Tag Archives: New Orleans music
December 12, 2012
Certain celestial alignments skip decades, if not lifetimes, or at a minimum, involve covering great distances at greater expense. Think solar eclipses, Comet Hale-Bopp or if you get around, the aurora. Even then, there is the unexpected cloud cover that can scotch the most anticipated and well-planned events. While the intersection of talent that is Dragon Smoke may not operate on a celestial plane, the fact the band exists, let alone has endured for a decade, is pretty damn impressive. Comprised of the Galactic’s drummer Stanton Moore and bassist Robert Mercurio, guitarist/songwriter Eric Lindell and funk master Ivan Neville on keys and vocals, the band is a potential one-off that never offed. 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. They deliver that and then some.
The demanding tour schedules of Galactic, Dumpstaphunk and Lindell, coupled with additional musical pursuits, make the right place/right time convergence of the four principals slightly more frequent than a Cubs post-season appearance, or at least cause for celebration. Yet, the band has been a fixture for 10+ years on the Tuesday between Jazzfest weekends, while managing to pop up for rare winter forays west of the Mississippi, including another December gig at The Mint as part of a 5-date West Coast-ish swing. Their show last year killed and was of one the room’s most memorable of 2011.
The musical affection between the players is obvious from the get-go. Like a family reunion where you don’t see enough of each other, stay up all night, then go on with your lives until the next one. The material is generously shared and enthusiastically played. And while many similar collaborations often lose focus, tread on reputation or simply go sideways, these guys play for keeps. It sure doesn’t feel or sound like a side project.
Opening with the country ramble feel of “Sunday Morning”, the trademark swapping of Lindell and Neville led tunes jumped right into the Dyke and the Blazers funk of “Let a Woman, Be a Woman” with Stanton Moore sneaking in a NOLA brass snare rhythm between a barrel full of fills, and Neville chomping at his clavs and working his B3. Funky, fun, and delicious. The stutter step blues rock of Lindell’s “Country Livin’” (from 2009’s “Gulf Coast Highway”) sounded pretty damn good, accented by Neville’s Hammond runs and Moore’s cascades, and the War-like soul of father Aaron’s “Hercules” brought things back to an appropriate simmer. A couple of Lindell tunes followed, including “Two Bit Town” (from 2006’s “Change in the Weather” and the pretty “Lullaby for Mercy Ann” (from “Gulf Coast Highway”). The Meters were in the room with “Out in the Country” (“nobody plays it like this” professed Neville), before Lindell stretched out with the breezy “Valerie” (a Zutons’ song most notably covered by the late Amy Winehouse). The first set closed with Gerald Tillman’s (aka, Professor Shorthair) “Padlock” (from Neville’s 1995 “Thanks”) anchored by Neville’s B3 and clav blend punctuated by Lindell’s needle stick delivery and a perfect Meters-esque groove over the lines “somebody’s been sleepin’ in my bed”.
The sold out room had a climate closer to a Bikram yoga class than the cool rainy weather outside, so some oxygen was in order for the break. By the time the band returned for their second set, everyone was a bit more refreshed and most stayed.
The 10-song set went appropriately deeper than the first. Bill Withers’ “Grandma’s Hands” began with spare soulful “uh-huhs” from Neville and built into a creeping, slippery jam that had the crowd singing the “like the way you work it” chorus part of the tune. One of the night’s high points, for sure. The band brought a relaxed loping ‘tude to the Mardi Gras Indian driven “Indians, Here Dey Come” and even a touch of Dead influence meets NOLA backbeat to it, thanks to some Jerry-like inflections from Lindell and Moore’s expansive snare vocabulary. Another Lindell tune, “Won’t Be Long” (from “Change in the Weather”) featured a slow voltage bridge and blue-eyed soul progression that lives in Lindell’s wheelhouse. “Slippin’ Into Darkness” is such a natural cover for the band, they should have written the classic. All the pieces fit just right. Dropping in a “Get Up, Stand Up” tease, then flipping into The Meters “Fire on the Bayou” and again to Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle”, before landing back to “Slippin’” was pretty fine. Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s a Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go”) was sandwiched between a few more Lindell tunes that brought the set to a close, and featured some well past midnight clav explorations by Neville. The clock was pushing 1 AM on an early Thursday morning by the time the encore of Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round in Circles” had wrapped.
Robert Mercurio’s recent interview with jambands.com is illuminating reading on how these guys find a way to stick together, and the glue that makes it happen. With grueling schedules and commitments all over the place, the band must want this pretty bad (heck, it would be way easier not to do it). Nonetheless, you may have a better chance of catching an eclipse some years, so best to presume their next orbit is their only orbit. If you are in NOLA the days between the Fest or within hollering distance of their brief trips west, consider yourself lucky and get your ass down to One Eyed Jacks or other respectable live music establishment. This constellation may not come around again, and if it does, you better be there.
