Words by: Dennis Cook | Images by: Brad Hodge
Full review below photo gallery!
Four days in, the full alternate reality of Jam Cruise 10 settled in, with one's shipboard routines replacing whatever routine a normal Thursday might entail. Instead of going to the office one might take their 'standard' morning hot tub soak or perhaps stroll around the quaint port village in Falmouth, Jamaica. The new friendships struck on Monday were now deeper and more tangible than makes any logical sense, and for most first-timers the full spectrum of difference from a land-based festival had sunk in. Musicians, too, for the most part, felt much of the same pleasant out-of-time dislocation. Even though many of them played many times - none more than current front-runner for JC 10 MVP Ivan Neville - most took advantage of tubing or snorkeling excursions or simply relaxed on deck, basking in a level of rock star attention that these enormously talented folks may not usually receive in the wider world. Here, a profound appreciation of the raw talent and years of hard work it takes to reach this skill level is the rule on the boat, and one sees a fire inside them due to this dynamic that inspires them to leap onstage at almost every opportunity, digging out something special again and again and again because they know with absolute certainty that it will valued. I've never seen musicians smile so much, both on and off stage, as on Jam Cruise, and this year seems a particularly joyful one for the players, who keep recombining in seemingly endless configurations, sparked off by one another and the thankful ears that take in what they lay down.
Each day of this journey is marked by moments that can only occur in such a safe, encouraging embrace, which was exemplified by Ivan Neville's revelatory solo piano set. While known primarily as an Hammond mangling funk monster, this intimate performance surrounded by a rapt audience ringing the acrylic baby grand on the atrium stairs was a totally new side of Neville that even many longtime fans hadn't seen before. The delicacy of his playing and range of material was eye opening, and included a version of Fleetwood Mac's "Landslide" and some Stevie Wonder sung with harmony accents from the great Nigel Hall, the pair kind of adorable in their brotherly energy - plus their voices sound awesome together. "I usually want folks to think I'm a bad motherfucker, so don't tell anybody," said Neville after moving many of us to tears. If he doesn't already have plans for a solo piano album, one hopes the powerful reaction to this set will plant the seed. Neville then proceeded to jump around from stage to stage all night, often showing off his increasingly strong lead vocals. The only downside of his day was getting knocked out of the yearly poker tournament that he usually wins handily - there was a bounty on his head this year for whoever did the deed - but you can't win them all. However, if one was paying attention this week, they're sure to leave with a fuller appreciation of Ivan's talents.
One of his best guest spots was during the blazing Karl Denson's Tiny Universe pool deck set, where the band offered up their interpretation of The Rolling Stones' Sticky Fingers with an expanded lineup featuring Anders Osborne and Mike Dillon. Ivan joined them to tear the heart of "Wild Horses," leaning against buddy Karl D in a brotherly way, though later telling me that Denson was whispering the lyrics to him - "He was my teleprompter!" Osborne, too, absolutely shined in this context, all the gruff blues and innate rock rightness of the man pouring out of him on ideal platforms like "Bitch" and "Sister Morphine," which also included a hauntingly psychedelic sit-in from Roosevelt from The Lee Boys. The bookends to the Stones tunes were KDTU at their best, the current lineup really firing on all cylinders, especially guitarist DJ Williams, who's infused a lot of vigor into this band.
As per norm (as defined earlier), the smorgasbord of options was rich once the sun went down, with another strong set from Perpetual Groove (including a choice rendition of Arcade Fire's "Wake Up"), more rib-stickin' groove from The New Mastersounds (who are making solid headway on becoming a band with vocals), and a block of New Orleans flavored goodness in the Zebra Bar from George Porter Jr. and The Runnin' Pardners and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. One of the standouts amongst these options was a never less than fascinating performance by Garage A Trois in the theatre, where The Extremely Modern Jazz Quartet mingled lovely passages with the downright chewy, a sense of unrepressed playfulness anchored to the highest level musicianship permeating everything, the band ultimately careening into a closing one-two punch of Led Zeppelin's "No Quarter" and a Mike D barked assault on Ween's "It's Gonna Be A Long Night."
For many, the big moment on Thursday was the final performance The New Deal. As it was in the beginning with this trio, their music on the pool deck defied description, a precursor to so much modern electronica yet still inescapably made by human beings able to think way outside of a machine mindset. As is often the case with originators, these guys never got the larger critical and commercial due they deserved but can perhaps take pride in their undeniable influence on modern music, their internal zeitgeist still feeling and sounding yanked from the not-too-distant future as glow sticks flew and the buzzing children wiggled wildly.
As the night began to fade, the first bittersweet tingles started to hit folks shuffling the decks, a dawning awareness that the trip - and there is NO doubt Jam Cruise is a MAJOR trip - was nearing its end. As our beloved Cruise Director Julie (aka Annabel of Cloud 9, the hard working people who make this happen) said at the beginning of The New Deal's set, "Let's not be sad that it's over. Be glad that it existed at all." Wise words to carry us into final stretch back to reality on Friday.