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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.
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.
Three Jim Brock Photography prints raised over $1,100 for the Tipitina’s Foundation as part of this year’s Instruments A Comin’ event during Jazzfest. The featured images were of Donald Harrison, Jr., James Singleton and Snooks Eaglin, with the Snooks image well exceeding the maximum suggested bid. Jim Brock Photography is very pleased to have contributed to the Tipitina’s Foundation mission and encourages visitors to this site to support the Foundation and learn about Instruments A Comin’, the T.I.P intern program, Sunday workshops and more at www.tiptinasfoundation.org.
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.
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.
Jim Brock Photography’s image of Shamarr Allen from last year’s inaugural Threadhead Thursday at City Park is featured in this excellent USA Today article. Paying the rent as a professional musician is tough enough as it is. To say it has been a long haul can’t begin to describe the heartbeat and swing of the sounds you can’t hear or feel anywhere else. Check out the article at www.usatoday.com