October 26-28, 2012
As an unabashed Jazzfest vet, I approached my first Voodoo with excitement and a hint of fear. The mix of rap, EDM, and the often indefinable, sprinkled with the best of New Orleans contemporary and traditional, on a bed of arena headliners, eclectic rockers, funk and blues artists, is uniquely Voodoo. Look, I’m an old school guy who knows enough to be dangerous to himself. Not a banger, a mosher or a surfer. I know Skrillex drops bombs that turn your bones to jelly and have never been to a Metallica show in my life, but I approached Voodoo with anticipation and an open mind. After all, there was Mr. Neil Young touring with Crazy Horse for the first time in eight years. Gary Clark, Jr.’s, blues without boundaries and the omni-bluesusical Jack White closing it out.
OK, so much for the obvious. How far would I go to connect with my inner Voodoo? Would I make it to Borgore (an Israeli DJ formerly of a death metal band), the total bizzaro of South African rappers Die Antwoord or Electric Daisy Carnival main stager Nervo (all three made “Rolling Stone’s 10 Must See Acts at Voodoo Fest”)? Maybe Voodoo would leave me forever changed and socially morphed. Or play it safe, reveling in New Orleans talent like the Soul Rebels, George Porter, Jr., Lil Band O’ Gold and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Hmmm. At Jazzfest, FOMS (“fear of missing something”) always runs high. At Voodoo, where I should be and where I could be was a kind of personal dare.
City Park is one of New Orleans’ great spaces and home to Voodoo since it moved from Tad Gormley Stadium (near the top of the park). It’s a relaxed setting of endless greenery and moss-draped oaks, crossed by footpaths and waterways. Perfect for the last big fest of the year and a contrast to the nearby fairgrounds that host Jazzfest. The weather was spectacular; a mix of late summer warm and crisp autumn cool. The five stages are easy to access and not more than a 10-minute walk from one end to the other.
Unlike Jazzfest, Voodoo goes well into the night and the weekend before Halloween in New Orleans gooses the id of the crowd even higher. Corsets and fishnets, the entire food chain (yes, that giraffe had just enough headroom to clear the porta-john), dudes in tutus. Just another day in NOLA.
‘nuf with the travelogue. Friday’s schedule was packed with Gary Clark, Jr., The Avett Brothers and Neil Young & Crazy Horse at the Ritual (main) Stage later in the day and rich with other bands I throughout. I headed to the Preservation Hall Stage, which featured local talent during the weekend. Both the Pres Hall Stage and the nearby WWOZ/Bud Light Stage are insanely intimate and, early in the day, they had the feel of a backyard barbeque. I needed an infusion of big horns right away and found it with the TBC (“To Be Continued”) Brass Band. Yup, officially back in NOLA. Next move was the soul pop of Brooklyn’s Andy Suzuki and the Method. Not quite blue-eyed in sound, but definitely soul directed, the instrumentation of fiddle and djembe (an African hand drum) augmented Suzuki’s strong vocals and keys to create vibrant, easy on the ears material. Back to the Pres Hall Stage for Little Freddie King and his traditional duckwalk , after which he threw in a little James Brown (ala “Sex Machine”) along with the usual blues staples. Guitar “Lightnin” Lee joined Little Freddie for a few tunes of dueling 3-ball red Lucilles. Stuck close by for C.C. Adcock who was sporting some impressive hardware including a steel Thinline Tele that he played with tons of tremolo and a hard tailed hollow body Flying V replete with whammy bar. Accompanied by an upright bass and two drummers facing off on a riser (giving the appearance of interlocking kits), these guys were howlingly loud and kicked up some stompingly serious boogie.
As the day was picked up, I had to be strategic heading up to Gary Clark, Jr.’s 5 o’clock start time and the bigger names that followed. New Orleans’ 101 Runners’ tribute to Big Chief Bo Dollis was my next move and I arrived mid-set with Mardi Gras tunes on full boil. Rolling Stone pointed me next to Delta Rae, a family band featuring rooted arrangements and sweet harmonies. They hit nice Mumford-like notes without the sadness or overearnestness that befalls many of their contemporaries that played well with the younger crowd. I can see why RS called them out and look forward to hearing more than the few tunes I heard. The Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stagepulled me away for a taste of Nervo, the sister EDM act. Now, I’ve been to Electric Daisy Carnival about as many times as I’ve been (or will be) to Burning Man, but I have to say the energy was playful, totally fun and infectious. Maybe it was the safety of the daylight, but I kind of got it in my own I don’t do this thing sort of way. Then the 80s called. Thomas Dolby was playing at the Le Carnival Stage. Dolby was one of the most successful to mix effects, danceable beats and tech with sophistication and rock that was neither the cousin of 70s electronic manipulation à la Kraftwerk or the pop candy of Duran Duran. It was 80s music with a brain. Early tunes included “Europa” (a personal favorite), the band had more strings than electronics and keys, and Dolby himself lent a very affable presence. Thoroughly enjoyable.
