Jazz Fest 2012 After Dark

By: B. Getz (with additional reporting from Scott T. Horowitz)

Jazz Fest After Dark :: 05.03.12-05.06.12 :: New Orleans, LA

There is nothing in the world like New Orleans annual Jazz & Heritage Festival, a veritable smorgasbord of music, culture, food, costume, people and energy, native to the Crescent City but descended upon by people from the four corners of the globe, The numerous events that take place at night (and well into the morning) throughout the duration of the Fest are of equal interest to many festival-goers. In 2012, this was no different, where after-dark voodoo madness restored the authentic NOLA vibe to the glorious Jazz Fest scene.

Those who have been to Jazz Fest know that it's extremely difficult to decide what shows to see. Head-to-head, there is simply too much incredible music and rare treats to indulge in over the course of ten days. Therefore, there will be plenty of fantastic music NOT covered in this dusk til' dawn highlights selection. This is simply one boy's second weekend journey to the musical Mecca that is Jazz Fest...After Dark.

Wednesday

Toubab Krewe by Phrazz
Seun Kuti & Egypt 80 took the stage at House of Blues shortly after 11 pm. The African funk collective wove a tapestry of sound with reciprocal threads of oppression against the spirit of man. Like his father before him, Seun used Egypt 80 as a vehicle to spread messages rooted in liberation, human rights and spirituality. Kuti also offered a kindred connection to his American audience; in regards to the financial crisis in the United States. He said, “In my country, you work or you die. There is no in-between. We only have rulers – no leaders. Though we come from different places, the struggle is the same.” In turn, the song “Rise” wholly embraced father Fela’s unmistakable style - animalistic grooves enhanced by an explosive clavinet and reverberating tribal percussion. The horns traversed through several phrases within each song, while Seun Kuti waited until his band was boiling before chanting spirited truths. Flanked by two phenomenal backup dancer-singers and a scalding band, Seun Kuti became a mighty channel for cries of the oppressed. Seun’s music is social commentary, and his commentary is his music, like the branding across his back screams, “Fela Lives!”

Marco Benevento by Jon Prins
Frenchman Street was alive and wild on Wednesday night, as the Maison played host to Toubab Krewe after midnight. Asheville’s eclectic collective have nearly mastered mankind’s musical West African roots, but on this night they absorbed their own sounds of Appalachia, creating a truly unique blend. Toubab Krewe did not merely pull water from a well; they extracted a stream from the source itself. Roosevelt Collier and a slew of horn players assisted them throughout the set, which was unlike anything else heard throughout a weekend filled with diverse timbre.

The Megalomanics Ball took place at Howlin' Wolf, and presented several affiliated acts defined by their obtuse weirdness. Early, the Stanton Moore Trio provided the closest semblance to normalcy. One highlight of the weekend saw Marco Benevento play a solo set midway through the Ball. Covering Elton John, My Morning Jacket, as well as departure takes on his own catalog, Benevento’s act was a lovely divergence. The Dead Kenny G's then took stage and tore through their new record Gorelick; thrashing tunes like “Beer”, “Daddy Issues” and “Punk Rock Girlfriend,” which displayed the typically zany side of Mike Dillon and Skerik, the latter of whom barked syllables into his distorted saxophone mic.

Bear Creek All-Stars Show by Destiny Spang
To close an enlivening show, Garage a Trois offered two sets that spanned the decade-plus history of the quartet. The first included original member Charlie Hunter, and the 8-String guitarist enhanced their early sound and songs from debut record Emphasizer. For the second set, Marco Benevento rejoined the fold and the fearsome foursome supplied a set filled with their more recent offerings. At the end of the night, one felt they had really experienced a sonic circus that ran the gamut of idiosyncratic genres and flair.

After set from the Wyllys & The NY Hustler Ensemble that featured a sit-in from Umphrey’s McGee’s Joel Cummins and great contributions from femme fatale horn players Jennifer Hartswick and Natalie Cressman, the Bear Creek All-Stars sets started after 2 am deep in the Quarter at One Eyed Jacks. A collection of musicians who perform annually at the Florida festival of the same name, the All-Stars delivered a loose, high-energy throwdown that was the biggest and best “Super-Jam” of the week. Curated by Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds and George Porter Jr., the stage was a rotating cast of heavy hitters jamming on funk staples for nearly four hours. The likes of Eric Krasno, Michael Wooten (guitar), Adam Deitch and Nikki Glaspie (drums), Nigel Hall and Ivan Neville, The Shady Horns, Kirk Joseph, Alecia Chakour, Roosevelt Collier and several others raged through about a dozen crucial songs, including “He Bite Me”, “The Chicken” and a rousing “Piece of My Heart” that had Chakour belting to the heavens. While the musicians onstage got it on, others waited patiently in the wings for their turn to get in on the jam. Let’s hope this event becomes an annual thing because, only in its second year, it’s already a “can’t miss” event at Jazz Fest.

