Review & Photos | Jazz Fest After Dark | New Orleans
Images by: Various Photographers
Jazz Fest After Dark 2014 :: New Orleans, LA
With the announcement that Phish would play the Fairgrounds during its first weekend, the 2014 installment of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival was as high profile and well attended as any of the dozen I have been blessed to experience. For the first time since 2001, this writer would be participating in Jazz Fest and its related shows after dark for twelve consecutive days. This is an arduous task, and in the end I was able to take in no less than 41 different performances outside of the Fairgrounds gates, all over the course of the nearly two weeks.
What I have learned from being a professional live music consumer for twenty years, and from attending Jazz Fest for twelve, is that one should judge their event(s) not by what music they were fortunate enough to catch, but by the shows they were forced to miss. This is also commonly referred to as FOMS, or Fear of Missing Something. Judging by the tales recounted among friends and colleagues, there was a large amount of greatness that I was unable to see or hear this year, particularly during second weekend, where the choices were just downright brutal to make.
This year I trusted my gut (and my heart), and simply chased the musicians and collaborations that I treasure the most, as opposed to seeing the most diverse selection, as I have chosen to do in years’ past. Sure, I did end up at gigs by several of the same musicians, multiple times. But no two shows, or collection of players were ever the same, and between the plethora of funk, interspersed with a few genre-defying acts, the heaping amount of hip hop and electronic music available, and the sheer musical gluttony of FIYA Fest (where one could sample a little bit of everything or overdose on NOLA funk) I’d like to think I had a fairly diverse aural menu over the course of two weeks, even if some of the same players reappeared onstage frequently. Acknowledging that disclaimer, and without any further adieu, these are a few of my favorite things from NOLA Jazz Fest After Dark 2014…
Friday 4/25 -House of Blues -Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave.
While channeling far away heroes like Stevie Wonder, George Clinton, James Brown and Earth, Wind and Fire, it was clear from the beginning that Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews has come into his own. Marching his homeboys Orleans Ave. onstage with pomp, circumstance and remarkable confidence, Shorty set up shop in the French Quarter and laid down a two-plus hour romp thru the Treme, a peek Uptown, before swinging around to the Backatown. That 2010 album’s cranking “Suburbia,” brought rapid-fire, fierce pumps on the ‘bone. Throughout the show, Shorty alternated back and forth from vocals to trombone/trumpet including for “On Your Way Down” and the melodic “Something Beautiful,” “The Craziest Things,”Mrs. Orleans” and “One Night Only.” On the first of a two-night HOB engagement, Orleans Ave. brought forth material from their trio albums, focused on most recent effort, Say That to Say This including “Fire and Brimstone,” “Vieux Carre,” “Shortyville” and “Long Weekend.” Guitarist “Freaky” Pete Murano is essentially Keef to Shorty’s Jagger, the axeman’s Gibson wail and Piety Street strum just the right combination. Taking cues from former boss and collaborator Lenny Kravitz, Troy has leaned into his mojo as pop-songwriter and bandleader, though not at the expense of his core identity, amidst his own tunes, Shorty hit on NOLA classics including “St. James Infirmary Blues,” neatly fitting into a Cab Calloway-style “Hi De Ho Man” sing along. Teases of Parliament Funkadelic, James Brown, and most notably, the Cash Money NOLA hip-hop anthem “Still Fly” shook the street on Decatur. It felt appropriate to kick off the first weekend with some music decidedly local and funky, and Trombone Shorty & Orleans Ave represents the best of both.
Saturday 4/26 -Champions Square -Pretty Lights Analog Future Band with Talib Kweli, Eric Krasno and the Preservation Hall Jazz Band Horns
Having recorded much of his critically acclaimed, 2013 magnum opus A Color Map of the Sun here in New Orleans, with the help of so many local musicians, Pretty Lights’ Derek Vincent Smith concocted a massive and multi-faceted production to celebrate their return to the Crescent City. Long on aural and visual stimuli, short on gimmicks and standard EDM bass drops, PL and the Analog Future Band delivered what amounted to a one hundred and fifty minute lucid dream, a subdued, wistful vibe fighting synth and sample-bent bombastic tendencies. “Color of my Soul”, the album opener and dawn of a new revolution, set it off proper with its dusty two inch grooves that segue into glitched out hip-hop psychedelia, all of it drenched in cinematic drama and a musician’s precision.