Time to get my roots on with Gary Clark, Jr. at the Ritual Stage. With his ACL set scorched in my brain (which I streamed) and a show-stopping Jazzfest set in the Blues Tent (opposite Springsteen), any chance to see Clark, Jr., at this point in his career is an opportunity to witness prime time talent on the rise. No surprise he draws well at big festivals, even though two years ago only a few had really heard him. I could only stay for the first few tunes, but as soon as he hit stage it was if a huge Texas storm had just taken a blue sky day and tossed the place. The Texas shuffle of “Don’t Owe You a Thang” was especially smokin’. Next stop, George Porter, Jr. and His Runnin’ Pardners back at the OZ Stage. I appreciate Porter, Jr.’s playing even more in non-Metersesque settings (that he brings NOLA funk to Dead grooves with 7 Walkers is especially a treat) and Pardner Brint Anderson’s Les Paul and slide are well matched. After a taste of George, The Avett Brothers hit the Ritual Stage, their thrash banjo-cello attitude showing why they have such a great festival following. These guys are the anti-ramble, wielding bluegrass instruments like sharp knives, and have unstoppable energy. After a few of Avett Brothers tunes, I couldn’t miss Malian stringer Cheick Hamala Diabate. Diabete, a Washington (DC) resident, is a griot (West African troubadour of sorts) who has collaborated with Bela Fleck and performed for the US Congress, and builds musical bridges between traditional griot instruments and their western counterparts. His banjo playing and jamming were remarkable and one of the days many highlights. One last stop before the headliner, one more special Voodoo collaboration at the Pres Hall stage that brought together George Porter, Jr. and Johnny Vidacovich, with Skerik and Mike Dillon of Garage a Trois, and the legendary “Kidd” Jordan. Jordan swapping and merging tenor squonks with the crazed and incredibly innovative Skerik over a hard groove from Porter, Jr. and Johnny V. was not to be missed, except for Neil Young.
Neil Young has been headlining large arenas, sheds and festivals for his first tour with Crazy Horse since 2004 and his body of work remains seminal to my personal soundtrack (and has since the 70s). Young’s last performance in New Orleans at the 2009 Jazzfest is the stuff of legend. Seriously. After shredding the strings of Ol’ Black at the end of his “Day in the Life” encore, the swollen skies opened up just when the last note faded. This night was mild, and the skies clear, as Young and the Horse took the stage for a 2-hour set that can only be described as primally charged. Largely sticking to a set list consistent with the tour to date, Young was fresh from a gig in Tuscaloosa with the Horse the night before and his annual acoustic Bridge School benefits the prior weekend. The tour has featured nuggets from early 90s Young and Crazy Horse including “Love and Only Love” (the opener) and “F*!#in’ Up” from “Ragged Glory”, tracks from the just released “Psychedelic Pill” and obligatory classics.
With just a few exceptions, the set was pure cronk. Jurassic and thunderous from start to finish, perhaps never more so than with the seemingly endless coda to “Walk Like a Giant”. There was the 10+ minutes of the song and the 10+ minutes to the finish that was reduced to nothing but sustain, distortion and apocalyptic howl. Young was literally hugging the top of his stack, squeezing every last possibility for noise out of the thing until there was nothing left to give. At one point in the middle of “Giant” Young, back turned, raised his arms and shook his fists at the heavens as if channeling planetary frustration through his Les Paul to get the Almighty’s attention. He got mine. Nothing like the junkie ballad “Needle and the Damage Done” to take the edge off after that.
Later in the set, with a long pick scratch down the neck and some time machine humor, Young launched into a raucous “Mr. Soul”, before closing with “Hey Hey, My My (Into the Black)” upon which the 40-something woman next to me proclaimed, “old guys know how to rock!”. Now there’s some Voodoo wisdom for ya. He came back with “Like a Hurricane” as an encore, at one point drifting on the words “somewhere safer”, as if repeating them would make them truer. It all ended in a ritualistic roar with Young deconstructing Ol’ Black yet again, then disintegrating into a primordial rumble that had him nudging the barely beating carcass of his guitar like a big cat over a fresh kill. A fitting end to Voodoo Day 1.
The great thing about Voodoo is sleeping in. While gates open 11ish, the music can go another 12 hours. Especially in NOLA, it is important to recharge, so rolling in around 3 seemed reasonable (as much as I wanted to check out Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds, it just didn’t happen). My first Day 2 stop was the Soul Rebels Brass Band at the OZ Stage. The Rebs are Jazzfest fixtures, and get around plenty during festival season. By the time I hit their set, they were working Stevie Wonder’s “Sir Duke” into a joyful, brassy lather. Contemporary Cajunistes Feaufollet were a worthy detour at the Pres Hall Stage before catching some of the Revivalists set at the Ritual Stage. I’ve written a lot about them lately and what I saw of their Voodoo set only reaffirms a New Orleans band playing vital rock and roll that is going places (with a Soul Rebels walk on that made them sound even better). Ingrid Lucia Presents the New Orleans Nightingales was a showcase for female vocalists of blues, jazz and traditional persuasions backed by a crack band with Alex McMurray on guitar and a 5-piece horn section including Bonerama’s Craig Klein. Irma Thomas (who I missed) is always a draw, but it was great to hear a wide range of stylings in a back-to-back format from Debbie Davis, Alexendra Scott, Banu Gibson, Meschiya Lake, Holly Bendtsen and others.
