More Highlights from Jazz Fest 2014

23 05 2014

Bits and pieces of Fest highs and lows written for the Gambit and dug out of my notebook that I thought were worth saving/remembering …


The combined rhythmic sensibilities at work in the Jazz Tent during Stanton Moore’s trio set with James Singleton and David Torkanowsky yielded more than a few innovations in time and space as the three veterans interpreted James Black, Herbie Hancock and selections from their own compositional arsenals. Moore repeatedly favored lushness over hard edges in his solos, demonstrating the softer side of a complex groove. They imbued Moore’s funk-soaked “Tchefunkta” with pliant, rolling drum figures that added dynamics to the tune’s signature bass motif.

“You can’t be a drummer in this town if you can’t play this tune,” Moore later announced. He then made a point of giving props to Herlin Riley, Shannon Powell, Johnny Vidacovich and more of his mentors before wrapping things up with a blistering version of James Black’s “Magnolia Triangle.”


In his wrap-up of Jazz Fest’s first weekend, New York Times critic Ben Sisario (rather confusingly) noted that there was no electronic dance music at Jazz Fest; he was wrong.  Canadian producer and DJ trio A Tribe Called Red keeps their beats and samples rooted in what they call “electric pow-wow music,” but the combination of ecstatic, high-ranged Native American vocals and uptempo, dance-inducing pace had a decisively electronic feel at the group’s Jazz and Heritage Stage performance.

Tempos raced through stop-starts and clusters of drum-and-bass-paced beats for most of the set before the trio finally let one sample linger: It was Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” The crowd was gleefully filled in the lyrics – until the guys literally turned the beat around, throwing the sing-songy finish through an effect that transformed it into a pummeling series of sharp-edged synthesized lines.


Houston was most assuredly in the house at Samsung on Thursday when Lyle Lovett sailed through a breezy and endearingly oddball set of hits that included his best-know work from ‘80s and ‘90s recordings like “Lyle Lovett and His Large Band,” “Pontiac” and “The Road To Ensenada.”  Well-worn classics like the pensive yet silly “If I Had a Boat” and the big band flavored “Here I Am” encapsulated Lovett’s characteristically restrained drama, while he got the audience bouncing with the energetic “That’s Right (You’re Not From Texas”).

The singer also reserved ample space in the set to praise his band – particularly, the fiddle player, Luke Bolla, who performed a tune of his own.


Tuareg guitarist Bombino’s high energy, rock heavy Blues Tent set on Sunday was defined by propulsive cycles of thickly wrought electric desert blues. Though the lyrics embedded in his shimmering vocal melodies were not in English, the band’s front line of guitar, rhythm guitar and bass created driving rhythmic structures conveying a sense of travel across time and space. Meanwhile, Bombino’s trilled and sometimes eerie vocals intimated the sense of longing and struggle that traditional Tuareg music shares with Western blues. That connection was especially evident for any fest-goers who caught the North Mississippi All-Stars at Acura shortly before Bombino.

The Blues Tent crowd roared in appreciation repeatedly as Bombino launched himself into overdrive, jumping up and down and spinning around as if his blistering, pick-free jams needed any more emphasis. Despite that mesmerizing combo, it was tough not to focus on the bassist, who kept the set rooted in deep lines of grit executed on a uniquely shaped bass with neon pink strings. (No wonder the Black Keys’ Dan Auerbach only played bass on one of the tracks he produced for Bombino’s album, “Nomad.”)


Surrounded by an army of familial Indians festooned in hot pink feathers, plus a pair of Skull and Bone Gang skeletons, Monk Boudreaux’s Jazz and Heritage Stage appearance on Sunday was visually stunning — even for a venue where sparkling suits abound. The singer delivered a Indian standards like “(Somebody Got) Soul Soul Soul” as well as a few reggae infused melodies with able backing from what sounded like members of Cha Wa. (It was hard to see the musicians through that wall of hot pink.) Two elements of Monk’s performance stole the show, though. One was the lush, stormy and extended incantation that opened his rendition of “Shallow Water, Oh Mama,” a stark contrast to the brilliant sunshine above. The other was the pint-sized drummer-turned dancer who began the set at one end of the stage, drum sticks in hand before throwing down so much fancy footwork that he eventually dropped the instrument and moved center stage to rock out in front of his Big Chief.


Stanton Moore’s virtuosic drum solo-turned-duo with vibes player Mike Dillon (guesting on percussion) galvanized Galactic’s Jazz Fest set again this year. But the sheer muscle of Maggie Koerner’s vocal performance was the real star of a set that featured chestnuts from Galactic’s early days along with more recent tunes like the bounce-centric new single, “Dolla Diva.” Koerner’s belting reached a new echelon of power when, in the final moments of “Gimme Shelter,” she yanked the monitor out of her ear, tossed it on the ground and delivered the line, “I’m gonna fade away” with so much raw dynamism it looked like her jaw might pop off its hinges.


What exactly was Sixto Rodriguez saying to his New Orleans-based fill-in band during those long, awkward pauses between virtually every song in his performance at the Blues Tent on Sunday? That’s a question guitarist Alex McMurray, who seemed to be the focus of Rodriguez’s conversational attention during those breaks, will probably get asked a lot in the coming weeks.

While the breaks gave the set an off-kilter flow and Rodriguez seemed a bit frail, he was at his best performing music with a similarly vulnerable vibe. His guitar work was graceful, his voice, warm on the moody “Sugar Man” (the hit referenced in “Searching for Sugar Man,” an indie documentary that helped reignite his career). The lovely but sad “Streetboy” elicited almost as much love from the crowd, while tunes like “Lucille” seemed to require a confidence Rodriguez might not have had in him.








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