Review & Photos | Jazz Fest After Dark | New Orleans

Friday May 2 - Creole Queen - FIYA WATER II

[Fiya Water II - Creole Queen Riverboat - Photo by NUNU]

More kudos to Fiyawerx Productions, after three dormant years at port, bringing back the quintessential Jazz Fest experience that is the Riverboat concert on the Mississippi. For years, we enjoyed music on the river in the classy and cozy confines of the Creole Queen; then with nary a word, there were no longer riverboat cruises during Jazz Fest After Dark. For three long years we waited, and finally Fiyawerx satiated our desires and the boat returned, with no less than four cruises for Jazz Fest 2014, and I chose to board Fiya Water II immediately at the conclusion of FIYA Fest.

This particular boat cruise featured Rahzel, Lettuce’s Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall, Ryan Zoidis, Jesus Coomes, Eric Bloom and James Casey, Dumpstaphunk’s Nikki Glaspie and Ian Neville, The Revivalists’ David Shaw and Break Science’s Borham Lee. There were countless breakneck jams and crushing grooves laced by all the different participants, however a particular passage sticks on in my mind. Another type-vicious reading of the Bob James classic “Nautilus” was delivered with pulverizing authority on the River, with the Rhodes refrain matched by guitar and horns, all of which were syncopated in a unison that had heads bobbin’ like emergency brakes. Beatboxer extraordinaire Rahzel, of the Legendary Roots Crew, is also quite the emcee. To show and prove, Rahzel commandeered “Nautilus” and steered the band into a song permanently embedded in my mind from countless spins in my youth. Eric B. and Rakim’s undeniable classic “Know the Ledge” (theme from the movie Juice) was performed with vitality. Rahzel epitomized the God MC Rakim with a perfect rendition, right down to the record scratches. He then blessed the boat with a version of “Lodi Dodi” that borrowed from both Slick Rick’s original and Snoop Dogg’s cover.

Later, Rahzel’s own “Part Time Hustler” left jaws on the boat deck as verbal gymnastics were matched by ultra-crunk beats from Glaspie and break scientology from veteran boom bap technician Borahm Lee. Fred Wesley then appeared and immediately pulled rank on the entire band, assuming the position as bandleader and party starter for a titanic take on “House Party,” with Nick Cassarino supplanting Krasno on guitar. Ably assisted by the Shady Horns and Ian Neville, it was Wesley who steered this vessel back to port with a rump-shaking and rollicking run through his classic party jam.

Friday May 2 - Maple Leaf Bar + Monday May 5 - Blue Nile - The Nth Power

[The Nth Power Pre-Show - Photo by NUNU]

After their much buzzed about set at FIYA Fest's River Stage earlier Friday, The Nth Power was geared and greased to go when they began at Maple Leaf Bar ten hours later. The dimly lit, legendary haven for bruising jams and boozing hams was transformed into a veritable musical heaven for two-plus hours. The Nth Power was celebrating their two-year anniversary after being conceived in this very same hallowed room the second Friday of Jazz Fest 2012. Nikki Glaspie (drums/vocals) and Nigel Hall (keyboards/vocals) bring the gospel and God infusions to the mix, augmented by the spirituality that is conjured from the riddims of percussionist Weedie Braimah. From this performance alone, several songs live on, forever embedded in our memory and lighting a candle in all of our hearts. "Love What You're Doin to Me" explodes from the rugged yardie chants and King Tubby dub tomb, and turns on a dime to the smoothest grown & sexy, Quiet Storm R&B in an instant. This band touched a glorious and love-soaked rendition, and they did the same for "Spirits." Emotionally, few songs in any band's catalogue are as raw beautiful as "Walk on Water" and several times during this performance I was moved to uncontrollable tears.

[Nick “Nicky Cake” Cassarino of The Nth Power - Photo by Chris Monaghan]

Uncompromisingly and uncannily honest, raw and deliberate in their craft and presentation, this collective soared above the clouds and held each audience member in the palm of their hands. Bassist Nate Edgar was content to lay back in the cut, a thunderous anchor that empowers the Nth degree, yet made his presence known with virtuoso runs on "Jazzfest 420" and underneath the riveting "Thank You." He especially shined when cutting loose on covers like Bobby Womack's "110th Street" and the absolutely bombastic "Black Cow” by Steely Dan, the latter nearly blowing up the entire block of Frenchman Street with its ostentatious swagger. Guitarist Nick "Nicky Cake" Cassarino is the type of frontman that you see in your dreams - all the best of D'Angelo and John Mayer but at the same time, reach- and-out-touch-you accessible and a virtuoso guitarist who channels the vibe as hard as he shreds. Nicky Cake knows when the spaces between are truly the colors in the void.