One of my must do Voodoos was Dave Stewart, who I had not seen perform since the Eurythmics days. Stewart’s recorded collaborations with Annie Lennox swung radically from the sythn-pop, tech heavy (and beautifully executed) cool of “Sweet Dreams” and “Here comes the Rain Again” to the fiery funked up rhythm and soul of “Would I Lie to You” and “Missionary Man”. Knowing he had taken a bluesier, rootsy direction in recent years had me very curious. Stewart came dressed for the Voodoo vibe with a band that included Nashville guitarist, Tom Bukovac. The set liberally featured material from last year’s “Blackbird Diaries” as well as Stewart/Eurythmics hits including “Don’t Come Around Here No More”, “Missionary Man”, “Here Comes the Rain Again” and a “Sweet Dreams” mash up with the Soul Rebels (they were everywhere). From the outset, Stewart and his band were also one of the most photo friendly and audience engaging acts I have covered in a long time. He was frequently playing to the pit, freely posing and smiling, and having a great time every minute he was on stage. A lot of artists could take a page from his book.
At the Ritual Stage, I hit the start of LA’s own Silversun Pickups gasoline-fueled set then circled back for some timeless reggae courtesy of Toots and the Maytals at the OZ Stage, where Toots was given a generous 90 minutes.
Unfortunately, I was not shortlisted to shoot the headliners, including Metallica. Sometimes things work out the way they’re meant to. Anders Osborne’s set with VOW collaborators Johnny Sansone and Big Chief Monk Boudreaux in front of a few hundred was another highlight. Opening with the thrumming urgency of “On the Road to Charlie Parker”, it felt like they’d been playing for hours, and they just dug in from there. I’ve heard Sansone perform “Lord is Waiting the Devil is Too” many times, but this night he was truly a man possessed by the spirit. I mean scary potent. Oh, and only at Voodoo could you check a guy in an Anders costume and everyone is in on it.
After Anders’, I slid over for the very end of MyNameIsJohnMichael’s set. Spanky horns, uptempo arrangements, great energy. I’ll make sure to catch them come Jazzfest time, if not sooner.
I managed to get to some of Metallica’s set. These guys put on a highly entertaining and totally energized performance, with world class staging and lighting for a festival setting that is second to none. Consummate professionals, for sure. Me, I was pretty spent after two full days and some two dozen plus acts, and just wasn’t feeling my Metallica (I’m a little old for fireworks and explosions, anyway), but I totally get why they are kings of their scene.
Sunday was lighter on acts that pulled me, a perfect opp to go outside my bandwidth. I started with some New Orleans Bounce at the Le Carnival Stage and the younger, totally buoyant crowd way in to all the shakin’ it on stage. Long, tall Marcia Ball at the OZ Stage could not be passed up, even it was a drive by en route to the prog-metal weirdness of Coheed and Cambria (classic Voodoo whiplash). “Afterman: Ascension” the latest installment in the band’s ongoing epic mythology, sits at no. 5 on the Billboard charts, somewhere between Ellie Goulding and Mumford & Sons. Formed in 1995, each of the band’s six albums to date are concept pieces for the “Armory Wars”, a science fiction storyline written by singer/guitarist Claudio Sanchez. I can’t say I really got it for the early tunes I made, but the sound was big and crunchy, more metal than prog. And Sanchez’s mane makes Jim James look like he just got a no. 2 at the local barbershop.
Needing to chill, I quickly checked out Borgore at the Le Plur/Red Bulletin Stage. This former drummer of the Israeli death metal band Shabira (not a genre I’m overly familiar with) is all dubstep and according to Wikipedia, “some songs have been compared to horror movies, farm animals, and sex”. Not sure I got that anymore than I am a dubstep aficionado, so I pressed on to Lil Band O’ Gold back at the OZ Stage to bring me back down. Lil Band O’ Gold is somewhat legendary in New Orleans circles, featuring C.C. Adcock on guitar, Steve Riley on accordion (delayed by weather) and David Egan on keys. Perhaps most impressive were the vigorous vocals and playing of 75 year old drummer Warren Storm. A joy to have finally caught up with these guys who represent the best in New Orleans roots music. Then there is the Preservation Hall Jazz Band. Few names are more synomonuos with New Orleans musical traditions. With Big Al Carson sitting in on vocals, the Pres Hall Band swung and sang there way through a spirited set capped off by a warm rendition of “Goodnight, Irene”.
Skrillex (only at Voodoo could you bounce from the Pres Hall Jazz Band to Skrillex). Holy crap. These weren’t bombs, they were cannonballs to the chest. I can only relate the visceralness of the sonic/visual experience. The music itself just poured over me, submerging me behind a wall of visuals and sound that left me in a puddle. And that was for the 10 minutes I could shoot.