Thursday

Nigel Hall by Phrazz
Judging by the buzz surrounding the event, super-sold out Howlin’ Wolf, and the usual suspects, the 4th Annual Royal Family Ball was THE can’t miss show of Second Weekend – and this before a single note was played. The steaming label roster is the top tier of Funk-Jazz-Soul music in 2012, and four projects would be on display for the teeming, sauna-like Wolf. Alan Evans Trio, on their first US tour supporting their new debut record, started the festivities with an R&B and rare groove flavored set that introduced the group to most people in the room.

Nigel Hall Band took the stage second, ardently making a case for their own marquee with a dynamite performance drenched in soul and sensation. Songstress Alecia Chakour was mesmeric; her vocals a thrilling foil to Nigel’s Rhodes and harmonies (Chakour and Hall are kindred spirits in the Warren Haynes Band). Guitarist Adam “Shmeans” Smirnoff delivered the first of his several convincing Les Paul demonstrations throughout Jazz Fest. At this point, it’s no secret: Hall is one helluva frontman, rollicking behind the keys, owning the stage whilst making a connection. When he appeared with Soulive to lead vigorous romps through a Godfather medley that segued into Soulive’s massive JB’s reverence “Too Much”, Nigel stirred the crowd into a frenzied state. The Shady Horns and their rotating cast of friends punched and popped the grooves persistently. Soulive welcomed Ivan Neville’s distinctive NOLA vocal for a roaring up-tempo take on “Papa Was a Rolling Stone”; Big Chief and native saxophone hero Donald Harrison treated a fantastic alto workout. Soulive has mastered the art of grown and sexy, rare and groovin’, oozing Manhattan aural opulence.

Neal Evans w/ Lettuce by Dino Perrucci
Yet all of this luscious Royal Family revelry was merely just a precursor to a pummeling , a run-up to a rage, the foundation to fly, for when Lettuce took the stage promptly at 2 am they were kings among men (and a whole lot of female dance-mavens, out in full force for the Lettuce boys.). The champs were here, and did they ever rise to this occasion. Mixing up tracks from their forthcoming record Fly with an collection of classic crunkalogic science, the band was a well-oiled machine; unremitting bass-driven fatback grooves made for chunky, determined dance-funk. The entire room broke out into overdrive; everybody’s best dancing for the weekend on display. Per usual, it was the superhuman powers of each member of Lettuce that formed a veritable Voltron; assembling into an indomitable monster that unleashed 100 minutes of unremitting crunk.

Lettuce was driven by the punishing rhythm section of drummer Adam Deitch and bassist E.D. “Jesus” Coomes, the dynamic duo pushing the low end envelope with pounding beats and neck snapping breaks while the Shady Horns blasted along. Tenor man Ryan Zoidis is captain of the brass troupe and lead the charge, along with James Casey and, late in the set, Big Sam Williams on trombone. Eric Krasno provided wailing hollow-body guitar leads atop nifty Neal Evans’ organ, Rhodes and synth. The new material shone brightest, from the dankest in dub arkology to the meanest freak show funk. In between, Shmeans commanded leviathan riffage that called upon Black Sabbath tones and palm muted chunkiness equal parts Tony Iommi and Tom Morello - the funkiest doom metal dirge. The band embalmed with a heaviness previously unheard, a chuggin’, mean-muggin’ clomp that exploded into frenetic, polyrhythmic bombast. A lesson in organic boom-bap, deep dynamics defined the funk of “Madison Square,” where Nigel Hall manifested a raucous go-go energy as Nikki Glaspie jumped on percussion for the always-undeniable “Making My Way Back Home (Chocolate City).” To close their assiduous assault, Krasno lent his axe to NOLA compatriot Ian Neville for their now- patented take on Curtis Mayfield’s “Move On Up.” In a funky instant, the mothership had landed, but not before a murderous display from a krewe comprised of the dirtiest players in the game.

