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Vibes and Vibrations: NOLA Jazz Fest After-Dark 2016

What I have gleaned from chronicling the culture surrounding live music for twenty years, and from attending Jazz Fest for fourteen, is that one should judge their festival experience not by what music they were fortunate enough to catch, instead by the shows they were forced to miss. This is a phenomenon we know as FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out. Judging by word on the street, there were dozens of shows (Joe Russo’s Almost Dead, The Last Waltz, Snarky Puppy and assorted offshoots, etc) that are already the stuff of legend. The FOMO was at its most fierce during second weekend, where the show choices were downright excruciating. 

After a one year JazzFest hiatus, I trusted my instincts and followed my heart, simply chasing the musicians and collaborations that I treasure most, as opposed to catching a more diverse selection, as I have in years’ past. Sure, I did end up at gigs by several of the same musicians, multiple times. Yet no two shows, or collection of players were ever the same, between the plethora of funk, interspersed with a few genre-defying acts, and the sheer musical gluttony of FIYA Fest (where one could sample a little bit of everything and overdose on NOLA funk) I’d like to think I had a fairly comprehensive aural menu over the course of a week. Acknowledging that disclaimer, and without any further adieu, these are a few of my favorite things from NOLA Jazz Fest After Dark 2016.  

4/26: Adam Deitch Birthday Party ft. Adam Deitch Quartet and Sonic Bloom at the Blue Nile 

For his big 40th birthday, Adam Deitch booked an engagement at the Blue Nile to unveil his Adam Deitch Quartet, which consists of Bay Area organist Wil Blades and his close compadres The Shady Horns. Deitch’s parents Bobby and Denise proudly watched through glass doors from a perched directly behind the drum set as their son took the stage to lead this performance. Celebration was in the air, musicians littered the audience, and the band used this set to unveil material from an album they recently recorded in NYC. The birthday boy and his team got down to business by opening with “Fear the Blades,” and it was crystal clear that this was no jam session.    

The compositions were a mixture of throwback rare groove, psychedelic exploration, and golden-era boom-bap breaks. A good example was their take on Cannonball Adderly’s “Inside Straight.” The tune was simultaneously true to its 1973 ethos, bathing in David Axelrod; all the while firmly entrenched somewhere in Pete Rock’s record crates, these beats were Soul Brother certified. Breakbeats on breakbeats on breakbeats, the collective dispatched avalanches of groove on a dirty Maceo Parker vamp; the seeds of hip-hop lying within a perpetual headnod that had engulfed the room.  Soon thereafter it was time for a parade of champions to take the stage; and Deitch dedicated to Prince an astonishing read of Herbie Hancock’s exquisite “Butterfly,” as Nigel Hall joined on keyboards and Kofi Burbridge on flute. Maurice Brown (trumpet) and Big Sam Williams (trombone) also graced the stage with magnanimous personalities.  

Sonic BloomEric “Benny” Bloom‘s local cooperative, took over the Nile just after Deitch’s quartet wrapped. Bloom led his band equal parts fierce and hilarious, with comical banter, animated gesturing, and brilliant trumpet melodies that soared atop the room. Alternately sitting/gangsta-leaning on a stool, and bounding about the stage, Bloom displayed a knack for natural showmanship and whipping the room into a general circus of soul. His slow and greasy “Thank U Fallettin Me Be Mice Elf (Again)” was all things N’awlinz, done with Bloom’s patented Don Rickles/Red Sox flair.   

On this night Sonic Bloom would be comprised of local heavies: current Gramatik guitarist (and solo artist in his own right) Andrew Block, bassist Eric Vogel, Dumpstaphunk drummer Alvin Ford, Rebelution/George Porter Jr. saxophonist Khris Royal, along with Wil Blades on Hammond B3. Their set was another funk n’ jam marathon, disco-fresh and French Quarter to the core.  WAR’s “The World is a Ghetto” blossomed wild, jazzy excursions in full Sonic Bloom. This showcase was fueled by a laundry list of guests, including KDTU guitarist DJ Williams, Maurice Brown, Break Science’s Borahm Lee, Snarky Puppy’s Robert ‘Sput’ Searight, as well as members of The Heard and Naughty Professor. The krewe shut it down for the night by passing the jam around on Michael Jackson’s seminal “Working All Day & Night.”  