With New Orleans’ piano man Bryan Coogan working the organs and ivories to his immediate left, the super funky trombonist Scott Flynn and star-in-making Eric “Benny” Bloom on trumpet, Break Science’s Borahm Lee and birthday boy Adam Deitch to his right, and occasionally picking up a bass himself – Pretty Lights’ Smith dazzled an enormous crowd. Moving back and forth behind his ever-swelling command center, Smith was sparked by the frenzied Jazz Fest energy and it was clear that he was intent to create both for, and with the people.
The Analog Future Band stood on raised platforms that were outlined in high powered LED’s that changed colors throughout the performance and seemingly moved to the rhythms as well. Throughout the show Pretty Lights pulled tracks from every corner of his catalog, each of the band members played an integral role in every track, collaboration station, while they pounded tracks like: “Done Wrong” (Opiuo Remix), “Let’s Get Busy,” “More Important than Michael Jordan,” a slow building, sultry “Finally Moving,” a soaring “One Day They’ll Know” and the gargantuan tension build and explosion drop that bequeathed “I Know The Truth.”
Ben Jaffe assembled the Preservation Hall Jazz Horns, and in a scene that’s hard to conjure in the mind, the contingent joined the Analog Future Band in a marriage of Second Line swagger and subwoofer rump shaking. A sight to behold, the horns jumped and jived with a bright Carnival melody atop percolating Pretty Lights rhythms, the sum of these parts far greater than the collaborators even imagined. The entire Square was hopping to the glitched-out Second Line bounce. Talib Kweli then joined the circus, for his run through “Around the Block,” and Krasno (fresh off the Fire Water 1 Boat Cruise minutes earlier) would arrive with Kweli and stay onstage for a few cuts from Color Map. At the conclusion of this two-plus hour production, one thing was crystal clear: Believe the hype, because Pretty Lights Analog Future Band is indeed the new frontier. In Jazz Fest tradition, they shared the stage with luminous peers, yet at the core, they were an inspired, rehearsed yet improvisational team that treads the cutting edge of what’s hot in the streets and what’s even remotely conceivable.
Deitch’s Jazzfest birthday rage then made its way down to Frenchman Street. The quartet hit at 2:30 and immediately got the entire room moving with a Wil Blades-led take on the Bad-era Michael Jackson hit “The Way You Make Me Feel,” opening things up for the Hammond B3 melody to sing atop the slowed, fun and funky frolic. For the Stevie Wonder opener, the crew chose “Don’t You Worry Bout a Thing,” which twisted and turned through a myriad of jazz-bo hooks, nooks and crannies before exploding into a Krasno-sparked, high-energy conversation between organ, hollow-body guitar, and yet another star-turn by the rapidly renowned trumpet player Eric “Benny” Bloom; the latter took command of the stage and evolved into the de facto bandleader as he chatted up the crowd, cracked jokes and mesmerized people with luscious, sultry trumpet work on “Billie Jean.” However, it was the man of the hour, the boy wonder on the drums, Adam Deitch, who per usual left jaws agape, fans peeling their bottom lips off the Maison floor. With a mind-numbing display of hard-hitting rhythms, subtle rim and stick work, and undeniable thumping lead right foot, Deitch drove the jams with an intestinal fortitude and focus rivaled by few. His ability to tastefully ebb, flow and draw the best from his collaborators is evidence to his high demand, not only throughout Jazz Fest, but all year long.
Minutes after the Stevie/Michael Throwdown, the stage was converted and Break Science kicked off with definitively more volume and infinitely more bass gymnastics, solid sonic ammunition for a dance rage deep into the French Quarter night. Deitch transformed into the crunkalogic drummer-robot that powers the NY-based, Pretty Lights Music duo. Multi-faceted instrumentalist Borahm Lee introduced new sounds and techniques to the already broad and diverse Break Science palette, alternating between Ableton, Nord-lead, Fender Rhodes and various synth patches, while cueing vocal triggers and sound effects in real time. Mainly focusing on Seven Bridges material, the duo forwarded mammoth versions of two songs that feature ethereal female vocals, “Breath of Space” (Sonya Kitchell) and “Way I Feel,” the latter a prime-example of Break Science’s prowess in the post-dubstep era. Earlier PLM favorites like “Forrest of Illumination” and “Beaming Up” got dirty and sounded fresh as ever.
