JAZZY, BRASSY FUNK IN THE BIG EASY

The great thing about the New Orleans music scene is that many of the musicians play in various different bands. Most musicians don't just play in one band, or play one type of music. The drummer you saw on Saturday playing in a blues band, may be playing in a free jazz band the following Wednesday and a funk/jazz/hip-hop band the next weekend. The guitar player playing acoustic cuban jazz on Sunday might be playing Klezmer music later in the week. This makes it great fun to be a music fan in this city. After going to a few shows in town you begin to recognize different musicians, and it's always exciting to see them playing in various settings and in different combinations. Needless to say, it's probably quite exciting to be a musician in this city, too.

Take Stanton Moore, for example. Before Galactic started touring the country (and the world) he was a regular drummer with the New Orleans Klezmer All-Stars. Now, when Galactic isn't touring, you might see Stanton playing free, avant-garde jazz with Naked on the Floor, 70's funk and soul in a Stevie Wonder tribute band, or modern jazz with his own band Tuesday nights at the Old Point Bar located across the river from the French Quarter in Algiers.

While Stanton Moore (when not on tour) has a regular Tuesday night gig at the Old Point, another drummer, Johnny Vidocovich (Astral Project), plays Wednesday nights at the same bar when he is in town. This is a great chance to see one of the best drummers in New Orleans playing with a wide variety of musicians. Here is another example of how New Orleans musicians are constantly playing in different configurations and with different people. Johnny plays with a different trio every Wednesday night. Sometimes it's George Porter, Jr. on bass, other times it's James Singleton (the other half of Astral Project's rhythm section). One night you might see Tim Green on saxaphone, the next week, maybe David Torkanowsky (from Astral Project) on piano. As might be expected, the music changes each week, depending on the supporing musicians. Behind it all is Johnny Vidocovich, an incredible drummer, with the chameleon-like ability to fit right in with the musicians accompanying him.

Equally at home playing funk, modern jazz, or the brass-band sounding jazz featured last night with Matt Perine and Eric Traub, Johnny Vidocovich is one of the most expressive drummers I've ever heard. Like a great athlete, it's as if he makes the people he plays with better musicians. His playing accentuates the music perfectly, never overwhelming the other musicians, but always creating innovative beats and fills. The leader of the trio, Johnny attentively listens to the other musicians, while simultaneously propelling the music ahead with his ever-changing drumming. He uses the entire (small) drum kit (and more!) -- never really favoring a particular drum or a particular beat.

Last night featured Eric Traub (who plays in the New Orleans Nightcrawlers, among other bands, and played on Galactic's first album) on saxaphone, and Matt Perine (Nightcrawlers, All That, etc.) on acoustic upright bass and sousaphone. The band played a great mix of modern jazz, with a decidely New Orleans feel. Towards the end of the first set Matt took a solo on the sousaphone. It is just incredibly to watch someone play a solo with this instrument which usually just provides the rhythm in brass band music. While Matt played the sousaphone like I've never heard it played, Johnny kept the beat rolling along and Eric played a funky repetative groove on the sax. The sax and sousaphone trading their tradional roles for Matt's solo caught the small audience's attention and was the exciting highlight of the first set.

The second set really picked up when Matt Perine again grabbed the Sousaphone, and the band launched into Thelonoius Monk's "Bemsha Swing." While the band sounded great when Matt played the upright bass, there was a very noticable difference in the music with Matt on the sousaphone. Maybe it's because of the shorter bursts of notes with the horn compared with the longer sustained notes played on the bass, but with Matt on sousaphone, the music jumped a bit more with an almost bouncy feel to the rhythm section. Adding to this feel, when Matt was on the horn, Johnny's drumming changed to more of a second-line, brass band type rhythm. Throw in Eric's melodic and funky sax playing, and this was a jazz trio like I've never heard -- upbeat, funky, brass-band style.

When it was Johnny's turn to take a solo during this song, his drum set was not large enough. Soon after he began his solo, he stood up and after just playing the cymbals for a while, he started tapping out the beat on the cymbal stands. From the cymbal stands he made his way down to the sides of the drums, and then continued to play his solo on the floor. Proceeding from the floor over towards the door of the bathroom, Johnny was pretty much drumming on anything that would make a sound: the door, the pay telephone, the three stairs which lead up to the back room. With every object, Johnny created new and interesting percusive sounds. After a few minutes he made his way back to the kit for the conlcusion of the song.

The second set concluded with a great version of Herbie Hancock's "Watermelon Man" (half of which Matt played the Sousaphone and the other half the bass -- providing a great contrast between the different sounds of the trio within the very same song!), and a final ballad which highlighted Eric's melodic, emotional sax playing.

Johnny Vidocovich will be playing virtually every night during jazzfest, both with Astral Project and in his own combos (and, according to the Old Point Bar website, on Thursday with Stanton Moore, James Singleton and Richard Vogel -- a chance to see TWO of New Orleans' most creative drummers playing together. Stanton and Johnny played a show together at the Old Point Bar early in the month, and kept the packed house grooving with their dueling funky drumming). Check the JamBase listings and Offbeat.com for specific shows and dates.

Finally, a quick note about last night's venue, the Old Point Bar. Located across the Mississippi river in Old Algiers, the Old Point Bar is another great bar to hear local New Orleans musicians. You can get there by ferry ride, or by car by driving over the bridge. Either way, it's just a short hop away from downtown New Orleans and the French Quarter. The bar probably holds about 400 people when full and the bands set up on the floor in the far corner of the bar, creating a very intimate feel. With great character and a laid-back local vibe, it's a great destination to hear music away from the crowds on the other side of the river. JazzFest is certain to bring larger crowds, but check out the bar's music schedule, because they are featuring a great line-up of musicians this year.

Josh Carver
JamBase New Orleans Correspondent
Go See Live Music!

[Published on: 3/29/01]

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