 

[Videos by Funk It Blog]

4/27: FIYA Fest at Mardi Gras World

Wednesday brought us to the 4th annual FIYA Fest, an orgy of NOLA goodness hosted at Mardi Gras World by the incomparable Fiyawerx Productions. Thankfully moved to the days between, it’s a difficult task to summarize everything that makes FIYA Fest amazing into a few short paragraphs. FIYA chief Chris Rogers literally wrote the book on how to host a party with New Orleans music as the main course; the FIYA Dept goes to unthinkable lengths to provide a fulfilling, authentic cultural experience to fans of all ages. In addition, the cornucopia of local art vendors, crawfish boil and other delectable culinary options, photographer Michael Weintrob‘s resplendent ‘Instrumenthead’ exhibit, and heaping mounds of Crescent City vibes made for an unforgettable day on the Mississippi River banks. Cloud 9 raffled off a Jam Cruise cabin, Weintrob did the same for the Soulive piece from his collection, the proceeds for both went to a righteous cause. FIYA Fest 2016 benefited the New Orleans Musicians Clinic, an organization that tirelessly works toward affordable health-care options for NOLA musicians.   

A deluge of rain early in the afternoon threatened to damper the festivities, but thankfully, it subsided and the event really started cooking by midday. There were almost one hundred artists onsite, top-shelf music going head to head all day long, spread across three stages: the giant indoor Flame Stage, the outdoor River Stage, and the swanky, extravagant VIP stage The Mansion. In order to see something awesome, you were forced to miss something, also awesome. Like all things Fiyawerx, this conundrum is true to the essence of JazzFest, and makes for a great motivator for one to bounce from stage to stage in a gluttonous quest for the deepest pocket, dirtiest jam, or ultimate sit-in. The all-star collaborations were often unique to this event, and it’s safe to say that some of the pairings you may never see again.   

Early afternoon, David Shaw’s Family Jam stirred emotions at The Mansion, as did Stanton Moore’s Jazz Trio with Skerik; the latter showcasing the astonishing skills of pianist David Torchanowsky and bassist James SingletonJen Hartswick and Karl Denson mesmerized while fronting FunkiFIYA, as Zigaboo Modeliste and Tony Hall laced up “Welcome to New Orleans” with the same gritty determination that defines their artistry. Bernard Purdie and Friends welcomed heavyweights like The Meters’ Leo Nocentelli, Oteil and Kofi Burbridge, Corey Henry and Khris Royal. Furious funk workouts included an impressive “Ain’t No Use” (belted mightily by Erica Falls), and a hefty helping of the Pretty Purdie shuffle. NYC/NOLA supergroup Dr. Klaw trucked the outdoor River Stage with their low-down, dirty sludge funk. Nick Daniels III and Adam Deitch locked sinister grooves, Ian Neville and Eric Krasno traded hardy licks, and Nigel Hall crooned sumptuously on “Leave Me Alone.” Klaw original “The Lost Rager” was a Kraz clinic in tremendous tone, technique, and taste. For this writer, the real treat of the day came when Cyril Neville sauntered onstage and joined Dr. Klaw, dressed dapper as an OG should. The Klaw dug deep for the filthiest funk tunnels on “Africa”, as Daniels audibly upped the ante and challenged Deitch to meet him in the crunk dungeon, while Uptown Ruler serenaded the FIYA-faithful with the epitome of swagger.   

Allegiances were tested in the final slotting, depending on your taste and mood at the moment. For your Crescent City cravings, the configuration dubbed “Revivalactic Hall saw collaboration from members of NOLA icons Preservation Hall, cagey veterans Galactic, and The Revivalists, a local band on a cusp of national superstardom. A smorgasbord of New Orleans rhythms, fundamentals, and tradition was on display, cool breezin’ on the River Stage, as this swollen troupe careened their way through half a century of Bayou boogie. Inside on the Flame Stage, Soulive with The Shady Horns were cooking up their own Big Apple gumbo, laying it down thick and chunky.  Led by the possessed genius of keyboard superhero Neal Evans, Soulive blazed through a few choice originals, as Ryan Zoidis and Eric Benny Bloom blasted brass atop the patented organ-trio dub-hop. Next, out came the marvelous Maceo Parker to blow alto over classic JB’s vamps. Top-buttoned up and rocking indoor moon-shades, the man they call Maceo was the consummate bandleader; steering the rumbling vessel with only the slightest of head fakes, hand gestures, and facial expressions. Clearly reeling from the death of dear friend and band bossman Prince, Parker channeled his grief through the music. It proved to be cathartic for all in attendance, as Parker’s always-inspired, radical and radiant playing matched his regal aura. The many musicians and fans that remained bowed their heads with respect, and stood in gratitude for this national treasure. To close the show, Fiyawerx had succeeded in re-creating the essence of NOLA JazzFest- as we simultaneously soaked in scents, sounds and songs spanning three generations, over two stages, all-in-together now, one nation under the groove.    