Cassarino steadily mesmerized the Maple Leaf (and on the following Monday The Blue Nile as well), wasting no time, at either show, getting into the thick of things like the focused bandleader he is, enrapturing the audience. I'm not sure I remember a crowd more attentive and more engrossed, especially given the hour and circumstance, as the two Nth Power club performances during the second weekend. Each evening, the audience was speckled with musicians from numerous other bands, either already hooked on the Nth IV, or newcomers checking out what the fuss is about. The fans that had chosen to spend their precious Jazz Fest time and energy with The Nth Power were blessed with the kind of musical journeys that we only hope and pray for when we step out of our lives and into a music venue. Indeed, The Nth Power does love you, and they do so fiercely. On two nights, in two rooms, in two different neighborhoods, in the same city, The Nth Power made some of the most incredible music these ears have ever heard.

[Nigel Hall of The Nth Power - Photo by Chris Monaghan for MoPho]

Saturday May 3 - Howlin' Wolf - CrossFiya Fyre Dept. featuring Rahzel and Talib Kweli - Howlin Wolf

[Fyre Dept. feat. Talib Kweli at CrossFiya - Photo by Chris Monaghan for MoPho]

Again, Fiyawerx Productions provided a break from the norm as it pertains to Jazz Fest, and this eclectic booking on the hip-hop side of the tracks provided a thrilling look at one of the best kept secrets in the game: Fyre Dept. This NYC- based production squad includes drummer Adam Deitch (clad appropriately in a NAS Illmatic t-shirt and his ubiquitous headphones), Eric Krasno on guitar, and the brothers Coomes, bassist E.D. “Jesus” and older brother (and Fyre Dept. OG) Tyler “TYCOON Beats.” Break Science keyboardist Borahm Lee rounded out the team, and they took the stage after De La SOUL REBELS and proceeded to destroy the packed house with authoritative, meditative beats, samples and classic loops. Beginning with some Ghostface Killah and J Dilla instrumentals, soon the Fyre Dept was fully ablaze. Deitch held down the head snapping breaks, and the brothers Coomes’ tasteful, minimalist approach had people marveling at how this here hip-hop sounded so alive, present, yet sacrificing absolutely no integrity in the name of dopeness.

[Rahzel and Fyre Dept. at CrossFiya - Photo by Matthew Arnold]

Within a few songs, Rahzel grabbed a microphone and stormed the stage. After some beatboxing workouts to get warm, “The Godfather of Noize” blessed the people with a distinctive medley of Whole Darn Family’s “7 Minutes of Funk” break, interspersed with verses and portions of its two most popular children - EPMD’s “It’s My Thang” and Jay-Z/Foxy Brown’s classic “Ain’t No N*gg*.” The Fyre Dept. then flawlessly worked into NAS’ “NY State of Mind” instrumental while Rahzel delivered original lyrics, along with a version of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” for a refrain.

At this point in the show, things were wild on the dancefloor, yet extremely focused on the stage. The band brought out legendary Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli and the posse brought forth a medley of songs old and new. Beginning with “Cold Rain,” Kweli showed everyone just why he’s revered as a lyricist and performer. They brilliantly segued into his seminal anthem “The Blast” from the Reflection Eternal project of the Rawkus era; this slice of heat had damn-near everybody correctly pronouncing his name, with not a single thing left to question. “Hot Thing” was dedicated to all the lovers, and Kweli made sure to shout out Babyface as he dipped into this summertime park jam for the boo’d up set.

The Fyre Dept/Kweli collaboration reached fevered pitches as the BK MC and the veritable NY/LA dream team laced up a victorious version of “I Try” before spicing up things with a samba-influenced take on Kweli’s uplifting mantra “Get By.” This conclusion of the set had an army of heads chanting the chorus “Just to Get By” at the top of their one-hundred strong lungs; Fiyawerx Productions and the Fyre Dept. could agree on one thing, there was no putting out this CrossFiya.

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