Analog Future Band mates Bloom and Scott Flynn (Trombone) joined in on a few reggae and trip hop-tinged numbers (“Look Into the Hourglass” and “Whole World Locked”) that sonically reached as much toward Bristol, UK, as they did Brooklyn or Boulder. “Move Ya Body,” an early songwriting collabo with a pre-Paper Diamond Alex B, sounded fresh as ever. Borahm Lee introduced a more evolved edit of the Break Science-refashioned “Owner of a Lonely Heart” that was surprisingly faithful to the Yes original. Sometimes mashed-up rap verses sounded less than ideal for Break Science’s ever-progressive sound (see “Who Got It” featuring Redman’s), other times the same artist’s words worked well (“Brain Reaction”). However it was the mellow-yet-heavy Seven Bridges album cut “Once in a While” that demonstrated just how emotional and soulful Break Science (and by proxy, electronic music as a whole) has the potential to be. With a midtempo drum break, walls of synth, bulbous juno-bass rolls and colorful Rhodes from Lee, Ms. Kitchell’s erotic and pining vocal stylings soared atop a positively inspiring track that swelled into a spirited sea of sound that grabbed a hold of our hearts and penetrated our bass chakra.
Sunday 4/27 -Maple Leaf Bar -The Untouchables
The Untouchables was another one-off jam collective assembled for the purposes of Jazz Fest, yet these cats were more than familiar with one another, and the material they chose could not have been more appropriate. This gig saw saw most of Lettuce, with Big D Perkins of Boukou Groove handling guitar duties, unleashing two hours of pure, unadulterated Herbie funk. As one may have guessed, The Untouchables performed solely material from Hancock’s most funky era, the mid 1970’s, namely songs from the HeadHunters, Manchild and Thrust albums. Like any self-respecting funk musicians, the Royal Family knows these tunes inside and out, like the back of their hands, every little hidden lick and tendency was fleshed out to the max and with verve taboot. In this setting, each player was in subconscious lock-step with another, the Berkelee School of Music training of the mid-90s rearing its head in these structured compositions. .
Nigel Hall led the troupe, bringing it all together with analog synths, as Deitch and Jesus Coomes supplied the weighty low end. Perkins was the wildcard, delivering staccato, rhythmic guitar work inside of Coomes’ thunderous-yet-agile, Paul Jackson bass gymnastics. Ryan Zoidis did his best Bennie Maupin, lacing the tight robotic funk with rallying cries on sax, augmented by the tasteful trumpet stylings of Bloom; their virtuoso really came through during elements of “Sun Touch” and “Steppin’ In It.” The two horn players pushed through the dense mix to the forefront at times, only to fall back into the weeds for Hall or Perkins to dominate. The music possessed the loosest kind of structure, Deitch manning the drum kit with Mike Clark precision, quick passages turning into heavily Echoplexed Rhodes or analog licks from Hall that set off a myriad of jams: “Actual Proof” was first degree murder, as was “Watermelon Man” and the late show fury of “Hang Up Your Hang-Ups” did more than just deliver, it showed and proved just why this collection of musicians were up for the Herbie challenge; and on this night, they were indeed untouchable.
Monday 4/28 -Maison -DarkWave
DarkWave’s NOLA debut began slowly and unsteadily, as John Medeski’s Hammond B3 malfunctioned, while Adam Deitch and Skerik foiled one another with free-jazz vamps and cacophony. Enter Ike Stubblefied to the rescue, and with a little elbow grease and Jazz Fest karma, the organ was screaming Leslie reverberations within minutes. Just like that, we were off! Nefarious netherworlds arrived in a series of waves cloaked in frightening darkness; this is an aptly monikered trio. Kicking down heady vamps and joints from their forthcoming record, DarkWave unleashed a lesson in sonic bondage and tourniquet terror. Skerik’s inimitable notes serenaded sadistic skronkophonics. Drummer Deitch brings out the best in any player he is collaborating with, or he channels a particular side or style of his cohort that suits the moment’s need. On this night, Deitch was at his most dynamic, baiting and surrendering to the flow and playing loose and lyrical early. As the show wore on and temperatures rose inside Maison, Adam began to channel the classic hip hop knock, with a lead right foot and backpacker’s integrity. Commandeering the ship, Deitch set the table for Medeski to channel his inner Shack-Man, in the form of B3 and Wurlitzer spastic shrieks, the torrid response to the Deitch/Skerik snap and release. Skerik needs not a reason to get weird, but Deitch and the Bull gave him more than a few, yet the drummer remained the anchor and the captain of this beautifully nightmarish séance. The last forty minutes of the DarkWave performance was some of the most progressive free-jazz my ears have ever been blessed with, a spun ‘Trane tipsy off some Bitches Brew, a combusticated critter bugging out on a new level, so hot that it required a call to the Fyre Dept. Trip hop and free-Jazz, on steroids.