[Photos by Adam McCullough, videos by NuNu Zomot] 

4/27: The Suwannee Family Affair ft. Chapter 2 at One Eyed Jacks

For several years running, Suwannee svengali Paul Levine has been throwing a phenomenal party at One Eyed Jacks, late Wednesday night during the days between. Formerly the Bear Creek All-Stars, the event has transformed into the Suwannee Family Affair, incorporating all the divergent entities that come together for festivals held at Florida”s Spirit of Suwannee Music Park. From 2010-2012, Eric Krasno brought a version of his solo project Chapter 2 to Bear Creek. So for this installment of the Affair, Kraz enlisted Adam Deitch, Nigel Hall, Oteil Burbridge, Kofi Burbridge and Nicholas Payton to deliver a magnificent set of throwback brew.  
 

Rocking a mohawk, Oteil Burbridge was a force to be reckoned with, holding down the middle of the stage as he plundered tombs of low end madness. Burbridge’s mighty skills would rather effortlessly interlock with the riptide undercurrents of Deitch’s drums. Nigel Hall and Kofi Burbridge danced atop the keyboards, and clad in the G-code, Nicholas Payton serenaded the room with wailing trumpet blues.  

Nigel was feeling the vibes, and repeatedly came around from behind the Hammond to get in Oteil’s face, egging him on with his meanest mugging and thug posturing. Oteil would retaliate mercilessly, with mathematical cacophony, precision blasts of rumbling thunder that shook the venue’s foundation. Fleshing out some Kraz originals and Rudy Van Gelder-style vamps, the team mined deep psychedelic Bitches Brew geography, as Hall played space cowboy on the Moog. Deitch and Oteil connected on Kraz’s rubberband jams, the rhythm section gone wild as the Taliban. No Chapter 2 set is complete without Krasno’s chunky rewiring of The Beatles “Get Back; on this night, the Burbridge brothers and Payton owned the tune.  Guitar-driven fusion rockers were laced with Payton’s patterns, while Deitch stopped, dropped and rolled out the Garibaldi.  The evening was ended in treasured swan song, a heart-wrenching neo-soul (Deitch) arrangement of Tears for Fears 1980’s mega-hit “Everybody Wants to Rule the World.”  

[Videos by Funk It Blog]

4/28: RAGEFEST ft. Lettuce, Break Science, Nigel Hall Band, Joy Theater

The Royal Family is what’s hot in the streets, and they have been for some time now. At the forefront of this world domination is the future-funk Voltron known as Lettuce. The all-world crunk squadron made their NOLA bones many moons ago, yet these ultimate professionals, living legends in the game, will never be caught half-stepping, especially in this city, at this time of year. RAGE Fest was a sold-out, high-profile, and thoroughly fulfilling engagement that satiated the minions of Lettuceheads that had congregated at the Joy Theater. Dr. John, the Night Tripper himself, was spotted getting loose in VIP, as Lettuce torched his hometown with class and prestige, yet not a trace of mercy.  

First up, a robust showing from a Nigel Hall Band featured Big D Perkins, Adam Smirnoff, Eric Vogel, among others. But as the masses filed in from Canal Street, just before midnight, the dragon force brigade stepped onstage to Phife Dawg’s “Scenario” verse, an eloquent tribute to their fallen rap idol. The assembly immediately dipped into a favored opener, the Mothership-drenched “Dr. Digglesworf,” the slinky, bouncing cartoon funk hollered “Bootsy!” enhanced by the innovative tones emanating from the saxophone of one Ryan Zoidis.  “Let it Go-Go” was archetypal Deitch, the bandleader firing interplanetary ballistics toward the District, bringing that jungle love straight outta Georgetown.  The throwback vibes on “Pocket Change,” which featured a grown and sexy trumpet solo from Eric Benny Bloom, provoked furious dancing from the nearly one thousand funkateers jammed into the Joy. 

