Words by: Scott Bernstein
Images by: Dave Vann and Joshua Timmermans
Jam Cruise 15 – Day Three :: 01.22.17 :: Norwegian Pearl
It’s now 12 p.m. on Monday morning and I’m sitting down to write my report on the third day of Jam Cruise and grabbed a quick breakfast before attempting the job at hand. I sat down with my eggs, bagel and whatnot and two minutes later George Porter Jr. planted himself at the table next to me along with his wife and Col. Bruce Hampton. Listening to the old friends chat reminded me of one of the best aspects of the trip – there are no walls between musicians and cruisers. Most musicians know what they are in for when they sign up and are more than happy to chat with their fans. There are not many musical experiences like that anymore.
On Sunday the Norwegian Cruise Line docked at Ocho Rios, Jamaica. The 2,400 attendees had their choice of how to spend the time at dock. Some went on searches for jerk chicken, others lounged on the beach, a few bought day passes at a ritzy resort and some of the more selfless among us took part in the Positive Legacy Day Of Action by helping a group of local children rebuild a nearby BMX track.
The music started at 5:30 p.m. with a set from Colorado funk revivalists The Motet. Jam Cruise 15 was the first for The Motet’s new lead singer, Lyle Divinsky and his joy was evident. “This is my first Jam Cruise and god damn doesn’t it feel good,” Divinsky said before leading his band through a high-energy set that included “Keep On Don’t Stoppin’,” “Fool No More,” “The Truth” and “Back It Up.” Keyboardist Joey Porter has some of the fastest fingers in the game and the rhythm section of Dave Watts and Garrett Sayers is no joke. Lyle has a powerful voice and has a strong stage presence, so it’s good to see the state of The Motet is strong. The band welcomed the Turkuaz vocalists for Michael McDonald’s “I Keep Forgetting” and also pulled off a spot-on cover of the Prince-written, Chaka Khan hit “I Feel For You.”
There were a few disappointments on Sunday as saxophonist Donald Harrison didn’t make it onto the boat, changing the tenor of the Frequinox set and The Revivalists’ frontman David Shaw called in sick for his solo set. Ivan Neville didn’t call in sick for his set, but it was an ill performance. Neville ran through material from throughout his career with the help of Nigel Hall, Tony Hall, Eric “Benny” Bloom, Cris Jacobs, Skerik and Shira from Turkuaz. The finale was a singalong “Raspberry Beret.”
Next up on the Pool Deck was Electric Beethoven. Though I had heard some live tracks, this was my first time catching Reed Mathis’s “Classical Dance Music” outfit live. I thought there would be more of a focus on the composed sections of Beethoven’s 3rd Symphony, but they would play a riff and then jam on it for a minute or two before moving on to the next section. It was a little too ADD for my tastes, though I admire Reed for trying something never really seen before and trying to heal people with his music. When guitarist Clay Welch had opportunities to let it rip, the young axeslinger crushed them.
Twiddle’s second set of the trip took place in the Stardust Theater and included a cover of “Too Many Puppies” by Primus and a guest appearance by Dopapod guitarist Rob Compa. It was then off to Frequinox for me and I’ve never seen them before so I’m not exactly sure what I was missing by the absence of Donald Harrison. The supergroup of Will Bernard, Stanton Moore, Rob Mercurio and Robert Walter called in Skerik, Eric Bloom and Karl Denson to replace Harrison and deliver and upbeat set that varied between rock and funk themes and had those in the intimate Spinaker Lounge grooving hard.
The headliners of Jam Cruise 15 are The Original Meters. Fifty years after forming and helping to invent and define the genre of funk, drummer Zigaboo Modeliste, keyboardist Art Neville, guitarist Leo Nocentelli and bassist George Porter Jr. gave their first performance in a year last night aboard the boat. Zigaboo noted Jam Cruise might be the last gig for the legendary band and I feel lucky and honored to have crossed them off my musical bucket list. To see these masters of funk playing such iconic songs as “People Say,” “Cissy Strut” and “Funkify Your Life” was an experience I’ll never forget. It was clear Art wasn’t in great shape, but Ivan Neville was added as a second keyboardist to fill in for his uncle when needed. The quartet was also joined by a four-piece horn section including The Shady Horns and members of Soul Rebels.
An incredible moment came when George Porter’s daughter came on stage and announced it was time for her father to renew his vows to his wife. Porter revealed The Meters were formed 50 years ago, the same year he married his wife. Cloud 9 Adventures crew member Captain Toast did the honors as The Meters sipped champagne. The assembly of Nevilles then continued with Cyril Neville leading the group through a cover of The Beatles’ “Come Together.” The whole Meters set was well-rehearsed and if this is the end of the road for the band, they are going out strong.
Despite The Original Meters holding court on the Pool Deck, Turkuaz packed the theater. The Brooklyn funk-rock act are on their first Jam Cruise and have won themselves a slew of new fans. They gave a theatrical performance as each band member dressed in a different color. Highlights included a wild “Slippery People” (Talking Heads) and a riveting “Feelin’ Alright” (Traffic).
Galactic’s Pool Deck set is a long-standing tradition. There have been 15 Jam Cruises and last night was the 15th Pool Deck set from the New Orleans institution. Once again they were joined by vocalist Erica Falls for a majority of their set and also shared the stage with Cyril Neville. Falls especially shined on what has become Galactic’s trademark song, “Hey Na Na.” From there, I stopped by “The Spot” hosted by troubadour Nathan Moore. As I described yesterday, “The Spot” is a section of the boat outside on a deck taken over by Moore and his crew. The focus is on songs that could be led by any of the musicians on the boat who stop by. The core “Spot” crew is Moore, bassist Lex Park, fiddle players Gailanne Amundesen and Colby Hagg and guitarist Ethan Hawkins. Reed Mathis stopped by and told Moore his song “I Saw Her” was one of his favorites and Nathan quickly obliged with a version that nearly left Reed in tears. I also caught a singalong “Three Little Birds” > “Country Roads.” It was always nice to take a load off and watch a song or two at various points of the evening.
“The Spot” is set up on an outside deck right outside the theater. What was going down in the theater was often vastly different from the music of “The Spot” and at no time moreso than when GRiZ’s set went down. Now, I’m not a big EDM guy and GRiZ was toward the bottom of the list of acts I wanted to see. However, I ran into a friendly chap in an elevator who explained GRiZ is far from straight up EDM as Michigan’s Grant Kwiecinski plays sax and he’s joined by guitarist Muzzy Bear and they perform a brand of music they describe as “future funk.” It was an apt description and the music was just what I needed at that time. I was blown away and so many others seemed to feel the same way. GRiZ would insert popular songs such as Aerosmith’s “Dream On” and The Bee Gees’ “Stayin’ Alive” within his own beats as he and Muzzy Bear added magical riffs to the mix. I’ll be interested to see how I feel about his Pool Deck set which takes place at the early hour at 9 p.m. on the final day, but GRiZ has won himself a new fan in me.
Today (Monday), we were supposed to dock in Grand Cayman, but inclement weather changed the plan. Instead we’ll get a few additional sets including a Grateful Dead tribute. I’m running on four hours of sleep, yet I can’t wait to get back to it!