Tuesday 4/29 -Little Gem Saloon -The Fantastic Four featuring The Shady Horns
The Fantastic Four can be counted on as an annual Jazz Fest gig that will deliver in spades. 2014’s incarnation of this group included mainstays Robert Walter, Eric Krasno, along with Adam Deitch and Chris Stillwell on bass. With the Shady Horns Ryan Zoidis and Eric Bloom on hand for the brass, the Little Gem Saloon stage was set for a Greyboy/Lettuce-West Coast/East Coast collaboration of slammin’ jazz funk and ultra blue rare grooves. Kicking things off with a bright punchy take on Funk Inc.’s seminal “Kool is Back,” it was clear from the beginning that Walter and Deitch would be the co-pilots, and the other players would follow their leads to the promised land. Uniquely different styles converged in a shared obsession with breakbeats and crate digging found the drummer and keyboardist getting money in the middle, dropping a dirty version of Bob James oft-sampled “Nautilus” and both Adam and Robert cracked huge grins and cackled as they looped up a tasty run on Gang Starr’s moment in time “Mass Appeal,”, before seamlessly returning to “Nautilus” ‘with that understandable smooth shit that murderers move with.’
Tuesday 4/29 -Blue Nile -The WHIP
Another yearly lineup that never fails, The Whip kicked off just before 3 a.m. and was the first of many a welcome detour from the superjam norm, a colossal collective of sinister and sultry, the darkside of David Ruffin, and the evil of Eddie Hazel’s Funkadelic fury, yet at once grown n’ sexy, with Blaxploitation pimpin, Bay Area meets Detroit on a mothership connection. This year saw The WHIP featuring regulars Brian J (Guitar/Vocals – Pimps Of Joytime), Robert Walter (Hammond B3 -Greyboy All-stars), Eric McFadden (P-Funk All-stars), Robert Mercurio (Bass), Corey Henry (Trombone/MC) and Stanton Moore (Drums -Galactic). But it was the guitar and vocals of RonKat Spearman (KatDelic, P-Funk All-stars) that set the tone and cured the energy that made this performance unforgettable. Along with the swagger and trombone G-code enforced by Treme OG, and Rebirth-bred Corey Henry, it was KatDelic funkateer who steered the ship away from ham jamming and channeled a vibe that was one of the sexiest I can ever remember at Blue Nile. A chopped, slowed and stirring mashup of Steve Miller’s “Fly Like an Eagle” traded volleys with WAR’s “Slippin’ into Darkness” for what seemed like hours, each minute the spicy vibes getting thicker, the colors whispering torrid come-ons in our mind’s ear. Jazz Mafia man Mike Olmost dipped into the fray with Deitch taking over the drum kit and upping the ante, punishing Stanton’s custom kit like it was his own Harley hog on the open highway.
DJ Kevvy Kev joined the fray, and by the end of the evening, after all the lovers rocked and many people had rolled, the drummer boy wonder and Boom Boom Room treated the remaining revelers to a classic run off the Jackson 5’s “The Love You Save”, ten more minutes of funk, the duo juggled breakbeats, boom-bap and old-school turntablism.
Wednesday 4/30 -One Eyed Jacks -Bear Creek All-Stars
In yet another can’t miss annual Jazzfest tradition, the all-day long Oak Street Block Party, filled with bands, crawfish and friends galore gave way to the Bear Creek All-Stars shindig at One Eyed Jack’s in the French Quarter. An incredible lineup, per usual, was assembled to take the stage at 3a.m.: Cyril Neville, Karl Denson, Ivan Neville, Eric Krasno, Adam Deitch, Ian Neville, Nick Daniels III, Ryan Zoidis, Eric Bloom and James Casey. Throughout the show, players came and went as the various collections of collaborators changed, and with that, so did the colors, shapes and sizes of the music. “Doodle Loop (The World is a Little Bit Under the Weather),” “Welcome to New Orleans” and the annual Alecia Chakour sung “Piece of My Heart” were given the superjam-workout treatment. Of particular note was the de facto Dr. Klaw reunion, one that saw Nick Daniels III belt out his customary Stevie Wonder stomp “Higher Ground,” as Deitch pushed tempos with a furious lead right foot and Karl Denson and Ryan Zoidis traded blissful sax phrasings atop Krasno’s sweet hollow body licks. The foursome of Zoidis, Denson, Casey and Bloom was one of the finest horn sections one could ever imagine, the tastiest brass breaks and chewiest choruses ringing out to the rafters and spilling into the Quarter, where the sold out crowd had spilled, still dancing in Toulouse Street.