People often lament the absence of Eric Krasno on recent Lettuce tours, but this writer feels Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff can more than carry the load in a one guitar lineup. That said, it was refreshing to see Kraz back in the mix, though his presence was most fervently felt when he stepped to the analog synth setup. Kraz’s sound palette wizardry devoured the sonic canvas with drippy vibrancy, and the portal was reopened. Jesus Coomes played rockstar out front, whipping the maniacal crowd into a near hysteria. Neal Evans was a blur of malevolent psychedelia on his rack of organ, clavinet and synth, it was business as usual for this Berklee battalion.  

Soon, it was time for the special guests, this being JazzFest and all. First out was the mohawked viking Oteil Burbridge, who somehow blurred the lines between Paul Jackson and Cliff Burton, as the boys charged through a sprightly “Break Out” that was full-on seek and destroy. Oteil proved himself rager-royalty, as was to be expected, and slam dunked the Jesus bounce pass with finessed fury. Later, the Uptown Ruler emerged again, Cyril Neville’s mere presence transforming RAGE Fest into a Player’s Ball. The cane-wielding, steez-serving, Crescent City cowboy proceeded to take over the festivities like only he can. It was terrific to hear Lettuce’s respect and admiration for Neville transmitted through their music. This served to power the corps through downright philistine versions of “The World is a Little Bit Under the Weather” and “No More Okey Doke.” I don’t often love special guest sit-ins with my favorite band, but when I do, they are from Cyril Neville.

[Photos by Jeremy Scott] 

4/28: Earth Wind & Power ft. The Nth Power and Friends at One Eyed Jacks

In the wake of Maurice White’s February death, The Nth Power served notice that this would be a can’t miss engagement, “Earth, Wind and Power.” Yet it was impossible to predict nor expect the sheer magnitude of what was to come.  Born of shared admiration for a timeless songbook and humanized world-view, this eulogy was delivered by a musical collective who have over untold miles and umpteen years, become a family. A sold-out shrine at One Eyed Jacks, reverberating deep into the French Quarter night, only added to the potency of the environs. This would prove to be a definitive JazzFest experience; the pure crystallized essence of the healing power of music.  

Everybody adorned in lavish, glittering EWF attire, the Nth Power assembled a Steinbrenner-esque murderer’s row to assist them in their meritorious mission. The roster included a horn section of Jennifer Hartswick, Natalie Cressmanand James Casey of Trey Anastasio Band, sadistic saxman Skerik, and Farnell Newton of Othership Connection on trumpet. NOLA favorite son Ian Neville (Dumpstaphunk) on guitar, and the all-world sibling tandem of Oteil Burbridge (bass), his brother Kofi (keyboards and flute) solidified the squadron; this blended brood wasted no time in heading to the sky.  “In the Stone” started things off with promise, a splendid funk jam that set the tone, and was followed by “September.” Dear Lord! From first words “Do you remember?”, we were transported into a real life boogie wonderland, pandemonium was running wild inside One Eyed Jacks. The bliss was bountiful, uncontrollable, and contagious; a disco dance party, brimming with love and human connection, exploded in every direction.   

Positioned at the center of this revival, and pounding out the pocket with her usual panache was Nikki Glaspie: the musical director of this titanic production, she consistently nailed Philip Bailey’s soprano harmonies with a childlike glee. Weedie Braimah was shimmying while serving up Ivory Coast riddims, Hartswick radiating top left. Bassist Nate Edgar was exacting revenge on Babylon, baiting Oteil to join him in eradicating evil. Kofi and Courtney Smith were a four-handed leviathan on a mountain of keys and synths, so essential to the fabric of EWF.  Everybody brought their A game, and had a freewheeling fun time doing so.

However, the hero of the night, other than Maurice White, was unquestionably Nicky Cake Cassarino. This man stepped into a whole new realm, becoming the mesmerizing frontman I always dreamt I might, when singing  my favorite songs into a hairbrush a few moments out of the shower. Cassarino commanded the stage like his idols, he prowled with an assured mojo; sporting a Master’s degree in Paisley Park, he was a direct descendant of Soulquarian. On this night, in this room, this dude was intravenous sexy; all swag with no brag, and though dressed for a date with a “Sun Goddess”, this wasn’t no costume. The vitalizing depth of this music, and the dynamic ensemble that emboldened him, an audience in full bloom and audibly in full swoon; this concoction proved a potent and intoxicating elixir for Nicky Cake.  Somewhere inside the glorious twenty-plus minutes that was “Serpentine Fire> Devotion > After the Love”, Cassarino uncorked a bottle of the warrior king within.

