Review & Photos | Jazz Fest After Dark | New Orleans

Words by: B. Getz
Images by: Various Photographers

Jazz Fest After Dark 2014 :: New Orleans, LA

With the announcement that Phish would play the Fairgrounds during its first weekend, the 2014 installment of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was as high profile and well attended as any of the dozen I have been blessed to experience. For the first time since 2001, this writer would be participating in Jazz Fest and its related shows after dark for twelve consecutive days. This is an arduous task, and in the end I was able to take in no less than 41 different performances outside of the Fairgrounds gates, all over the course of the nearly two weeks.

What I have learned from being a professional live music consumer for twenty years, and from attending Jazz Fest for twelve, is that one should judge their event(s) not by what music they were fortunate enough to catch, but by the shows they were forced to miss. This is also commonly referred to as FOMS, or Fear of Missing Something. Judging by the tales recounted among friends and colleagues, there was a large amount of greatness that I was unable to see or hear this year, particularly during second weekend, where the choices were just downright brutal to make.

This year I trusted my gut (and my heart), and simply chased the musicians and collaborations that I treasure the most, as opposed to seeing the most diverse selection, as I have chosen to do in years’ past. Sure, I did end up at gigs by several of the same musicians, multiple times. But no two shows, or collection of players were ever the same, and between the plethora of funk, interspersed with a few genre-defying acts, the heaping amount of hip hop and electronic music available, and the sheer musical gluttony of FIYA Fest (where one could sample a little bit of everything or overdose on NOLA funk) I’d like to think I had a fairly diverse aural menu over the course of two weeks, even if some of the same players reappeared onstage frequently. Acknowledging that disclaimer, and without any further adieu, these are a few of my favorite things from NOLA Jazz Fest After Dark 2014…

Friday 4/25 - House of Blues - Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave.

[Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and Fred Wesley - Photo by NUNU]

While channeling far away heroes like Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, James Brown and Earth, Wind and Fire, it was clear from the beginning that Troy "Trombone Shorty" Andrews has come into his own. Marching his homeboys Orleans Ave. onstage with pomp, circumstance and remarkable confidence, Shorty set up shop in the French Quarter and laid down a two-plus hour romp thru the Treme, a peek Uptown, before swinging around to the Backatown. That 2010 album's cranking "Suburbia," brought rapid-fire, fierce pumps on the 'bone. Throughout the show, Shorty alternated back and forth from vocals to trombone/trumpet including for "On Your Way Down" and the melodic "Something Beautiful," "The Craziest Things,"Mrs. Orleans" and "One Night Only." On the first of a two-night HOB engagement, Orleans Ave. brought forth material from their trio albums, focused on most recent effort, Say That to Say This including "Fire and Brimstone," "Vieux Carre," "Shortyville" and "Long Weekend." Guitarist "Freaky" Pete Murano is essentially Keef to Shorty's Jagger, the axeman's Gibson wail and Piety Street strum just the right combination. Taking cues from former boss and collaborator Lenny Kravitz, Troy has leaned into his mojo as pop- songwriter and bandleader, though not at the expense of his core identity, amidst his own tunes, Shorty hit on NOLA classics including "St. James Infirmary Blues," neatly fitting into a Cab Calloway-style "Hi De Ho Man" sing along. Teases of Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, and most notably, the Cash Money NOLA hip-hop anthem "Still Fly" shook the street on Decatur. It felt appropriate to kick off the first weekend with some music decidedly local and funky, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave represents the best of both.

Saturday 4/26 - Champions Square - Pretty Lights Analog Future Band with Talib Kweli, Eric Krasno and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band Horns

[Pretty Lights - Photo by David Vann]

Having recorded much of his critically acclaimed, 2013 magnum opus A Color Map of the Sun here in New Orleans, with the help of so many local musicians, Pretty Lights' Derek Vincent Smith concocted a massive and multi-faceted production to celebrate their return to the Crescent City. Long on aural and visual stimuli, short on gimmicks and standard EDM bass drops, PL and the Analog Future Band delivered what amounted to a one hundred and fifty minute lucid dream, a subdued, wistful vibe fighting synth and sample-bent bombastic tendencies. “Color of my Soul”, the album opener and dawn of a new revolution, set it off proper with its dusty two inch grooves that segue into glitched out hip-hop psychedelia, all of it drenched in cinematic drama and a musician's precision.

With New Orleans' piano man Bryan Coogan working the organs and ivories to his immediate left, the super funky trombonist Scott Flynn and star-in-making Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet, Break Science's Borahm Lee and birthday boy Adam Deitch to his right, and occasionally picking up a bass himself – Pretty Lights’ Smith dazzled an enormous crowd. Moving back and forth behind his ever-swelling command center, Smith was sparked by the frenzied Jazz Fest energy and it was clear that he was intent to create both for, and with the people.

The Analog Future Band stood on raised platforms that were outlined in high powered LED’s that changed colors throughout the performance and seemingly moved to the rhythms as well. Throughout the show Pretty Lights pulled tracks from every corner of his catalog, each of the band members played an integral role in every track, collaboration station, while they pounded tracks like: "Done Wrong" (Opiuo Remix), “Let’s Get Busy,” “More Important than Michael Jordan,” a slow building, sultry “Finally Moving,” a soaring "One Day They’ll Know” and the gargantuan tension build and explosion drop that bequeathed “I Know The Truth.”

Ben Jaffe assembled the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, and in a scene that's hard to conjure in the mind, the contingent joined the Analog Future Band in a marriage of Second Line swagger and subwoofer rump shaking. A sight to behold, the horns jumped and jived with a bright Carnival melody atop percolating Pretty Lights rhythms, the sum of these parts far greater than the collaborators even imagined. The entire Square was hopping to the glitched-out Second Line bounce. Talib Kweli then joined the circus, for his run through "Around the Block," and Krasno (fresh off the Fire Water 1 Boat Cruise minutes earlier) would arrive with Kweli and stay onstage for a few cuts from Color Map. At the conclusion of this two-plus hour production, one thing was crystal clear: Believe the hype, because Pretty Lights Analog Future Band is indeed the new frontier. In Jazz Fest tradition, they shared the stage with luminous peers, yet at the core, they were an inspired, rehearsed yet improvisational team that treads the cutting edge of what's hot in the streets and what's even remotely conceivable.

[Pretty Lights - Photo by David Vann]

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