Kirk Joseph & Steven Bernstein by Jon Prins
Steve Bernstein’s Fest Mob at the Hi-Ho Lounge was another of many special one-off events set up solely for Jazz Fest. The crux of the group featured Benevento, guitarist Will Bernard, Kirk Joseph on sousa-bass, and the zany Mike Dillon on percussion and vibraphone. With Marco running late from his previous engagement, the troupe kicked off at 2:30 am with a loving “Fuck Marco!” chant, smiles abounding. Marco arrived soon after they began, and the musicians surrounding Bernstein gave themselves totally to whatever themes were in his head for the night. Besides mind-numbing trumpet, Bernstein was an improvisational conductor, giving invisible cues whilst summoning every last drop of creativity and selflessness each member on stage could muster. And when everything was just perfect, Bernstein would blow his horn into oblivion. The band worked through abstract versions of “Indian Red” and “For What it’s Worth”, closing the night with Sex Mob joint “Norbert’s Weiner”. Before ending the show, Bernstein sang the praises of all of the musicians on stage, particularly emphatic in expressing gratitude to his brass foil for the evening, the bewildering Kirk Joseph.

“Miles Davis was an innovator. John Coltrane was an Innovator…Kirk Joseph is an innovator and has marched the tuba and New Orleans brass band music into the 21st century.”

Friday

E.D. “Jesus” Coomes by Phrazz
Friday night once again had innumerable options. Black Star, Galactic and the Hot 8 Brass Band at the The Sugar Mill had the potential to be legendary, but the cavernous room and horrible sound problems marred the show beyond the ability to be enjoyed. It took a lot to walk away from Mos Def in NOLA, but unfortunately, this show was far from ideal. Meanwhile, members of Lettuce and their friends were throwing down at Maison for the Baby Jesus Peasant Party. The event was helmed by bassist E.D. Coomes, and Jesus did not disappoint. Jamming out head-nodding hip hop breaks and incorporating go-go-, bounce, and boom-bap, these b-boys put their stamp on Frenchman Street with 100 minutes of break-beat funk. Shmeans’ original joint “The Flu” had the entire room poppin’ and lockin’ to the undeniable beat.

Bayou Rendevous is an annual jam that reinvents itself each year. This one saw a conglomerate dubbed the New Orleans All Stars, featuring Anders Osborne, Ivan Neville, Johnny Vidacovich, Theresa Andersson and Nick Daniels get it on for over two hours. Their set was loose, relaxed, and atmospheric, oozing NOLA harmonies and melodies with that undeniable Second-line syncopated groove. The group didn’t stress tight changes or heavily-shedded tunes, yet Mississippi River magic was happening all night - a jam session in the truest sense. Osborne and Andersson originally moved to New Orleans from Sweden in 1990 to play music together in this city, and 22 years later they shared a stage to a near capacity Howlin’ Wolf, people hanging on their every note with wide ears and open hearts. Watching them play off of each other – as they have done countless times - was terrific to witness, like when Anders would sneak over to sing backup in her microphone until she reminded him of his own microphone over “there”. At midnight, the set hit pause for a surprise moment, a “Happy Birthday” sing-along in honor of Osborne turning 42 (complete with a guitar shaped cake). To celebrate, they performed a song written on the day Anders was born – one he’s been playing since 12-years-old - Neil Young’s “Ohio.”

Johnny Vidacovich by Jon Prins
The next night, Anders celebrated his new album’s release [editor’s note: the dazzling Black Eye Galaxy] with the help of luminaries. Fellow guitarists Luther Dickinson and Warren Haynes lent their axemanship to the fray, as did Karl Denson’s tenor sax and flute. Held at Republic to a very local audience, Anders boasted a chamber orchestra on several new tunes. Yet it was Little Feat’s “Spanish Moon” soaked in Crescent City swagger, that saw Osborne get high with the help of his friends, and the number made an indelible imprint on the adoring audience, too.

On both Friday and Saturday nights, the AM Sessions took place at The Parish; the 2 am start times punctuated by the long lines at the box office while people awaited the performers’ arrivals from their various earlier gigs. Helmed by George Porter Jr. and Eric Krasno, each night featured different keyboardists and drummers. Friday welcomed Kraz’s good buddies Adam Deitch and Nigel Hall. Saturday saw Marco Benevento and Johnny Vidocavich. These separate-but-equal, free form, improvisational displays of instrumental mastery were both jolly good times and jaw-dropping performances. Friday’s players lent a NYC-centric approach and execution to the tunes, while Saturday felt like proper NOLA funkification. “Come Fly Away”, “Out in the Country”, and “Leave Me Alone” were go-to numbers for these cagey veterans of the Super Jam format, and Saturday’s “Funkify Your Life” should still be ringing out onto Decatur Street.