As things began to climax during “Shining Star” through “Boogie Wonderland,” I felt the gravity of this ambitious endeavor; the mythical, supernatural EWF catalogue an indelible imprint embedded in the DNA of each player on stage. I cannot stress enough just how powerfully connected the audience felt, and The Nth Power did a masterful job in sequencing this thrilling, tear-jerking joyride. Each member of this imaginative ensemble dug so very deep within, to mine the best version of their superhero selves to honor this legacy.  

A nearly half-hour  encore of “The Way of the World” was an unfiltered renaissance; soaring harmonies commanded the entire room, while Glaspie captained the vessel homeward bound. Hugs in abundance, tears shed; couples made out to a Cassarino falsetto. In a stroke of pure genius, Adam Smirnoff was drafted to take the final guitar solo; dripping in sweet science. “Shmeeans” delivered a walk-off, mic-drop, iconic moment for the ages. Soon everyone took a succinct and impactful solo turn, walking offstage after their final note, leaving the core unit of The Nth Power to bask in the adulation. This divine assembly of soul-shepherds took the game to new level, and immersed us all in the healing power of music. Beholdeth an instant classic. Gratitude. 

[Photos by Jeremy Scott/Video by Rex Thomson for L4LM] 

4/29: The Roots “Soul Slaughter” with Human Experience, Hot 8 Brass Band at Orpheum Theater

This past winter, NOLA’s tightly knit music community tragically lost a promising young sax maven in Clarence “Trixzey” Slaughter. He was loved and respected around the city, and renowned outside of it; The Roots announced they would be returning to JazzFest for a late night concert, and they christened it “Soul Slaughter: In Loving Memory of Clarence “Trixzey” Slaughter.” I’m unsure of Clarence’s connection to the Philadelphia hip-hop institution, but it really doesn’t matter: The Roots knew enough about what kind of prodigal talent Trixzey was, and returned to NOLA after a five year absence to celebrate his life. The Philadelphia krewe enlisted local superheroes and Slaughter familia The Hot 8 Brass Band to set the table early, who in turn welcomed the likes of Papa Mali and June Yamagushi to their sets. 

For his second NOLA JazzFest, The Human Experience scored a fortuitous gig, an opening slot for The Roots; he provided three short ‘tweener sets throughout the evening. Block played a anthologized sampling of his idiosyncratic styles, be it the meditative original “11.11.11”, or his sexy, swaggering edit of Buena Vista Social Club’s “Chan Chan.”  The highlight of his mini-sets would be the unannounced reunion of Soul Visions, The Human Experience’s otherworldly collaboration with Rising Appalachia. Leah Song and Chloe Smith, in town for their own engagements, took the stage with Block and delivered a few cuts from their eponymous 2013 EP.  Transcendental tunes  like “SUNU” and “Mississippi” were revisited and revered. Block is adept at making fast friends and collaborators; on his virgin visit he connected with “Freaky” Pete Murano (of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Ave), and they made a song together that night. It came as little surprise to see Murano strap on his axe and join the Soul Visions trio. Later, they were joined by guitarist Eric McFadden, Maurice “Mo-Betta” Brown on trumpet, and members of the Hot 8 Brass Band, for a Shaman-on-the-Bayou uniting of the clans.   

Shortly after one in the morning, it was time for the main event in this celestial room now two-thirds full and fueled to the gills. Roaring out of the gate with WAR’s “Me and Baby Brother”,  frontman Black Thought saluted “Tipitina” repeatedly, letting people know exactly what time it was. This funky classic segued perfectly into Eric B. & Rakim’s timeless “I Know You Got Soul”, as Black Thought would recite one of the illest, and most quintessential verses ever committed to vinyl. Staying true to the game, Riq Gz then led the troupe toward the nation’s capital, flowing into the rambunctious Go-Go riddims of Chuck Brown’s “Bustin Loose.”  

Commandeered by drummer/cultural icon/musical director Ahmir “?uestlove” Thompson, the enormous Roots band would fill the ornate theater with a bulbous thump. Sousaphone madman Tuba Gooding Jr. caroused the stage while Mark Kelley chased with rumbling basslines. Kamal Gray held down the keyboards with the same game-face he’s been wearing for over twenty years. The Roots have drafted Jeremy Ellis on drum machines, samplers and digital pads; infinitely more bounce to the kick-drum ounce. David Guy and Ian Hendrickson-Smith, two horn players previously known for their work with Sharon Jones & The Dap-Kings, have been strategically added to the ensemble, and their bright, brassy leads gave the Philly/Fallon squad even more musical muscle on a triumphantly reworked “Game Theory”.    