Voodoo wrapped with a closing set by Jack White and (for this night only) The Buzzards. With upright bass and pedal steel adding raw texture, they stayed low to the ground, gritty, pushy and fiery, delivering a set of shape-shifting blues rock that was a wholly satisfying conclusion to my first Voodoo Experience.
So, at the end of it all, did I Voodoo well? I went places I’ve never been, found shelter in the New Orleans rhythms and brass I love and heard 30+ acts over the three days. It is just this mix that is hard to duplicate anywhere else. The traditional and the contemporary, the edgy and the extreme, the local and the global, headliners and up and comers. All set in “this stew called New Orleans” (as Paul Sanchez puts it). I’m not off the reservation yet, but maybe a little closer to the edge than I was before. That’s a good thing. Voodoo done me right.
You can check out many of the Voodoo Experience 2012 performances on Voodoo TV. The event would not be possible without the good people of Rehage Entertainment (RE). RE owns, operates, produces, books and manages the Voodoo Experience, which has twice been nominated for Pollstar’s festival of the year.
September, 11, 2012
Jazzfest’s surprise moments can happen any time. One of mine came this year when The Revivalists kicked off the Fest from the Gentilly stage before noon on the opening Friday. While the band has played the Fest the past few years, I was in the dark until that set. Familiar to many native Orleaneans and carving a broader audience through touring in support of acts such as Dr. John, Trombone Shorty and Galactic (and in the next few weeks, Gov’t. Mule), their Fest set was passionate, captivating, and raised the bar early for one of the better Fests ever. Led by guitarist/vocalist David Shaw, the band puts Ed Williams blazing pedal steel right up front with horns, keys and a committed rhythm section to deliver what the esteemed David Fricke dubbed “a Crescent City-rhythm spin on jam-band jubilee”. To my ear, this is soul-jam influenced rock from New Orleans, with the New Orleans influences taking more of a back seat to driving and occasionally chimey guitars, Shaw’s growl and an undeniable we came to play stage presence (Shaw’s off stage forays and Williams overtopping his pedal steel were sweet spot material for this photographer).
The Revivalists found each other in 2007 and have three CDs under their belt – their eponymous debut EP from 2008, 2010’s “Vital Signs” and this year’s “City of Sound”, which was produced by Ben Ellman of Galactic and mixed by Count (aka, Michael Eldridge), who’s worked with the Stones, Radiohead, Pink, No Doubt, as well as Galactic and Trombone Shorty. Their Mint date is part of a September swing through California and Nevada and I was curious how their Gentilly size presence would fit the room.
The small, but devoted, Tuesday night crowd grew in size and enthusiasm as the band worked its way through a deep 80-minute set. Opening with Zack Feinberg’s ES-335 fueled riffs on “Concrete (Fish Out of Water)” from 2008’s “The Revivalists”, the tune caught fire right away. Ed Williams’ sacred steel wasted no time meshing and mashing with Shaw and Feinberg’s twin guitars. “All in the Family” and “Monster” are new tunes, the former bringing a stomping, rapped up rhythm to a chorus of “I’ve got that feeling in my bones”, and whether playing to a living room or thousands, David Shaw sells that line true. Steel on top of blues driven funk just brings it home. “Monster” is a softer tune built around Shaw’s vocals, Feinberg’s waterfall runs and Rob Ingraham’s sax, and an appropriate lead in to “Not Turn Away” from “Vital Signs” with its shuffle step plea of “I hope that you were listening/when I said that you could be the only one”.
The ghostly, “Pretty Photograph” from “City of Sound,” sounds nothing like New Orleans and was one of best tunes of the night, blending Williams sweet turn up top with Rob Ingraham’s baritone below. The punchy “Common Cents” from “The Revivalists”, and “When I’m Able”, “Up in the Air” and “When I Die” from “City of Sound” followed. “Up in the Air’s” catch up phrasing landing squarely on the chorus and building to a satisfying finish under Zack Feinberg’s uncolored gallop. By this point in the set, tables gave way to the dance floor and a 40ish dude leading the pack made a point of telling me he drove 3 hours to catch the gig. “Let It All Out” was another new tune that bounced between a ragey bridge and more ballady chorus and fell a little short of other tunes. The rest of the set included the reggae lilt of “Sunny Days” from “The Revivalists”, “Catching Fireflies” from “Vital Signs”, and “Criminal” the obvious closer from “City of Sound”. “Criminal” brings many of the band’s best elements together, tearing up the Fest and capping off this night at The Mint nicely.
I caught up with Rob Ingraham after the show for some set forensics. No set lists, just shout outs from the stage. Wouldn’t have known it as it all hung together rather well.
There is romance in the Revivalists sound. Songs feel like love close, beaten or out of reach. Delivered with inspiration and perspiration and a New Orleans heartbeat. A band that also knows where it’s going and determined to get there. I’d count on it.
Eye on the Music and Jim Brock Photography coverage of Terence Blanchard’s latest Los Angeles dates was picked up by Joshua Johnson of Burgess Management and posted to Terence’s web site. The review and images speak to a stellar set.
