Jam Cruise Journal | Jamaican It Count
Words By: Scott Bernstein
Jam Cruise :: Day Three :: 1.6.14 :: Miami, FL
Check out Scotty B’s full review of day three below gallery!
There was one option in Jamaica that had a bit more spiritual depth to it and that was a Positive Legacy excursion into the town of Falmouth. Attendees choosing this option were shuttled to the local soccer stadium, where they met with young students from the Music & Arts Institute. All proceeds from the Positive Legacy excursion will go towards aiding the construction of a new audio and video recording studio at the Music & Arts Learning Experience, a place where young Jamaicans can learn about music free-of-charge. This is Jam Cruise after all so there was plenty of music involved in the trip as local musicans jammed with members of The New Mastersounds, ALO, Greensky Bluegrass, MarchForth Marching Band and Steve Kimock as conducted by Matt Butler.
As we prepared to leave Jamaica and I crossed paths with legendary bassist Victor Wooten of the Flecktones, it had me thinking about just how many ridiculously talented musicians are aboard the boat this year. Let’s just talk bassists -the MSC Divina is hosting Wooten, Les Claypool, George Porter Jr., Aston “Family Man” Barrett, Bootsy Collins and Marc Brownstein, among many others. And that’s just the bassists!
Each year as we depart the first Caribbean port, a reggae band plays the Sail Away set on the Pool Deck Stage. Previous performers for this slot included Burning Spear and Toots and the Maytals, but this year The Wailers did the honors. It was a treat to hear a slew of Bob Marley classics as we pulled away from Jamaica. The hits kept coming throughout the set with “Buffalo Soldier,” “Them Belly Full” and a singalong take on “Three Little Birds” standing out as highlights.
Guitarist Stanley Jordan had a big day on Monday as he performed a solo set in the Jazz Bar and played a set of improv with George Porter Jr., DJ Logic, Adam Deitch and John Popper. Jordan packed the intimate Jazz Bar for his solo performance as nearly every inch of the room was filled with attentive fans. In fact, it was the most attentive crowd I’ve ever seen for a Jam Cruise set -attendees were hanging on every note as the inventive jazz guitarist worked in versions of “Stairway To Heaven,” “Little Wing” and “Havah Negilah” (!) throughout the hour-long performance. Stanley even emulated a computer at one point, showing off his signature two-hand tapping style.
Each day I look forward the Solo Piano Set at the boat’s atrium, but I must admit I was unfamilar with Monday’s performer -Kelly Finnigan of The Monophonics. I took a chance and attended anyway and was glad I did as the soulful singer/keyboardist displayed tons of personality in the Storyteller-esque setting. Once he led the crowd through “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down” by The Band and “Space Oddity” by Bowie, I was completely sold and look forward to The Monophonics’s set on Tuesday.
Up first in the Pantheon Theater was Popper, Logic, Porter, Deitch and Jordan. Improv is in the eye of the beholder and after the set I heard so many differing opinions on the jammed out set, but for me the entire performance was magical. We’re talking about a rhythm section of Adam Deitch and George Porter Jr. backing John Popper, DJ Logic and Stanley Jordan -some real beasts at their instruments. The group started off with a potent 20-minute jam that explored a number of completely different jam spaces ranging from blissful to dark and nasty. Logic had issues getting his rig up and running, yet that didn’t stop his band mates from building the music to a full boil without him. Eventually Logic worked out his issues and I thought his contributions were extremely tasteful. As if the quintet wasn’t insane enough, saxophonist Bill Evans joined the fray for the last few jams.
The MarchForth Marching Band made their Jam Cruise debut in 2013 aboard Jam Cruise 11. It says quite a lot that the group was invited back the next year. “Spectacle” is a great word to describe the circus-like atmosphere of a MarchForth performance. I give the band props for making sure their set, which was filled with acrobatics and stilt-walkers, was completely different from last year’s sets. The crowd went wild when the massive ensemble busted out Lonely Island’s “I’m On A Boat.”
There’s no lack of funk aboard Jam Cruise in all sorts of forms. Monday saw a number of funk acts that focus on the groove such as The New Mastersounds and Robert Walter’s 20th Congress. Walter, a Jam Cruise regular, may be the leader of his band, but I was blown away by the talents of Cochemea “Cheme” Gastelum. Cheme mixed sax and flute work with a plomb throughout the RW20thC set, which included a guest appearance from Bonerama front man Mark Mullins.
There’s only one band that has performed on each and every Jam Cruise and that’s New Orleans funksters Galactic. You can always count on Galactic to bring their A Game to the ship and this year’s Pool Deck Stage set was no exception. The band cycled many guests on stage throughout their performance including Ivan Neville, Mike Dillon, Ian Neville, Will Bernard and Cyril Neville. David Shaw of The Revivalists led Galactic through the final portion of their set along with fellow vocalist Maggie Koerner. Shaw was on stage for two of the Galactic Pool Deck Stage highlights as he rapped ODB’s “Got Your Money” and shared vocals with Koerner on an outstanding version of “Gimme Shelter” by The Stones -perhaps the best cover I’ve seen thus far. Guitarist Luther Dickinson, aboard as a faculty member for Masters Camp At Sea, made his first main stage appearance adding fuel to the “Gimme Shelter” fire.
As the clock struck midnight I was fascinated by the variety of musical choices available to Jam Cruisers. Want to see hard-hitting funk? Galactic was holding court on the Pool Deck Stage. Looking to take in sacred steel? Robert Randolph and the Family Band were rocking out in the theater. Looking to boogie to bluegrass? The Infamous Stringdusters were playing before a huge crowd in the Black & White Lounge. There was a little something for everyone. Both Eric Krasno and Roosevelt Collier showed they are true players who could adapt to any situation as the pair sat in with both The Infamous Stringdusters and Randolph over the course of 45 minutes. Kraz’s hearty licks with the Dusters were particularly impressive. One surprise for me was the stage presence of The Stringdusters who were all over the place and worked the crowd into a frenzy. These guys are the real deal and I see big things ahead for them.
Conspirator made their Jam Cruise debut this year as they closed out the Pool Deck Stage action on Monday night. While there was plenty of jamtronica from the group, I was happily surprised by the amount of straight rock involved in the set. Guitarist Chris Michetti unleashed one powerful riff after another throughout the performance, while bassist Marc Brownstein always kept the music moving. Big Gigantic drummer Jeremy Salken sat in with Conspirator as did KDTU guitarist DJ Williams, who simulated scratching records on his six-string.
Lettuce keyboardist Nigel Hall was the evening’s Jam Room host. He led a number of his musical friends including drummer Nikki Glaspie, guitarists Eric Krasno and Shmeans, vocalist Alecia Chakour, bassist Eric Kalb and saxophonists Ryan Zoidis and James Casey through a batch of classic soul and R&B covers from the likes of Frankie Beverly and Greg Phillinganes. We even saw Robert Randolph lend a hand on congas and Kraz switch to bass for a segment of the performance. Apparently 3 a.m. isn’t past the bedtime of 10-year-old guitar prodigy Brandon Niederauer, who made his Jam Room debut count on Monday night. Robert Walter, Tony Hall, Ivan Neville, Ian Neville and Cyril Neville were just a few of the musicians who passed through the Jam Room on Day Three of the trip.
Today is the trip’s second “Day At Sea,” meaning another power-packed day of music aboard the Divina as we head towards the Bahamas. Check back tomorrow for a full report from Andrew Bruss.