Soon, as is custom with a Paul Levine/Bear Creek production, the next generation of BC family seamless transitioned onstage, and assumed various positions in the mix. NOLA favorite son Bryan Coogan and Brooklyn’s Borahm Lee (Break Science) exchanged Rhodes and organ grooves, Profit’s Eric Vogel took over the bass duties, and Suwannee scion Matt Grondin began to rip up a Stratocaster. Derrick Smoker (of Smoker’s World) kicked some freestyles on the mic. Tomorrow’s future marquee names followed their funk forefather’s suit and under a Crescent City moon, new superstars were born. Just when the Creek was cookin’ and a sizzlin’ hot, the music stopped at about 6 a.m., and we reminded ourselves that come November, it would be time to migrate due east to Live Oak, FL, the Spirit of the Suwannee Music Park, and another pilgrimage to the funk Mecca that is Bear Creek.
Friday May 2 -Mardi Gras World -FIYA FEST
New Orleans based Fiyawerx Productions really upped the ante with their second annual FIYA FEST, a one-day festival within the festival that featured more than 95 musicians, and so much more than just music! The artists performed over three stages, giving fans a chance to see music outdoors at the River Stage, as well as on the main stage indoors, and the intimate setting of The Mansion -a special perk for VIPs. The affair also included boiled crawfish prepared onsite, and the incredible food and music menu kept the masses fueled for the unparalleled amount of NOLA funk on display for eight hours.
Though Fiya Fest, a smorgasbord of incredible New Orleans music, food, art and culture, its primary goal is to raise funds and awareness to help The Roots of Music. This foundation has a mission of teaching and empowering New Orleans’ youth through music education, academic support and mentorship while simultaneously preserving and promoting the city’s unique musical and cultural heritages. All the proceeds generated by FIYA Fest goes to The Roots of Music, and a large contingent of NOLA youth, facilitated by the charity, was able to play and Second Lined through the event with The Midnight Disturbers, a favorite highlight of FIYA Fest for the second straight year.
It’s a nearly indescribable sight to behold the students playing and marching through Mardi Gras World with a who’s-who of NOLA funk pumping the grooves beneath them: Stanton Moore, Big Sam, Ben Ellman, Mark Mullins, Shamarr Allen, Kevin O’Day and Matt Perrine featuring Rahzel, Brandon “TAZ” Niederauer and many more collaborated as the Midnight Disturbers pushed the Second Line grooves and the kids reveled in their bass, snare and brass bombast. By attending the festival, we supported this wonderful program and the city’s most vital asset -the children.
Fiya Fest is known for interesting pairings and the 2014 version was highlighted by a number of one-time-only collaborations. Such was the case for Maceo Parker with Eric Krasno, Nikki Glaspie, Nigel Hall, Calvin Turner and The Shady Horns, a group dubbed “GRITTS” featuring George Porter Jr, Roosevelt Collier, Ivan Neville, Tony Hall, Terrence Houston, Big Sam and Sam Kininger, and this writer’s favorite performance FIYA Fest -“The Headhunters Superjam” with Mike Clark, Bill Summers, Donald Harrison, Bernie Worrell, Blackbyrd McKnight, Fred Wesley, Karl Denson and Doug Wimbish. Another special edition collaboration we enjoyed was The Revivalists with Mike Dillon, Carly Meyers, Pete Murano, Jen Hartswick, Khris Royal and Maggie Koerner. Some of the best kept secrets that finally got out at FIYA Fest were Corey Henry’s Treme Funktet, the West Coast Sounds and Chicago band The Heard.