August 17, 2012
There are few musicians I can point to more visually evocative than Terence Blanchard (and I’m not just talking about his 20+ year filmography). Blanchard paints fully expressed textures with sound, creating jazz that is emotive, vibrant and at times, startlingly beautiful. I literally see what he’s playing. Then again, I may just have a vivid imagination.
Like many, I was first introduced to Blanchard’s work through his Spike Lee scores and his reputation as yet another anointed young lion of the horn. As my relationship with New Orleans music grew to near obsession, so did my affection for Blanchard and I never miss an opportunity to catch him when I can. His connection with his hometown courses through his work. Not just his score to “When the Levees Broke”, or his Grammy winning “A Tale of God’s Will (Requiem for Katrina)”, but in absorbing the richness, emotion and soul of the place often referred to as the birthplace of jazz. Blanchard is not a formal traditionalist that dwells in the past. He makes new music out of old roots. While New Orleans is in his bones and always will be, it is not expressed in the obvious. It also doesn’t hurt that he is one the coolest and nicest cats I’ve met as a photographer. Case in point – before the start of the evening’s second set, Blanchard was hanging with friends and fans in the middle of the room, chatting, getting his picture taken and signing CDs. No airs and friendly as all get out.
Blanchard’s live performances are best appreciated with attention and openness. All the traditional dynamics of great ensembles are present. Generous compositional give and take between players, the influence or arrangements of just the right standards, interplay that meshes and solos that take flight and always find their way back. And of course, stellar musicianship from gifted and younger players.
Accompanied by Brice Winston on sax, Fabian Almazan on piano, 20-year old Joshua Crumbly on bass and drummer Justin Brown, the quintet opened with Winston’s “Time to Spare” (from 2010’s, “Introducing Brice Winston”). Winston is a formidable tenor player already performing to a full Jazz Tent at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival (and at next month’s Monterey Jazz Festival) and has a great chemistry with Blanchard that goes back some 10 years. He briefly set the theme, straight ahead with quick corners, before Brown jumped in and the quintet ran with it. True to form, Blanchard moved off stage as the five became three, Winston reached down for the little more that seems to come so naturally in a later set.
The recorded spoken word intro to “Choices” (from Blanchard’s 2009 album of the same name) was a prelude to a composition that took him into reverb and octave dividing effects and explorations (almost reminiscent of Pat Metheny’s more orchestral synth voicings). More importantly, the music and words served as tableaus for the other. Blanchard’s horn seemed to prod the listener into soul searching the power of choices, of “what kind of human being are you going to be”. The dialogue that grew between Blanchard and Winston was truly gorgeous with Blanchard’s tone full and deep and introspective and Winston’s phrasing fiery and questioning.
Blanchard prefaced his band introduction by underscoring that “young musicians are the future of this music” and like so many great band leaders before him, Blanchard has provided a platform for truly amazing next generational talent. Look no further than bassist Joshua Crumbly, who Blanchard chided was not even through college yet.
The Kendrick Scott composition “Touched by an Angel” (also from “Choices”) followed (Scott is Blanchard’s regular drummer, but Justin Brown, who usually plays with trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, has the seat for now). Fabian Almazan’s solo moments on the piece stood out as well as his playing when Blanchard and Winston ceded to a p/b/d trio. Almazan’s left and right hands climbing and falling together, trilling in sync and almost introducing classical elements along the way. “Pet Step Sitters Theme Song”, written for Almazan’s mother when the economy went south, swung and grooved, a fine launchpad for all the players. The set wrapped with Blanchard’s “Bounce” (from the 2003 album of the same name), the most NOLA inflected tune of the set and an appropriate coda to the evening.
“Sounds that get to the truth of who we are”. Words from the “Choices” prelude that also describe what Terence Blanchard does better than so many. This is jazz that moves in the inner sense of the word. Jazz that makes you feel, as much as it makes you think. Much, much respect for this quintet. And if I just close my eyes, I can almost see the notes.
August 14, 2012
It’s apropos that the Honey Island Swamp Band would return for a summer gig at The Mint following an appearance at Outside Lands the prior weekend. After all, the Bay Area figures so prominently in this NOLA band’s origin story. Stranded by Katrina. Crescent City players a long way from home. Meet up on the west coast. Bond big time. Keep their chops strong. Throw a few songs together. Land a regular gig in the heart of town. Cut their debut in the one and only Record Plant in Sausalito. It could only happen….where?
This is their third trip to The Mint in 14 months. That’s not a bad thing. Whether it’s covering their LA dates, staking their ground from the big stage at the Fest or enjoying their pop up everywhere Fest club dates, I have been a fan since first catching them at Jazzfest in 2008. The Bay Area meets bayou influences are everywhere in the HISB sound. Solid songwriting, tight arrangements and enough room to stretch, their self-coined “bayou americana” is rootsy strings first stuff. Swamp driven, but not dripping, and often sprouting ensemble fed jams from tasty hooks, HISB sets include staples from their first three albums “Honey Island Swamp band (2007), “Wishing Well” (2009) and “Good to You” (2010), and more recently, new material from a pending fourth release.
