rather well.
Robert Walter continues his residency at The Mint on June 20th (with Reed Mathis and Aaron Redfield) and June 27th (Stanton Moore and Jonathan Freilich).
March 1, 2012
Dumpstaphunk is slippery, stinky, smelly, funked up stuff. It says so in the name. We get it, but just to make sure nobody misses the point, Nick Daniels III and Tony Hall lock up dueling basses at every D-phunk gig. The prowess of the players is unquestioned, the history and Neville legacy familiar. Ivan’s indulgences and 14 years sobriety. His time as a Stones/Richards sideman. The fat Hammond sound and rich vocals he’s cultivated with Dumpstaphunk since 2003, along with numerous other projects and collaborations. Cousin Ian carrying the torch with the Funky Meters. Tony Hall’s double barreled Strat/bass attack and emcee theatrics. Nick Daniel’s III’s powerful digits. New addition Nikki GIaspie’s huge resume and Berklee chops. It all adds up to a solid unit that puts it in the dumpsta night in, night out.
Back in the day, Ivan Neville had more than a few residencies at The Mint and he’s no stranger to LA these days, either. The last time I caught Dumpstaphunk in town, they headlined a double bill with Rebirth at the Roxy and the energy was crazy. This time around, they were playing a room half that size over two nights. Scary. The LA dates kicked off a March tour schedule more demanding than a 2012 NBA road trip (14 dates in 24 days in California and the southeast). Dumpsta’s latest, Everybody Want Sum, was released in November and Jazzfest is around the corner, so I was counting on a good night. And with tunes like “Greasy Groceries”, “Stinky”, “Standing in Your Stuff” and “Everybody Want Sum” in the repertoire, I’m pretty sure ballads were checked at the door.
The Thursday show I caught didn’t get going until minutes before Friday. From the get go, the band was sticky tight. Between the Hall/Daniels III twin bass attack and Ivan’s clavinet, the ‘phunk felt plenty good. “Everybody Want Sum” from the new album has a perfect R&B soul hook that could be easily mistaken as a Sly Stone cover and featured nice Hammond work from Ivan Neville. The rubbery dual bass mixed well with Ian Neville’s right on top of the beat rhythm work. With “Blueswave”, Dumpsta moved to an almost Texas like stomp and some gritty Strat slinging by Tony Hall.
The stew really started to simmer closer to 1 AM, as affirmed by a crowd yell of “taking it to a whole other level!” And that was before the band even launched into “Deeper” (from Everybody Want Sum) > “Put It in the Dumpsta” (a D-phunk staple). Ivan Neville and Tony Hall turned “Dumpsta” into the best kind of group therapy, totally groove heavy with some healthy demon exorcising for good measure. “Living in a World Gone Mad” (from the 2007 EP, Listen Hear) brought guest Val McCallum to the stage (Jacksh*t, Lucinda Williams), and McCallum tore into his solos with sufficient fury to smoke out the room, clearly enjoying trading lines with Ivan’s Hammond. The gloppy dual bass interplay was especially pungent with the jam rock feel of “Lt. Dan” and the pre-encore set closed with the almost gospelly hinted call and response of “Meanwhile” (from Listen Hear).
Over the years I’ve been to my share of Dumpsta shows, and often took them for granted as just another NOLA side project that dependably delivered. The Mint gig brought me back into the fold with deeper appreciation for the band. High energy and high impact, drawing funk influences from the best of the Meters, James Brown, Sly Stone, Prince and countless others to shape their sound with precision and soul. Meaty stuff. Don’t miss them at Jazzfest.
February 25, 2012
The cultural reach of New Orleans music makes for a different kind of eclectic. Blender eclectic. Not every combination hits the sweet spot but the willingness to try anything out mirrors New Orleans resilience, roots and diversity to a tee. Where else could native Swedes Anders Osborne and Theresa Andersonn plant themselves and flourish like native Orleaneans. Or birth the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars with their devoted legion of revelers to what can only be described as ethnically steeped music that approaches jam rock peaks, while remaining firmly grounded in both their New Orleans roots and Yiddish melodies. You couldn’t make this stuff up.