The Mansion, an area set up for VIPs, was, in a word, breathtaking. The area was set up like an old Greek revival mansion at twilight. It included a grand front porch, life-sized cypress trees adorned with Spanish moss, stone pathways and bridges, a running stream and a private bar. It made for the perfect place to enjoy a VIP menu of food and drink, while listening to some interesting musical pairings. During my short visits to this space I enjoyed David Shaw & “Taz,” Marco Benevento & Papa Mali and Eric Lindell with Billy Iuso. One of the best parts of FIYA Fest, especially as it was Day Nine of this writer’s Jazz Fest experience, was that it gave us a chance to stay out of the sun all day, but still fill our time with the best in NOLA music and food.
Friday May 2 -Creole Queen -FIYA WATER II
More kudos to Fiyawerx Productions, after three dormant years at port, bringing back the quintessential Jazz Fest experience that is the Riverboat concert on the Mississippi. For years, we enjoyed music on the river in the classy and cozy confines of the Creole Queen; then with nary a word, there were no longer riverboat cruises during Jazz Fest After Dark. For three long years we waited, and finally Fiyawerx satiated our desires and the boat returned, with no less than four cruises for Jazz Fest 2014, and I chose to board Fiya Water II immediately at the conclusion of FIYA Fest.
This particular boat cruise featured Rahzel, Lettuce’s Eric Krasno, Nigel Hall, Ryan Zoidis, Jesus Coomes, Eric Bloom and James Casey, Dumpstaphunk’s Nikki Glaspie and Ian Neville, The Revivalists’ David Shaw and Break Science’s Borham Lee. There were countless breakneck jams and crushing grooves laced by all the different participants, however a particular passage sticks on in my mind. Another type-vicious reading of the Bob James classic “Nautilus” was delivered with pulverizing authority on the River, with the Rhodes refrain matched by guitar and horns, all of which were syncopated in a unison that had heads bobbin’ like emergency brakes. Beatboxer extraordinaire Rahzel, of the Legendary Roots Crew, is also quite the emcee. To show and prove, Rahzel commandeered “Nautilus” and steered the band into a song permanently embedded in my mind from countless spins in my youth. Eric B. and Rakim’s undeniable classic “Know the Ledge” (theme from the movie Juice) was performed with vitality. Rahzel epitomized the God MC Rakim with a perfect rendition, right down to the record scratches. He then blessed the boat with a version of “Lodi Dodi” that borrowed from both Slick Rick’s original and Snoop Dogg’s cover.
Later, Rahzel’s own “Part Time Hustler” left jaws on the boat deck as verbal gymnastics were matched by ultra-crunk beats from Glaspie and break scientology from veteran boom bap technician Borahm Lee. Fred Wesley then appeared and immediately pulled rank on the entire band, assuming the position as bandleader and party starter for a titanic take on “House Party,” with Nick Cassarino supplanting Krasno on guitar. Ably assisted by the Shady Horns and Ian Neville, it was Wesley who steered this vessel back to port with a rump-shaking and rollicking run through his classic party jam.
Friday May 2 -Maple Leaf Bar + Monday May 5 -Blue Nile -The Nth Power
After their much buzzed about set at FIYA Fest’s River Stage earlier Friday, The Nth Power was geared and greased to go when they began at Maple Leaf Bar ten hours later. The dimly lit, legendary haven for bruising jams and boozing hams was transformed into a veritable musical heaven for two-plus hours. The Nth Power was celebrating their two-year anniversary after being conceived in this very same hallowed room the second Friday of Jazz Fest 2012. Nikki Glaspie (drums/vocals) and Nigel Hall (keyboards/vocals) bring the gospel and God infusions to the mix, augmented by the spirituality that is conjured from the riddims of percussionist Weedie Braimah. From this performance alone, several songs live on, forever embedded in our memory and lighting a candle in all of our hearts. “Love What You’re Doin to Me” explodes from the rugged yardie chants and King Tubby dub tomb, and turns on a dime to the smoothest grown & sexy, Quiet Storm R&B in an instant. This band touched a glorious and love-soaked rendition, and they did the same for “Spirits.” Emotionally, few songs in any band’s catalogue are as raw beautiful as “Walk on Water” and several times during this performance I was moved to uncontrollable tears.