Guest Robert Walter was on hand to thicken the gumbo a bit. Many an HISB gig add horns up top, so it’s a fresh twist to double down with Walter and Trevor Brooks on keys. Behind the stringed attack of frontmen, Aaron Wilkinson who moves between his Thinline Tele and mandolin, and Chris Mulé’s excellent Strat fed slide work, HISB serves up material reminiscent of Little Feat, Creedence, Black Crowes and many of the band’s NOLA peers, while remaining totally original. Sam Price’s stage energy is only exceeded by the pulsing, bubbling work on his Lakland bass. Garland Paul is a great foil for Price and the rhythm section drives and roots a band that feeds one another with spirited stage IQ in a deceptively comfortable musical setting.
Opening with the country ramble of “Honey” (from “Good to You”), the tune had Trevor Brooks off to the races. “Josephine”, (also from, “Good to You”) is simply a good time song of love on the road with a great hook. Some muscular playing from Price and kick ass exchanges between Chris Mulé and Trevor Brooks drove that point home. Walter’s jazzier inclinations added another layer to the already jammy “Chocolate Cake” (from “Good To You”) and his soul jazz sound on his own “Snakes and Spiders” (from his 2008 release, “Cure All”) and later in the set, “Hard Ware” (from 2005’s “Super Heavy Organ”) and “Quantico, VA”, were an intriguing match for HISB that worked better than expected. “300 Pounds” (from “Good To You”) is a classic tale of weed running that again had Mulé satisfyingly meshing with four hands on the keys. “Slip” from their self-titled debut and “One Shot” (unreleased) were feisty, with the latter beginning with a reggae on the bayou feel and the former featuring some nice wah-wah like effects from Mulé, when the band was not hugging the go to m7/dom 9 change. Throughout the set, Aaron Wilkinson’s mandolin work showed how much that little box can rock, when he wasn’t tangling Fenders with Mulé or working a hot summer day harp in to the mix. His 8-string touch on “One Shot” climbed all around the blues step of the tune.
No song captures the musical strengths of HISB like “Wishing Well” (from the 2008 release of the same name). Swampy riffs, a sing along chorus and deep stretches of purposeful jams. At The Mint, the snaky intro, Mulé’s slide and the ensemble spirit had me deja vuing for long lost brain cells. “Till the Money’s Gone” (from “Wishing Well”) is an all NOLA romp and “Jitterbug Swing” (an old Bukka White tune, also unreleased) is fleet footed front porch bluesgrass. “Cane Sugar” (unreleased) and “Country Girl” (from “Good To You”), with its Van Morrison if he could boogie flavor, closed things out.
Singer/guitarist Clarence Bucaro opened the show with a well received set culled from his five albums, including the just released “Walls of the World”.
HISB is deceiving. The tunes feel like your own backyard throwdown, but go deeper. The funk, blues, bluegrass, jam, country, bayou sound they have cultivated will satisfy jam fans and roots devotees alike. Fest vets know what I’m talking about and the thousands who caught them Saturday at Outside Lands do too. And they just keep getting better.
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).
From the Revivalists passionate opening Gentilly set to the final moments of Springsteen’s plaintive reading of Saints, the first weekend of Jazzfest 2012 was an abundance of special moments. Yes, the draws were the Acura headliners. Petty and Bruce delivered deep satisfying sets (from what I was able to catch), and Springsteen’s presence was a rallying cry of celebration and reflection. A reminder of how New Orleans has healed since his epic 2006 post-Katrina Seeger Sessions appearance, and how far there is still to go. Even the Beach Boys brought their game, judging by the smiles and sing alongs from a nice size Acura crowd. But, hey, did you check out Seun Kuti and Egypt 80 at Congo Square? The four generations of players from 9 to 90+ that filled the Fais Do Do on Saturday for the Savoy Music Center Cajun Jam? How about Bon Iver’s stirring (and unexpected) connection with the Jazzfest crowd? Gary Clark, Jr. absolutely tearing down the Blues Tent opposite the Boss with Texas blues that left teeth marks? Not to mention the Voice of the Wetlands All-Stars and Jon Cleary & the Absolute Monster Gentlemen showing Tom Petty how it’s done in New Orleans. Sure until self-cloning is an app, we all pang for what we missed. Weekend 1 proved, yet again, no matter where you are at the Fest, it’s exactly where you should be.
The days between were not too shabby. Instruments A’ Comin’ on Monday night at Tip’s and New Orleans Musicians for Obama at Generations Hall on Tuesday had my head spinning (in a good way). IAC was loaded this year, as always. The sight/sounds of the best young brass in town marching along a closed Napoleon Ave. is breathtaking, and Shorty, Galactic, HISB and a cast of thousands made for a very satisfying 4:30 AM bedtime. Tuesday night’s “ObamaFest” had some unfortunate ticketing glitches, but once inside Generations Hall, there was a little bit of everything with two stages, multiple bars and a great relaxed vibe. The mostly Meters mini-set with Dr. John was locked in and tight, the highlight of the night by far.