The latest in this jambalaya tradition of mixing cultures and sounds to catch my ear is Red Baraat (Baraat is the Hindi word for wedding procession). Self described as a “Brooklyn dhol n’ brass band”. The Village Voice dubbed them “raucous Indian bhangra and funky New Orleans brass”. My best shot to the uninitiated is NOLA brass’n’drums strained through hot curry. The adjectives fly hard and fast with these guys, and for good reason. Perhaps the band’s web bio says it best “… led by dhol player, Sunny Jain, the nine piece comprised of dhol (double-sided barrel shaped North Indian drum slung over one shoulder) drumset, percussion, sousaphone and five horns, melds the infectious North Indian rhythm Bhangra with a host of sounds, namely funk, go-go, latin, and jazz. Simply put, Sunny Jain and Red Baraat have created and deﬁned a sound entirely their own.” Yikes (and couldn’t agree more)!
So, I caught Red Baraat at the Jazz and Heritage Stage at last year’s Jazzfest upon hearing they “killed it in Lafayette” the day before and were not to be missed. Heck, they had me at traditional Hindi drums and trumpets, but “killed it in Lafayette” put me over the top. Throw them in front of a Jazz and Heritage crowd towards the end of the first Sunday and I was there, even if as much out of curiosity as musical expectation.
I’ve been anticipating how my Red Baraat experience would translate from the Louisiana sun to the living room intimacy of The Mint, ever since the show was announced in mid-January. With one studio album to their credit (2010’s Chaal Baby) an imminent follow-up (Shruggy Ji) and a live album (Bootleg Bhangra) from their Brooklyn turf, Red Baraat has plenty of material to draw from. This is a band I am getting to know by feel and infectious spirit, not a set list.
As the 10 PM start time pushed closer to 10:30, the crowd filled in and not your usual Saturday night Westside mashup for a change. This was the first real West Coast swing for the band with dates in Santa Cruz and San Francisco before their Mint gig.
Sunny Jain stood center stage flanked by reeds on his right, brass on his left and percussion behind him. From the get go, the room was filled with swirling brass and horns fed by blazing eastern rhythms and a sousaphone anchor. Yeah, it made perfect sense. “Chaal Baby” from their debut of the same name jumped straight into a deep percussive groove mixing Tomas Fujiwara’s traps, Jain’s dhol and Rohin Khameni’s percussion that had everyone’s hands up and feet moving. “Baraat to Nowhere”, also from Chaal Baby, was chunky enough to bring sousaphonist John Alteiri to the front to blow and rap (both part of his job description, according to his band bio). The fast and furious “Tunak Tunak Tun”, from Chaal Baby, featured some dazzling soprano turns by Alex Hamlin. At the end of the tune, the vibe of the crowd was nicely expressed by a distinct “fuck, yeah!” from the floor. “Shruggy Ji”, from the soon to drop second album of the same name, started with a brief dirge-like decoy, then kicked into a brass driven bluesy swing that wouldn’t be out of place at a second line funeral. The set closed with “Private Dancers” featuring the brass section of Sonny Singh (trumpet), MiWi La Lupa (bass trumpet) and Ernest Stuart (trombone) in high gear. The rap infused piece showcased Mike Bromwell’s baritone growling at just the right bandwidth (as he did all night) with Sonny Singh putting his jazz chops on full display (more impressive as he was somewhat under the weather). The encore capped the nine-song set with more dexterous soprano work by Alex Hamlin.
Time changes were rare – rather, Red Baraat swung and stayed with their beats from the beginning with start/stop tension gratifying enough to bust out a smoke and ask for their number. Sunny Jain was the perfect host for this affair, the complexion of his dhol adding rhythmic texture and pulse not traditionally found in a brass heavy context, yet echoing a marching band’s snare in other moments. His energizer spirit was uncontainable throughout, both band and audience in perpetual celebration.
A band like Red Baraat shows us that music is truly a world party and that borders are overrated. Who’d a thunk? This is a buzz in the best sense of the word. Live from planet earth, not to be missed.