Uncompromisingly and uncannily honest, raw and deliberate in their craft and presentation, this collective soared above the clouds and held each audience member in the palm of their hands. Bassist Nate Edgar was content to lay back in the cut, a thunderous anchor that empowers the Nth degree, yet made his presence known with virtuoso runs on “Jazzfest 420” and underneath the riveting “Thank You.” He especially shined when cutting loose on covers like Bobby Womack’s “110th Street” and the absolutely bombastic “Black Cow” by Steely Dan, the latter nearly blowing up the entire block of Frenchman Street with its ostentatious swagger. Guitarist Nick “Nicky Cake” Cassarino is the type of frontman that you see in your dreams -all the best of D’Angelo and John Mayer but at the same time, reach-and-out-touch-you accessible and a virtuoso guitarist who channels the vibe as hard as he shreds. Nicky Cake knows when the spaces between are truly the colors in the void.
Cassarino steadily mesmerized the Maple Leaf (and on the following Monday The Blue Nile as well), wasting no time, at either show, getting into the thick of things like the focused bandleader he is, enrapturing the audience. I’m not sure I remember a crowd more attentive and more engrossed, especially given the hour and circumstance, as the two Nth Power club performances during the second weekend. Each evening, the audience was speckled with musicians from numerous other bands, either already hooked on the Nth IV, or newcomers checking out what the fuss is about. The fans that had chosen to spend their precious Jazz Fest time and energy with The Nth Power were blessed with the kind of musical journeys that we only hope and pray for when we step out of our lives and into a music venue. Indeed, The Nth Power does love you, and they do so fiercely. On two nights, in two rooms, in two different neighborhoods, in the same city, The Nth Power made some of the most incredible music these ears have ever heard.
Saturday May 3 -Howlin’ Wolf -CrossFiya Fyre Dept. featuring Rahzel and Talib Kweli – Howlin Wolf
Again, Fiyawerx Productions provided a break from the norm as it pertains to Jazz Fest, and this eclectic booking on the hip-hop side of the tracks provided a thrilling look at one of the best kept secrets in the game: Fyre Dept. This NYC-based production squad includes drummer Adam Deitch (clad appropriately in a NAS Illmatic t-shirt and his ubiquitous headphones), Eric Krasno on guitar, and the brothers Coomes, bassist E.D. “Jesus” and older brother (and Fyre Dept. OG) Tyler “TYCOON Beats.” Break Science keyboardist Borahm Lee rounded out the team, and they took the stage after De La SOUL REBELS and proceeded to destroy the packed house with authoritative, meditative beats, samples and classic loops. Beginning with some Ghostface Killah and J Dilla instrumentals, soon the Fyre Dept was fully ablaze. Deitch held down the head snapping breaks, and the brothers Coomes’ tasteful, minimalist approach had people marveling at how this here hip-hop sounded so alive, present, yet sacrificing absolutely no integrity in the name of dopeness.
Within a few songs, Rahzel grabbed a microphone and stormed the stage. After some beatboxing workouts to get warm, “The Godfather of Noize” blessed the people with a distinctive medley of Whole Darn Family’s “7 Minutes of Funk” break, interspersed with verses and portions of its two most popular children -EPMD’s “It’s My Thang” and Jay-Z/Foxy Brown’s classic “Ain’t No N*gg*.” The Fyre Dept. then flawlessly worked into NAS’ “NY State of Mind” instrumental while Rahzel delivered original lyrics, along with a version of Bob Marley’s “Jammin’” for a refrain.
At this point in the show, things were wild on the dancefloor, yet extremely focused on the stage. The band brought out legendary Brooklyn MC Talib Kweli and the posse brought forth a medley of songs old and new. Beginning with “Cold Rain,” Kweli showed everyone just why he’s revered as a lyricist and performer. They brilliantly segued into his seminal anthem “The Blast” from the Reflection Eternal project of the Rawkus era; this slice of heat had damn-near everybody correctly pronouncing his name, with not a single thing left to question. “Hot Thing” was dedicated to all the lovers, and Kweli made sure to shout out Babyface as he dipped into this summertime park jam for the boo’d up set.
The Fyre Dept/Kweli collaboration reached fevered pitches as the BK MC and the veritable NY/LA dream team laced up a victorious version of “I Try” before spicing up things with a samba-influenced take on Kweli’s uplifting mantra “Get By.” This conclusion of the set had an army of heads chanting the chorus “Just to Get By” at the top of their one-hundred strong lungs; Fiyawerx Productions and the Fyre Dept. could agree on one thing, there was no putting out this CrossFiya.
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.
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.
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.
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)
“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.