The second weekend of the Fest boasted one of the richest lineups in year. While the Foos and the Eagles were not in the cards for me (my closest encounter was fighting the 65,000 Eagles fans for the exit), the Gentilly Stage and the Blues Tent pulled me like magnets. Thursday can never be a bad day. The crowds are lighter and headliners undemanding. It’s easy to roam, chill and eat. Like a bonus day. Flow Tribe completely entertained, Glen Hansaard sang/played his heart out with a 6-string that makes Willie Nelson’s “Trigger” look new. Honey Island Swamp Band’s “Bayou Americana” keeps getting better. George Porter, Jr. and his Runnin’ Pardners were totally in the groove. Regina Carter’s Reverse Thread was magical and Florence Welch had me completely under her spell. Only at Jazzfest could Florence + the Machine be counterpointed with the earthy grit of James Cotton’s blowing in the Blues Tent. If that’s a down day at the Fest, give me more.
Friday was a highlight. Grace Potter’s scorching stage presence was topped by the Nocturnals go for broke delivery. Hornsby’s long overdue Fest debut was juicy and this Bruce was loving every minute of it, especially when joined by dem ‘bones. Rodrigo y Gabriela’s metal rooted world nylon string mash up was mesmerizing. Zac Brown showed why he is a festival circuit favorite, and so much more than a solid country rock comer.
Saturday brought a rollicking (and rocking tight) Allen Toussaint set. Anders Osborne, fresh from the release of “Black Eye Galaxy” dug deep and raw, then vulnerable. Dropping the guitar and backed by strings, “Higher Ground” was simply beautiful. John Boutte brought the house down with a triumphant Jazz Tent performance and running between My Morning Jacket, Herbie Hancock and the Warren Haynes Band (with Dr. John) sums up why there is nothing like Jazzfest. The Haynes Band especially shined in the slot originally scheduled for Levon Helm. Levon’s spirit was all over the Fest, whether it was Hornsby covering “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” or Mavis Staples bringing the crowd to tears in the Gospel Tent with “The Weight”.
By the time Sunday rolls around, you tell yourself the tank is more than half full, not running down fast. You believe the flight home is just a scheduling mistake, rather than a cruel joke. Then Galactic overpowers the Acura crowd. Glen David Andrews brings out that red horn and everyone rises a few inches off the ground. You go to church with the entire Boutte clan. David Sanborn and Joey DeFrancesco seize the Jazz Tent crowd before the final coming together to honor 50 years of Preservation Hall, with guests that celebrate all that is New Orleans music. Go shake it with Sharon Jones and her Dap Kings before the reality sets in that there are only 355 more sleeps to Jazzfest 2013. Now that’s a life. Thank you Quint and every human who make Jazzfest possible.
Jim Brock Photography collaborates with New Orleans artist Steven Sweet for Jazzfest Shabbat project
April 18, 2012
Touro Synagogue’s annual Jazzfest Shabbat service is a tradition that has featured the likes of Irma Thomas, Marcia Ball, Allen Toussaint, Irma Thomas and Jeremy Davenport over its 21 years. This year, John Boutte will grace the bima for this uniquely New Orleans gathering. Anyone who has heard John sing knows the beauty and soul his voice will bring to the service.
The event is commemorated by an illustrative interpretation of Jim Brock Photography’s image of Mr. Boutte by New Orleans artist Steven Sweet. The piece was commissioned by Touro Synagogue and features the singer dramatically set against a backdrop of the synagogue. The original source image was previously featured in the April 2011 USA Today print article, “New Orleans is back, and so is the talent”.
Jazzfest Shabbat is a very special event, bringing together Judaism, and the warmth and community of a Shabbat service, with the best in New Orleans music. See Touro Synagogue JazzFest Shabbat 2012 for more information on the service and performance.
April 18, 2012
Jim Brock Photography is donating prints to raise funds for the Tipitina’s Foundation Instruments A Comin’ on April 30th. Each year, Instruments A Comin’ (IAC) purchases instruments for school band programs in the greater New Orleans Area, and to date, has raised over $2.5 million for 75 schools. The 11th Annual IAC features a stellar line up including Galactic, Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue, BIGI (Ivan Neville, George Porter, Jr., Ian Neville, and Russell Batiste), Honey Island Swamp Band, Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes Shamarr Allen & The Underdawgs, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Anders Osborne, Brass-A-Holics, Johnny Vidacovich, Al “Carnival Time” Johnson, Mia Borders, Walter “Wolfman” Washington, Donald Harrison & The T.I.P. Interns (and more). Other events include a silent auction, battle of the marching bands, walk and wall of fame induction ceremonies and more. In addition to the silent auction, items are available for bidding online now. If you believe in the City, have a love for the music and want to make a difference from wherever you are, please considering bidding. Two Jim Brock Photography prints are currently available for bidding, with more to be added.
Prints are 16 x 24 on Type-C Kodak Endura paper and verso signed for authentication.