December 31, 2011
Bill Graham spoiled me. The man knew how to throw a New Year’s party. 4-5 hours of cosmic Dead jams, epic substance abuse and 6,000 or so of my newest friends. The calendar would turn, Uncle Bobo would descend, Sugar Mag would kick in and all was right with the world. OK, so that was 30 years ago. Still, that ecstatic pull set a high bar few 12/31s have matched since. These days when milestones are counted in decades, New Year’s is often kept in quieter company and places, and indulgence swapped for reflection. But damn, the echo still haunts and the spirit craves a hit that only a hard wired all night jam or funk groove can provide. Add a few hundred people (or thousands or multiples thereof) primed to kick last year in the ass and anything’s possible. Call me a seeker.
Such was my latest NOLA pilgrimage that landed me at Tip’s in the waning hours of 2011 for Galactic’s annual year-end bash. With Eric Lindell’s Trio opening and billed guests including Anders Osborne, Corey Henry from Rebirth and Corey Glover of Living Colour (both Coreys vets of the last Galactic tour), prospects for New Year’s salvation seemed reasonable. Galactic’s newest release “Carnivale Electricos” is described by the band’s web site as a “carnival record that evokes the electric atmosphere of … whole cities – vibrating together all on the same day”. Sounds pretty 3 AMy to me. Throw Anders Osborne and Lindell into the mix and confidence was high going in.
Lindell’s trio delivered a healthy solid set to get the room closer to midnight. Spirits were high as the last hour of 2011 approached and the crowd was appropriately exuberant (deliberate choice of words). Galactic landed with “Boban” (from the 2011 release, The Other Side of Midnight:Live From New Orleans) and didn’t let up from there, in what turned out to be the first of (count ‘em) 3 sets. “Hey Na Na” from “Carnivale Electricos” cranked up the energy a little before midnight when we all reverted to the timelessness of Auld Lang Syne because we could and that’s what you do. 2012 was inaugurated with Lindell joining Galactic to romp through Steve Miller’s “Jet Airliner”, a killer cover that gets better each time Lindell busts it out. Other first set highlights had Corey Glover working the crowd into a lather (and in an argyle sweater vest, no less) with “Heart of Steel” (from 2010’s “Ya-Ka-May) and Stanton Moore elevating for the first time in the show.
Announced guest Anders Osborne went straight for “Darkness at the Bottom” (from his 2010 American Patchwork release) to start Set 2, one of my favorite rip your soul open Osborne tunes. Jonny Sansone joined Anders with just plain nasty harmonica turns on his own “The Lord is Waiting and the Devil Is Too” (from the 2011 release of the same name). Anders and Sansone stuck around to cover “Who Took the Happiness” (featured on Moore’s 2008 release, Take It to the Street) to wrap up a killer set within a set. Much of the second set featured Corey Glover, but the band really had me with a loose and frenzied “Manic Depression”. Ben Ellman moving from baritone to ballsy harp wasn’t too shabby either.
With just enough in the tank to start the third set, I profess to not making it all the way to the end, but an appropriately funky cover of Lee Dorsey’s/Allen Touissant’s “Night People” and the Arabian-brass-prog-metal tinged flavor of “Garbage Truck”(from The Other Side of Midnight) were perfectly suited for the hour. Somewhere along the way Corey Henry stepped into the crowd and climbed atop the bar never missing a note. Exhausted, satiated, I left Tip’s past 3, ready to take on a new year. Spiritual awakening, nah. Uplift, hell yeah. That’s good enough for me. Think I’m ready to kick some 2012 ass now.
December 7, 2011
“Supergroups” are described by Wikipedia as one “whose performers are already famous from having performed individually or in other groups”, citing a 1974 Time article that such configurations are an “amalgam formed by the talented malcontents of other bands”. Wiki does not know all, but the concept of taking a bunch of disparate talents of some repute, throwing them together and expecting them to live up to their progeny is typically a recipe for failure, or at least a really lame experiment (or an overt attempt to cash in). They’re not always stinkers, as this year’s “SuperHeavy” project, or the legacy of the “Travelling Wilburys”, and even “Blind Faith” exemplify. But what some may call a “supergroup” is often just another night in NOLA during Jazzfest, when the best of the NOLA music scene can’t stay away from each other and keep going ‘til dawn cracks the sky. These loose jam sessions don’t always click. Overly familiar material, too much noodling and no cohesion are not unusual. But other nights, magic gets sprinkled and familiar material becomes musical epoxy for epic jamming that can’t be bottled, or more daring tunes work their way into the mix. NOLA musicians form so many different constellations during the Fest it borders on incest, but it really is just the natural order for players who love to flat out play wherever, whenever they can.