In-sync with the Crescent City, unadulterated musicology was on display for the duration of The Roots performance. It was refreshing to hear virtuoso bassist Kelley occasionally cut loose with Chuck Rainey-esque jazz-bo chops, and Kamal bring back Fender Rhodes licks of yore. “Without A Doubt” saw ?uest, percussionist Frank Knuckles, and Ellis uniting for Go-Go-break juggling madness. Ellis set the spot off something major with his 808-drenched solo segment; alternately battling ?uestlove in a baffling drum duel, cutting up vintage J-Dilla samples, dropping the obligatory Prince tune (“Let’s Go Crazy”), and whipping the theater into a frenzy with real-time NOLA-bounce, tapped-out live and on digital steroids.  

NOLA aficionados were treated to a Philadelphonic version of The Meters’ “Hand Clapping Song”, while “You Got Me”, the band’s biggest “hit” to date, was it’s usual chameleon self. The ten-minute epic traversed a dub reggae tomb, an organ-trio lounge, and breakbeat drum n’ bass before sinking into it’s familiar R&B croon.The five-alarm flamethrower that is “Get Busy” might have been the concert’s cyclonic apex; as Thought spit verbal darts with a professor’s wit, I was convinced that this antique theater would not hold us. However, it was an unthinkable touchdown run through seminal territory that sealed the proverbial deal: “Sections > Clones(!) > Proceed > What They Do > Next Movement> Without a Doubt” was a revival in the gospel of Illadelph.   

4/29: Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe at Tipitina’s Uptown

After the Orpheum, in keeping with a fourteen year tradition, I skipped Worship My Organ 2, instead venturing uptown to Tipitina’s for the original kings of the JazzFest late-night, Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe. It was this band, in this city, on this weekend, that made the unbreakable first impression upon me, one fateful maiden voyage in 2000.  

The supreme saxophonist was fresh off of a South American tour with his other band, The Rolling Stones; a jaunt that took him to Havana, Cuba, along with fantastic locales beneath the equator. Going back to last Halloween, Denson has been incorporating Prince’s seminal Dirty Mind album into select KDTU sets, with the help of Con Brio singer Ziek McCarter. Sadly, this former tribute has turned into concert eulogy, as Denson and company were given a chance to honor the mythical artist-forever-known-as-purple with a Howlin’ Wolf engagement the night prior. (This is not unfamiliar territory for Denson, as Beastie Boy Adam MCA Yauch died during JazzFest 2012, and Denson’s previously scheduled Beasties tribute served as a public funeral and celebration.)  

Tip’s Uptown with Karl, every year on second weekend, is unfailingly a rigorous exercise in the gritty and gluttonous, and why would this night be different than any other? Opening with the Blue Note rare groove “Dance Lesson #2”, the Tiny Universe was a lean, focused machine.  As the night wore into wee hours, KDTU tore through a runaway freight train version of Steely Dan’s “Showbiz Kids”, a rowdy run around Bowie’s “Young Americans”, took on Pink Floyd’s vaporous “Fearless”; yet the real ultraviolet gem was an ungodly sexy romp through “When Doves Cry.”  Denson did lead his troupe through one Dirty Mind track, pledging allegiance to tantric sexcapades on “Do It All Night.” 

Late into their elongated single set, the band welcomed former drummer John Staten (Pimps of Joytime) back behind the kit. Staten spent nearly a dozen years bashing the skins for the Tiny Universe, it was a beautiful reunion of sorts, with smiles abound the stage and spilling into the audience. Soon thereafter, fiery guitarist DJ Williams, longtime keyboardist David Veith, trumpet/flugelhorn assassin Chris Littlefield, and Staten powerfully reconnected on a stunning, electric gallop through the erogenous KDTU chestnut “Satisfied.” The Tiny Universe returned for a “Purple Rain” encore, with Staten drumming as Alan Evans shared the lead vocal. Denson blew luscious tenor on the iconic coda, sending us deep into the Tchoupitoulas night, like he’s wont to do ’round this time of year. 

4/30: Break Science Live Band at Blue Nile

Break Science is trendsetter in realms of live electronic music; implementing avant garde approaches to technology while retaining core identity and original sound. The duo comprised of Adam Deitch and keyboardist/sampler/producer Borahm Lee have begun to reinvent themselves as a live band, drafting Lettuce crew Jesus Coomes (bass), Adam “Shmeeans” Smirnoff (guitar) and The Shady Horns to make a formidable dance music dragon.  

