Review & Photos | Jazz Fest After Dark | New Orleans

Friday 5/2 - Cafe Istanbul - Saturday 5/3 - Soul Visions at The Sugar Mill - Rising Appalachia and The Human Experience

Our MVP cabbie Adam was ready and waiting as we got off the Creole Queen and we walked into Cafe Istanbul just as Rising Appalachia was taking the stage. Sisters Leah Song and Chloe Smith call both the Appalachian mountain range and the Crescent City home. Their music is drenched in Southern essence, a nod to in the past and a pretty little foot moving forward. Rising Appalachia's gig was a welcome departure from the overwhelming gluttonous jam and funk rages going on all over the city, as the vibe and aura within Cafe Istanbul was buttressed with a bazaar of art and jewelry, visionary visual artwork alongside leather and feather fashion stylings, these environs a blessed garden for which the Appalachia magic would rise. Leah's percolating vocals intertwined with her banjo and Chloe's sawing fiddle, and beneath them was the focused and Zen-like riddims of percussionist Biko Casini and multi-instrumentalist David Kelly. Singer songwriter Cedric Watson also joined for a sit in, but as always, the sisters stole the show with the first of two riveting, tear jerking performances in two nights.

Traditional chestnuts by once-forgotten authors were reworked with a modern hip-hop feel, while others harkened back to yesteryear with a musicologist's ear, tracing a bee-line from the mountains to West Africa, to the NOLA bounce of the 5th Ward. A relaxed vibe gave new life to traditionals, and the amalgam of boom-bap, fiddles flowing and finger pickin' strings danced in circles and threes. Mournful mountain hymns turned stopped and pivoted on a dime, speedy porch jams hopped, skipped and jumped over "Cumberland Gap"; activism and anarchy were affirmed on "Scale Down" and yet again, the undeniable New Orleans melody of "St. James Infirmary” was reinvented and paraded in jubilant celebration.

[Rising Appalachia and The Human Experience at Soul Visions - Photo by Shay Butta]

On the following evening at The Sugar Mill, Rising Appalachia enlisted the sacred electronic elements of The Human Experience to recreate their mystifying collaboration Soul Visions. The EP of the same name was my favorite record of 2013, any genre, and so excited I was for this high profile performance that I invited my own mother, in town for her sixth consecutive Jazz Fest, along to soak up the Soul Visions. Songs like "Mississippi" and "Swoon," written for, about and containing the sights, scents and auras of New Orleans, were reinvented with mellifluous, sacred bass-driven meditations, reverberating Zen vibrations flowing underneath Appalachian sisters in song. David Block (The Human Experience) was at his very first Jazz Fest, his enthusiasm apparent and infectious. The sisters Leah and Chloe embraced this energy and channeled it into the music and the messages. The mystic hymns, songs drenched in magnificent low end throb and wobble, were given a new meanings and crunk readings. This cutting edge music was passionately (and somewhat nervously) delivered in an equally unique and creative environment (if polar opposite) than that of previous performances this writer was blessed to take in (Symbiosis Gathering, Envision Festival). "Dirty Filthy South" was repurposed for the dank and murky Cajun air, and "Downtown," with its four-on-the-floor, minimalist house romp, electrified the eclectic audience, many of whom gathered for either headliner Galactic or Thievery Corporation. Yet it would be Soul Visions who stole the show as it just got going, and as Galactic invited Mr. Lif and Chali 2na onstage for "Corner to the Block," I got word that another five alarm hip-hop CrossFiya was freshly ablaze across the street at Howlin’ Wolf.

Saturday 5/3 - Tipitina's - Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe

KDTU late night at Jazz Fest is an institution. I’ve gone on record saying that Denson is the king of jazz fest late night rages, and he wrote the book on the Crescent City sunrise show. In recent years, KDTU has gone through some changes, and their contemporaries have gained ground, and in some ways have eclipsed the Tiny Universe as it pertains to the late night scene in NOLA. This year, KDTU had a new trick up their sleeve. Initially conceived for the House of Blues the preceding Thursday, ‘Rick James B*tch’ was not only reprised two nights later at Tipitina’s, it was detonated. The second Saturday tradition at Tipitina’s was not only reclaimed by Karl D, the ante has officially been upped for how swanky and sexy it really should be at that hour, with that music, amongst us people.

[Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe ‘Rick James B*tch’ at Tipitina’s Uptown - Photo by Katie Harvey]

After an opening set of KDTU material, Denson advised they would take a short break to set up for some very special guests, and it was fortuitous that I arrived at Tipitina’s Uptown (from CrossFiya) during this changeover. Denson always welcomes some heavy hitter guests to this second Saturday show, and this night would be no different. Percussionist Weedie Braimah (The Nth Power, Toubab Krewe), guitarist/vocalist Brian J (Pimps of Joytime), and from Naked Orchestra, young phenoms Ashlin Parker on trumpet and Rex Gregory on alto sax joined the Tiny Universe. To effectively approximate the complete Stone City Band, three female backup vocalists would also take the stage. The entire room was impeccably and effectively transformed into an episode of Soul Train, and complete bedlam ensued on the dance floor. “Mary Jane” saw the requisite indo sparked and got the audience involved; the unquestionable, indisputable sexiness of “Cold Blooded” had panties literally dropping all down Tchoupitoulas. “Bustin’ Out” was a sleeper, as it took some time for the crowd to recognize it, but when they did, the roof caught fire. “Give it To Me, Baby” was more of the same swanky dance party vibe.

[DJ Williams of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe - Photo by Katie Harvey]

Rick James was essentially a rocker at heart, with funk flowing thru his braids, so DJ Williams did his best Tom McDermott impression with firing Sunset Strip guitar leads, as Denson did his best Rick shtick. Props are due to the big- band version of the Tiny Universe, as they approached James’ Stone City Band with vigor and vitality, as well as accuracy. Three women dressed to kill played the role of the Mary Jane Girls, blessing Tip’s with scorching backup vocals and a sticky onstage shimmy. “All Night Long” gave these incredible singers a spotlight song, and allowed G-Love to blow some daring harp and strut his stuff, eliciting shrieks from the mob of women already hot and bothered from “Super Freak.” This scene kicked down the final door to the corrupted, the impure, and promiscuous energy Rick James championed and embodied as a badge of honor. By the time we got to the encores, the scene at Tip’s was equal parts “Dolemite” and “Caligula,” which from where I stand is exactly how it should be when the sun comes up on the final Jazz Fest morning.

(Despite my not attending, I would like to include this brief commentary on what was one of the most talked about Jazz Fest concerts in many years, the Dr. John tribute concert at the Saenger Theatre. My colleague Scott T. Horowitz attended this show and filed this report)

[Dr. John tribute at the Saenger Theatre - Photo by NUNU]

“The Musical Mojo of Dr. John: A Celebration of Mac and His Music”

The Saenger Theatre’s Dr. John tribute was the hottest ticket in town, and indeed a star- studded affair. The room has a ceiling that imitates the night sky, and the sold-out crowd underneath it was filled with locals and cagey jazz fest veterans. It was textbook PARTY throughout the entire event. The show began with NBC’s Brian Williams introducing special guest Bruce Springsteen, who traded verses with Dr John during the opener - “Right Place, Wrong Time.” From there, Dr. John left the stage, and it was revolving door of guests paying tribute. Nearly every performance invoked full body goose-bumps including Cyril Neville’s spirit stirring rendition of “Indian Red,” Allen Toussaint on “Life” and John Fogerty pulling out the Gary U.S. Bonds song "New Orleans." Widespread Panic busted out one one of Dr. John’s funkiest songs, “Familiar Reality,” off the album ‘Sun, Moon, & Herbs’. From raucous rockers to soft heartfelt displays of emotion (see: Aaron Neville singing “Please Send Me Someone To Love”) this is one of the greatest concerts this writer has ever been blessed to attend. When the DVD of this show comes out, be sure to buy it.

The next page contains videos from an assortment of Jazz Fest After Dark performances.

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