Which brings me to Dragon Smoke. Neville. Moore. Lindell. Mercurio. Names not as familiar west of the Mississippi, but NOLA royalty be it as Galactic, Dumpstaphunk, the Nevilles, Lindell, Garage a Trois and others. Formed in 2003, they have played every Fest since, but rarely travel west to bring their 3 AM spirit around a corner that’s not on Frenchmen, Napoleon, Peters or Oak. The lineage speaks propulsive, jammy funk meets soulful vocals as one would expect with the Galactic rhythm section, stinging Lindell leads, swampy Neville keys and alternating Neville/Lindell voices.
At Wednesday’s Dragon Smoke gig at The Mint, I went looking to see if the whole would be bigger than the sum of its parts, and whether the vibe and sound would be more of the loose one-off of funk covers variety, or filled with the swagger and punch of seasoned vets excited to find a fresh voice. Surprise. From the first tune through last of two full sets, the band played as a singular unit totally conversant with each other, and were tight, tight, tight all night long. Opening with Lindell’s “Country Livin’”, (from his 2009 Gulf Coast Highway release) these guys jumped right in and never let up. Lindell was in strong voice and coaxed the right twang out of his SG (not an easy thing to do), trading licks with Ivan Neville, then stopping on a dime for a cascade of Stanton Moore fills. The straight up funk of Dyke & the Blazers “Let a Woman Be a Woman” nicely showcased Ivan’s straight from the early 80s clavinet chops. Lindell’s “It Won’t Be Long” (from the 2006 release, Change in the Weather) and Ivan’s father Aaron’s “Hercules” continued the nice back/forth between Lindell and Neville arranged tunes. Ivan and Stanton Moore brought some nice seasoning to “Injuns, Here They Come”, with Moore’s snare really leading the way. Later in the set, Neville brought just the right touch of churchy keys to complement Lindell’s Anders-esque vocals on the tender “Lullaby for Mercy Ann” (from Gulf Coast Highway). The first set closed with a rollicking and hard edged cover of Steve Miller’s “Jet AirLiner”. So far, so good.
After a refreshingly reasonable break, the band returned for the next set. Despite pushing midnight for a mid-week show, everyone stuck around, and no doubt, glad they did. The second set had deeper grooves, and some extended playing. Not loose single-minded solo excursions, but concise all for one explorations that allowed the quartet to settle into just the right pocket with each other. A cover of Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” had some great moments, especially slinking around every note of Ivan’s clav and keys, creating plenty of space for Lindell, Moore and Mercurio to reach, punch and throw more into the stew. Delicious. Lindell’s “Lucky, Lucky” (from the 2011 release, West County Drifter) brought a “Sugaree” reminiscent feel with some compact and very tasty turns on his SG. The jazz-blues inflected “Valerie” (made famous by Amy Winehouse) was perfectly suited to the Dragon Smoke treatment and covers of “Slippin’ Into Darkness” and “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” were completely gratifying. The set wrapped with Lindell’s “It’s a Pity (from his 2009 release Low on Cash, Rich in Love) with the sickest jam of the night – all four guys just hugging the minor 7th-ish change for all it’s worth. Everyone stretching out one more time, the whole unit bringing an almost Derek & the Dominoes cum NOLA infused feel to the Lindell tune. That’s high praise. The band came back for the upbeat soul of Lindell’s “Nothin’ Can Stop Me” to cap it off.
Far from being thrown together, the four musicians that make up Dragon Smoke are meant to play together – each bringing something to complement and wring the best out of the other. They just fit. The band intends to lay down some tracks soon, but in the meantime their recently released live CD, “Live in New Orleans” is available on Amazon and iTunes, and features many of the songs featured at The Mint.
September 8, 2011
As a native Angelino, attendance at any of the Santa Monica Pier Twilight Dance Series performances truly is a rite of summer. Gorgeous nights, ocean air, sand between your toes. Hard to beat. Despite a rap that Southern California indulges in the frivolous and expensive – 8 figure “homes”, 6 figure cars, $15 cocktails, every summer Los Angeles and environs offers abundant opps to hear great music for nothing from downtown to Hollywood to the beach, and we are spoiled for it. 2011 marks the Pier Twilight Dance Series’ 27th year and if the last performance is supposed to mean that summer is almost over, it’s so not true. We all know SoCal doesn’t really bake until October while the rest of the country tastes the first chill of autumn and winter ahead.