It’s clear that familiarity and trust are crucial to the duo’s transition into a full live band. Deitch remains a force behind the kit, propelling the breaks, programming pads, and setting the ultimate tone; while Lee is mad professor, furiously twisting knobs, painting Rhodes colors, and layering the synth waves. Shmeeans and Jesus would lay back, low-down dirty and deep in the cut, serving the songs and keeping it vibey with disciplined restraint.    

On the other hand, saxophonist Ryan Zoidis was levitation station, a dude not of this earth. The Shady Horns veteran hellraiser married imaginative melodies with sinister, psychedelic tones; all done through his Korg analog guitar-synth triggered by a custom-equipped mouthpiece. Eric Benny Bloom is well versed in live-band electro-soul from his tours of duty in Pretty Lights Analog Future Band, and his stimulating, muffled wah wailing remained a perfect Zoidis foil in yet another compelling context.  

The undeniable Tycho/Kendrick Lamar mashup “Vibe Walk” was a moving expedition, paired with familial collaborations with Michal Menert (“Goin Down”). Two tracks from the recent Manic Science project were reinterpreted: the Nice & Smooth-sampled “Funky Style,” and the haunting PL remix “I Can See it in Your Face.” In mixing older Break Science originals like “Zion Station”, re-working NOLA classics (The Meters “Hand-Clapping Song), and powering through AOR radio staples (Yes’s “Owner of a Lonely Heart”), the omnifarious Break Science personalities were revealed. A smattering of new songs were interspersed within the set, only adding to the promising potential of this larger unit. Break Science Live Band surpassed many expectations, and chaperoned an enchanting journey down the wormhole of organic electronic music in 2016.

 
4/30: Killa 4 Dilla II at The Maison 

After the rousing success of their first endeavor, a late-night, post-BUKU throwdown, FIYAwerx Productions revealed a Jazz Fest after dark redux, and the Killa 4 Dilla II was born just days before the show. The FIYA Dept had this one tucked up their sleeve for a few weeks, but once they announced the second edition of their J Dilla tribute, the excitement around the city was palpable. Boasting a roster of jazz-funk heavyweights with a healthy appreciation for hip-hop history, the band came together in short order to summon a ghost of The Ummah. Lacing us with two hours of classic Jay Dee, this was Welcome to Detroit, the Frenchman Street edition.  

The ensemble included the likes of Nate Edgar (bass), Borahm Lee (keys and samples), Nicky Cake Cassarino (guitar), Ian Neville (guitar), Farnell Newton (trumpet), Khris Royal (sax and effects), Alvin Ford Jr (drums), Adam Deitch (drums) and emcees Nikki Glaspie and M@ Peoples. The outfit ambled on stage just after two in the morning, and deftly delivered a cadre of bangers that had us “Body Movin'” and crush-groovin’ late into the night. A student of the James Yancey pantheon, Borahm Lee was a revelation; a true-school beat conductor for this focused free-for-all, playing choice Rhodes betwixt a bevy of samples and looping gymnastics. Soulquarian essential oils were in the air on Common’s “The Light”, and the energy turned Nthfectious;  Cassarino’s slinky Spanky Chalmers licks, Edgar’s Pino Palladino was perfection, and Glaspie’s mojo was workin’ through Rashid’s effervescent verses, the dreaded femcee gripping the mic like it was mama’s gun. Another period piece, Slum Village’s “Jealousy” was handled with verbal authority by M@ Peoples. This talented local emcee shined on a vast array of Dilla-gence throughout. Newton and Royal passed the champion sound forth and back, and Ford was steady-clicking a metronome of Dillafication, the off-beat/on-beat, blunted breaks mined from a Conant Gardens bassment.   

Miraculously, the man, myth, legend, the all-galaxy cat himself, Louis Cato appeared out of thin air and relieved Ford on the drum kit; a segment of virtue and virtuoso, this was beyond Filthy Mcnasty. Naturally, it being a FIYA Dept hip hop show in NOLA, the boy wonder Adam Deitch emerged to nail the illest Iverson crossovers. Lettuce’s hip-hop heartbeat got luscious on a lucid dreaming “Lightworks,” an MPC piece of masterpiece theater found on Yancey’s final finished document, Donuts. The Killa chorale continued to bless the Maison massive by honoring the legacy of hip-hop’s greatest producer; emotional readings of several undying soundtracks to our lives included “Runnin'” (The Pharcyde) and the SV/Common slab of heat rocks “Thelonious.” Most treasured was an sojourn through this writer’s amaranthine anthem: De La Soul’s 1996 word-to-the-wise “Stakes is High” James Casey and the Mayor of *my* New Orleans  Derrick “Smoker” Freeman assumed the role of Plug-One and Plug-Two; this duo led the crew through golden-age, rap-superhero theme music.In a word: FIYA.  A new generation of Native Tongues had been reinstated. Vibes? Vibrations. Jay. Love. JazzFest. 