KDTU by Destiny Spang
Karl Denson's Tiny Universe is always a stalwart attraction at Jazz Fest, this year playing two packed late night shows that were brimming with excitement. Late Thursday at the House of Blues, KDTU would wrap up their final performance of the Rolling Stone’s Sticky Fingers album with help from Anders Osborne and Roosevelt Collier, as well as Jen Hartswick and Natalie Cressman who blew their horns alongside trumpeter Chris Littlefield on “Kool is Back”. Friday night at Tipitina’s was a monster KDTU late night show in their own veritable tradition. Augmented by OJ from Slightly Stoopid on percussion, Denson and Co. slew the people with tracks both old and freshly unwrapped; dusting off “Can U Feel It?” to open the night, and breaking out chestnuts “Because of Her Beauty” and “Dance Lesson #2” alongside covers like The White Stripes “7 Nation Army”. Particle keyboardist Steve Molitz joined KDTU for the second straight year on the Afrobeat mania that is “Elephants.” Ivan Neville hopped onstage to belt out a touching version of the Stones’ “Wild Horses” as the crowd gave him every word right back in a hoarse, imbibed chorus.

The news of Beastie Boy MCA (Adam Yauch) untimely passing fresh in the minds of the Fest massive, a previously planned KDTU tribute to the Beasties went over huge at Tipitina’s. Instrumental takes on classic B-Boy anthems like “Root Down” and “Sure Shot” evoked the most energy and emotion of the evening/morning. A 5 am rumble through “Sabotage” saw the first Fest mosh pit at Tipitina's in this writer’s ten years attending Jazz Fest. Along with OJ’s frontman lead vocal, within the mayhem lie a sneak peak at Denson’s new hobby - the electric guitar. Like a love doctor should, KD serenaded the people with R&B funk numbers oozing sensuality, calming and soothing the ill communication. When the groove finally settled, the sun was creeping up and Tip’s swaying throng ambled out of the venue in search of shut-eye as the weekend was upon us.

Saturday

Dr. Klaw by Phrazz
Saturday night was yet another stacked menu of options for music fans, and the diversity was really evident at the Sugar Mill, where Budos Band delivered a vital set of retro-funk to warm up the room. Primus then proceeded to destroy the crowd with a vigorous set that ran through their entire career’s material. Classics like “John the Fisherman”, “Tommy the Cat” and “Jerry Was a Race Car Driver” drove the warehouse insane, and to up the ante, Les Claypool welcomed Skerik and Mike Dillon from his Frog Brigade onstage, turning the band into a madcap, eccentric funk metal quintet.

Frenchman Street’s Blue Nile hosted NOLA/NYC supergroup Dr. Klaw, and the quintet would rev up the engines once again in Crescent City/Royal Family tradition. The rhythm section was in command once again as Nick Daniels and Adam Deitch steered the ship to some of the funkiest grooves of the entire weekend. “Lost Rager” is the Klaw theme song, and this one was a monstrous slab of crunk that allowed for a screaming guitar tones from Eric Krasno. “Leave Me Alone” was yet again masterful, as was the guest spot from Dap-Kings alto-man Cheme Gastellum, who blew the night away up front. The dual-city crush-crew was still killing it when we made the call to head over to the Wolf for a slice of NOLA history.

The Meters by Dino Perrucci
Taking the Howlin’ Wolf stage at about 12:30 am, The Meters sounded a bit rough at first as they meandered their way through classics like "Cissy Strut", "Fire On The Bayou", and "The Dragon". It was odd hearing these songs played by their originators only to see them limping through them. At times it appeared it could be a nostalgia show - laser beam special effects pointed in that direction - and perhaps it was. But, during "Cardova" things turned around. Leo Nocentelli's guitar was a driving force; pushing Art Neville's keys while Zigaboo Modeliste's pioneering drum style joined forces with George Porter Jr.'s bass to finally get the motor going. And when they did - it was a sight to behold.