I profess to only catching a few Pier shows the past few years, but could not miss Jon Cleary and his Philthy Phew (aka, Piano, Bass & Drums) with Donald Harrison’s Electric Band for the series closer on September 8th. NOLA funk, meet Santa Monica mellow.
I’ve seen Donald Harrison, Jr. in many configurations at Jazzfest, be it in full Indian regalia or blowing straight ahead in the Jazz Tent, and was rather looking forward to what he would pull out with his electric band. He took the stage dressed in a crisp white suit and black collared shirt as the warmth of the day lingered after sunset. He wouldn’t have looked out of place in South Beach, either. Unbeknownst to me, Harrison, Jr.’s Electric Band has found success on the smooth jazz charts, an idiom to which I am musically allergic, and when he introduced 2003’s “Tropic of Cool” with a crowd query of who listens to “The Wave”, I feared the worst (full disclosure – when the Mighty MET, KMET, went down, only to find the WAVE in its place, it was a day of radio mourning never to be forgotten). I do not besmirch any performer for finding success wherever they can, especially one as supremely talented and integral to the lifeblood of contemporary New Orleans music and musicians, as Harrison, Jr., but my disappointment was rising. This was a side of Harrison, Jr. where he is clearly comfortable, his sharp, twisting tenor right at home with the mainstream material.
Backed by a band mixing NOLA vets and younger, powerhouse players, including Detroit Brooks (g), Max Moran (b), Joe Dyson (dr) and Zaccai Curtis (p), the tone soon shifted to the familiar New Orleans crowd pleasers that sprinkle so many sets these days – Aiko, Aiko, Cissy Strut, Hey Pocky Way and the inevitable Treme song and obligatory Saints. These tunes are all feel good music, no doubt, and Harrison, Jr. wrapped his playing around their themes with precision and passion. Detroit Brooks always plays with class, touch and soul and the rhythm section of Moran and Dyson embodies a powerful force of youth and experience. Zaccai Curtis, who was showcased on several numbers, stretched out amply and concisely, climbing and resolving his solos with fiery satisfaction, leaving my ears begging for “please sir, may I have some more” (no surprise to find him on Christian Scott’s Rewind That, one of my favorite jazz releases of the past 5 years). The Donald was all smiles, all night (when isn’t he), clearly having a good time throughout. Me, love the beach, but I’ll take the Jazz Tent any time.
Enter Jon Cleary and those Phew (wildly famous Treme actor and bass/sousaphone player extraordinaire, Matt Perrine, and Doug Belote on drums), and mellow got seriously funked up. Cleary has been working with the trio format for a while and it suits his barrelhouse style to a tee. Didn’t take long for Cleary to be schooling the crowd on Professor Longhair, and that was well before he launched into a rollicking version of Tipitina (now that’s one I never get tired of hearing). “Help Me Somebody” from 1999’s Moonburn, put Cleary’s blue-eyed soul sound on full display early in the set and the as yet to be recorded “Bringing Back the Home” was dedicated to the people of NOLA and the gift of New Orleans music to the world. Got the message, he can be the messenger, anytime.
The stage was warmed, the mellow vibe more energized and then it got really philthy. Not quite hide the women and children philthy, but not far from it, either. From a B-flat shuffle to churchy influenced chunks of joy, Cleary relished each and every tune, even managing to get these denizens of the beach to feel a little Mardi Gras in their bones. The R&B groove of his soulful nature really shined on “When You Get Back” from 2002’s Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, especially when his solo took flight Caribbean style – a beautiful sound, indeed. With more homage to the Professor on “Go to the Mardi Gras” (featured on 2008’s live Mo Hippa recording), Donald Harrison, Jr. joined the Phew and you could hear Frenchmen calling. With further nods to Earl King and Jellyroll Morton, the healthy set moved from heartbreak to history to straight up, grab your ass messy, syncopated funk. Cleary’s take on Little Richard’s “I Can’t Believe You Want to Leave” even left me wondering if the Beatles may not have copped a little for “Oh, Darling”.