[Videos by FunkItBlog]

5/1: Rising Appalachia at The Parish – House of Blues

Sisters Chloe Smith and Leah Song are no strangers to activism, an anarchist streak is woven into the afghan of their siren serenity, artistic and cultural identity. Their progressive passions called them to connect with the Permaculture Action Network, resulting in an action day at CRISP Farms in the Upper 9th Ward. More than 75 dedicated light warriors arrived at the site Saturday afternoon to assist in cob building, food planting, and to sew seeds of awareness into local community. Those still lingering at the farm before the downpour would enjoy an assortment of percussion rhythms courtesy of Biko Casini, Arouna Diarra, and Luke Quaranta. This type of community cooperation and mobilization through music is at the core of what Rising Appalachia seeks to achieve.  

Hailing from the metropolitan epicenter of Atlanta, setting down roots in the fertile soil of Asheville, and having lived and busked in New Orleans proper for seven years, Rising Appalachia are by now card carrying southern musical troubadours. Ignoring the boundaries of genre and championing a fearless independent streak, they are representing the mountain culture, the urban culture, and the swamps. Rising Appalachia’s ingenious Sunday evening service at The Parish- House of Blues took us to an intersection at the bosom of the Southern Appalachian music renaissance, and the Crescent City’s bountiful booty. 

The sisters employed an melange of fiddles, banjos, and acoustic guitars on hymns that channeled Deep South, Bulgarian, Congolese, and Cuban influences. Alongside Casini’s meditative, handmade beats, Leah and Chloe were backed up by the prodigious talents of multi-instrumentalist David Brown.  Chloe Smith took a brave turn on upright bass, acknowledging that this was among the first few times she had played the instrument in concert. She nailed the bluesy tune, to the delight of the sold-out Parish. Her sister Leah trotted out some impassioned, fierce rhymes, replete with an emcee’s confidence and playful braggadocio, she proved unafraid to invoke a poignant Macklemore verse into their mystic stew. The ladies led the foursome to break out a lush, torrid re-imagination of Aaliyah’s late-90’s R&B paean “Are You That Somebody” that knocked over with a feather anyone listening to urban radio around the turn of the millennium.   

“Wider Circles,” title track to their most recent studio effort, was performed as a unifying, rallying cry; a song to inspire communities to join hands. A hypnotic reggae riddim and harrowing chants colored the triumphant “Medicine,” the thumping pulse had people transfixed and swaying in unison. “Fall on My Knees for You” saw Chloe on fiddle and Leah on banjo, the sisters uniting in towering vocal harmony on this lover’s lament. A rollicking rhythm, powered by Biko Casini’s authoratative drumming, informed “St. James Infirmary” the sisters’ stirring vocal approach putting a bold, zealous spin on the Bayou classic   
  
In the appropriate JazzFest fashion, Rising Appalachia chose to share their stage and spotlight with a few stupendous guests. For some Cajun music on the mountainside, the band welcomed local legend Washboard Chaz for a hoedown “Cumberland Gap”; later regional treasure Aurora Nealand came up for a spirited clarinet sit-in. Longtime Rising Appalachia tour mate, and beloved Burkina Faso dignitary Arouna Diarra joined in with riveting kora action, stoking the Biko blaze and sending the packed and sweaty house into a whirling dervish of delirium. A homecoming, a family reunion, a new chapter, and coming of age, Rising Appalachia were welcomed back to the Bywater, the Bayou and beyond, the salutation came in a familiar Crescent City swoon. 

[Photo by Rising Appalachia]

— 

Thank you Universe for providing me the opportunity to immerse myself in the glory that is NOLA JazzFest, and to L4LM for the canvas on which I may share these impassioned experiences. Infinite thanks and praises to all of the musicians, funkateers, and the denizens of the City of New Orleans!  I’ll be back… Promise! 

Le Bon Temps Roule-
B.Getz- May 2016