The hour was getting late and the old age on stage was starting to show. During set closer "Ain't No Use", one could observe the toll that age and disease has taken on Art Neville's vocals. However, the band charged through the verses, picking up steam with every measure. Zigaboo started packing more punches as he could smell the emotion in the air. As the band reached the second coda, Art Neville launched his B3 organ solo skyward filled with force, grace, and energy. George Porter Jr. couldn't look away, and they exchanged hearty smiles before the song was done. Like an aging boxing champ, against the ropes in the twilight of his career, the original Meters rose to the occasion and fought their way back to the center of the ring, and delivered a knockout blow to any and all competition during “Ain’t No Use”. Indeed it was a sight to behold.

Robert Walter by Jon Prins
After a few jokes about the "Senior Citizens Center Allstars" and substances to aide one in staying awake, Zigaboo delivered heartfelt "thank you"s to the audience for remaining fans of The Meters and supporting their music through the many years. The evening's encore was appropriately "People Say".

The Robert Walter Trio was a special event at the Blue Nile, appearing after Dr. Klaw and reuniting 20th Congress compadres Walter and Gastellum, flanked by Simon Lott on drums and Will Bernard on guitar. Grant Green’s immortal “Flood in Franklin Park” was the highlight as the troupe made up for lost time with spirited runs through boogoaloo grooves once familiar.

Galactic proceeded to tear down Tipitina’s in atypical fashion, plowing through their now-deep catalog with punked-up energy and reckless abandon. Featuring tunes from their excellent NOLA-centric recent albums Carnivale Electros and 2010’s Ya Ka May, the hometown heroes called upon local stalwarts like Al “Carnival Time” Johnson and Sasha Masakowski to drive their unique sonic gumbo home. A unique pairing of “Ash Wednesday Sunrise” and a mammoth “Cult of Personality” featuring Living Colour’s Corey Glover (who sang many songs with the band) illustrated the diverse and powerful emotion behind 2012 Galactic’s sound.




Sunday

Neville Brothers w/ Dumpstaphunk by Dino Perrucci
The Funky Butt Revisited took place at the Blue Nile and featured an impressive array of players: Roosevelt Collier, Doug Wimbish, Khrys Royal, Big Sam Williams, Terrence Higgins, Nigel Hall and others. The crew busted out a myriad of classics including “Use Me”, “Don’t Stop Til You Get Enough,” and “The World is a Ghetto”, amongst others. The evening’s highlight saw the cookin’ band welcome pedal-steel maven Robert Randolph as well as Lanesha Randolph for the improbable segue “Give Up the Funk > Iron Man”.

Dumpstaphunk’s annual Tipitina’s Fest closeout was one to behold. Aside from hard and heavy workouts on material from both their albums, the most talked about sit-in of the festival also happened on its last night. Dumpstaphunk welcomed Jazz Fest royalty in the The Neville Brothers, offering a full hour long set with their guests, wowing the packed room as the elder statesman tackled the wee hours with aplomb. Other guests included the inimitable Ani DiFranco, Skerik, and a full horn section to upgrade the funk levels dramatically.

Art & Ivan Neville by Dino Perruci
Meanwhile at the Howlin’ Wolf, George Porter Jr. & Runnin' Pardners played a stalwart set of NOLA juice to a steady filling room, before Zigaboo’s Funk Revue took the stage to drive the point home. Both bands mixed Meters’ classics with new takes on the funk, and celebrated another Jazz Fest in the books. The late-night Superjam again demonstrated the magic made when players from different places and eras come together to make music in the Crescent City; the likes of E.D. “Jesus” Coomes, keyboardists Joe Krown and “Papa” John Gros, guitarist/vocalist Walter “Wolfman” Washington and a host of other heavy hitters came together for a final night of funk fireworks.

The final show for Jazz Fest 2012 was a double bill of the Stanton Moore Trio and Frequinox at DBA on Frenchman St. After Moore’s set, Freqiunox rallied the troops for a two-plus hour workout. Saxophonist Donald Harrison led the charge, while Walter, Moore, Rob Mercurio and Will Bernard tightened the screws behind him, as the quintet pushed revelers toward the Fest finish line in true DBA fashion. People were clearly winded at this late hour on the last night, but Frequinox was undeterred, raging up-tempo boogoaloo and funk calisthenics til nearly 6 am, giving Jazz Festers one more gig to rave about until we come together to do it all again in 2013. One thing about Jazz Fest is that it never gets old, and familiar faces, songs, and that undeniable energy keeps us all coming back year after year. Le bon temps rouler!

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[Published on: 5/31/12]

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