As the set ended and Angelinos scattered for another summer, I reflected on the musical legacy of the great city of New Orleans and an unlikely British minstrel spreading the word of Professor Longhair. Crazy World, huh. Just don’t call it another day at the beach, or I’ll have to smack ya philthy.
July 13, 2011
Stanton Moore is everywhere, deal with it. And no drummer jokes, please. Seriously, it seems like Stanton Moore is the Warren Haynes of the skins, playing wherever, whenever he can and not only like he’s having a great time, but also as if his life depended on it. Whether leading his Galactic mates through a snare fed fury that turns the band into the equivalent of a human trap set, sitting in seemingly every night during Jazzfest he’s not gigging with the propulsively manic Garage a Trois, the brass royalty of the Midnite Disturbers, his own trio, or Galactic, this is a man who literally can’t sit down when he plays. He is simply having too much fun to keep still. Last year, Mr. Moore anchored Anders Osborne’s epic American Patchwork recording and tour in 2010 and fortified his collaboration with Hammond wiz Robert Walter. The tribal material and arrangements that grew from this collaboration resulted in one of the best albums of the year. Moore and Walter, along with guitarist Will Bernard, have further shaped their unique funk with the Stanton Moore Trio over the years and for those who love their B3 sound dripping in swamp juice and punchy percussive attacks that serve as smelling salts to the senses, you’ll like what you hear.
The New Orleans percussionist has taken up a month long Wednesday residency at The Mint for July, providing free all ages drum clinics before every show – a thoughtful give back for aspiring and seasoned players alike. Each show rotates in a different guest and I elected to hit the July 13th gig with Karl Denson. Within minutes of the 9:50ish start, the room was full. Not bad for the Wednesday night before Carmeggedon.
Opening with Walter ‘s staccato riffs on “Pie Eyed Manc” from 2010’s aptly titled Groove Alchemy, the set I heard started strong and headed higher. The chemistry between all three players was astonishing. Walter’s bass lines alone pushed and grabbed the trio, and especially Moore, to punch back and dig deep. The sound was vintage, old school and often organ driven (OK, Yamaha on wheels), shifting from a complex soul groove to in your face rapid fire I gotcha soloing. Heck, I half expected to hear the snap, crackle and pop of vinyl between notes. Denson altered his horn’s tone to great effect that only enhanced, not detracted, from some wicked and adventurous playing. By the time they hit “Magnolia Triangle” mid-set (from 2002’s Flying the Koop), the trio was a single swinging, squonking, fiery unit (wouldn’t have been surprised to see wisps of smoke rise from the bell of Denson’s tenor). The set closed with Dirty Dozen Brass Band’s, “Who Took the Happiness” (from 2008’s Take It to the Street), that stripped a larger brass band sound to it’s rawest elements with circular interplay wrapped around Walter’s keyboard bass and jungle-like swing. This was great stuff. Call it funk, call it jazz, call it soul. Don’t matter. As long as you respect the drummer.
June 26, 2011
Honey Island Swamp Band swung into the Westside on Saturday, another NOLA nugget appearing at the Mint. This is a New Orleans band that reflects its Katrina Diaspora-Bay Area birth with chunky and soulful jams, tight arrangements and great material. If you are expecting ballads, standards, and second lines, this ain’t that NOLA band. Whether moving easily from moments Dead infused or Dr. John influenced, their self-described Bayou Americana sound never loses sight of its swampy swagger or solo driven joy. The band has kicked ass at Jazzfest the past few years, so a chance to enjoy them here in the Southland was indeed a treat, and to my knowledge, The Mint gig is their first Los Angeles show.
At Fest performances and in the studio, HISB often fattens their arrangements with horns, and Saturday had that taste with Karl Denson sitting in for both sets contributing frequent solos and locking into some killer grooves with Trevor Brooks on keys and Chris Mule’s SG/Strat driven leads. When not providing the good time feel of a summer day front porch harp, Aaron Wilkinson switched between mandolin and his hollow-body Tele, taking the bluegrass string thing into Hendrix/Page territory, while the rhythm section of Sam Price and Garland Paul just kept having too much fun and pushing the band ahead. HISB can swing easily from romps like “Natural Born Fool”, and the Anders Osborne reminiscent “Till the Money’s Gone,” to there and back deep intense jams like “Wishing Well”. While the material is straight ahead, HISB is not shy about stretching out live.
The mixed crowd ranged from music savvy date night couples, thrilled to have the tables gone and the dance floor open for the second set, to the usual NOLA diehards that wouldn’t miss it. The vibe was relaxed and up.
This summer tour behind the their recent Threadhead Records release, “Good to You”, takes HISB from the where it all began of San Francisco’s Boom-Boom Room, to the where it was always meant to be at Tipitina’s in NOLA. I suspect they will be back in the SoCal soon, and playing bigger places. Catch them while you can.
Jazzfest 2011 is in the books. Weekend 2 brought the it could only happen here bag of familiar closers (Jimmy Buffet, the Nevilles, et al), epic sonics (Arcade Fire, Wilco), roots, (not so) alt-country and blues (Lucinda Williams, Greg Allman, Willie Nelson), mind-bending bills (Trombone Shorty>The Strokes), sentimental moments (Rads farewell, Christian Scott proposing in the middle of his set), jazz giants (Sonny Rollins) and local and regional artists who have been, and always will be, the heartbeat of the Fest. The lack of a jam band closer seemed to go unnoticed, supplanted by an edgier, “indie” orientation – an eclectic mix even by Fest standards. “Only at Jazzfest could….” 50/60-somethings leave their front row seat for Robert Randolph and the Family Band to catch Kid Rock.
The weather cooperated to the point of being freaky. Not a drop of rain all seven days, temps warm to warmer, but not scorching. As always, the food will take a year to work off and worth it.
Whether at the Fairgrounds or night shows, I couldn’t split myself in half. Simply too much good stuff to go around.
Most of my time shooting circled the Jazz and Blues Tents, and unexpectedly (or not), the moments I took away most from this second weekend, both personally and as a photographer, were provided by the New Orleans musicians and artists I’ve covered/attended many times over. Sure, Henry Butler, Sonny Landreth and Robert Randolph tore up the Blues Tent on Sunday, and Aaron Neville’s Amazing Grace brought church to the Acura crowd as the sun went down. But the stage debut of Nine Lives during the week, and songs transformed by the Rolling Road Show at the Fest were something so big, you had to step back, smile and cry a little. There seems to be new meaning and new power in New Orleans. Rebuild, renew, that’s what people do, indeed.
Shooting the Fest is akin to an endless buffet, musical whiplash and constant discovery. Instead of full sets, joy is more concentrated, fleeting. Depending on the stage and act, three and done translates to here/now/next move. The fan inside is stifled and exhilarated. Mental focus is at a premium, especially when now doesn’t want to go. My coverage has been exhaustive some days, less intense on others, leaving the observer behind to just soak up the experience. Nature stepped up with beautiful weather, the rest was on me.
Friday opened strong, and this photographer had to bond with the mastery of Jeff Beck, but close with a smokin’ set by the New Orleans Nightcrawlers at the Jazz and Heritage Stage. The reborn roots of Robert Plant, paired with Patty Griffin and the amazing string work of Buddy Miller were also especially captivating.
Whether shooting or not, where else could anyone experience the Kentucky bluegrass of Ricky Skaggs, move on to Robert Cray’s deep and soulful well and then witness an absolutely stunning performance by Ahmad Jamal, as I spent Saturday afternoon. Bluegrass, blues and straight ahead/to your head jazz – and that’s just a taste of a day, one of seven. Sunday could not have been a more diverse experience. From the “indie-folk-rock-grass” flavored and cheeky humor of Portland’s The Decemberists, Glen David Andrews joined by Marcia Ball, Amanda Shaw, Paul Sanchez and brother Troy ruling the Blues Tent, the consistently transcendent Terence Blanchard, the Bhangra Funk of Red Baraat, and yes, even John Mellencamp closing out Acura with Pink Houses and Crumblin’ Down.
Sure, some folks complained about sound and noise bleed from Congo Square or into the Jazz Tent. It’s all part of the gumbo that’s the Fest. Pretty tasty if you ask me.