I had a very busy, but fun and fulfilling first weekend of Jazz Fest. It really started on Thursday night with The Thing at the Big Top. This band really must be heard. The music is hard to describe (isn’t most good music hard to describe verbally?), but as I told a friend who missed the show, it is like speed metal free jazz with good taste. There is definitely a noise element there, but there were also beautiful melodies and precise ensemble playing. It was a great way to start the weekend of music.
Later Thursday night, I played with George Porter Jr and the Runnin Pardners at Southport Hall. We did a bunch of stuff from the new CD, and it was lots of fun. George said he feels like this is his best CD yet, and I am proud to have been a small part of it.
I was at the Fairgrounds most of the day Friday. First thing I heard was a little bit of the Xavier University Jazz Band. I teach trombone at Xavier, and it was nice to hear the band sounding so good. Next stop was the Jazz Tent for the Rob Wagner Trio. The sound was very good, due in part to Rob (or maybe Ben) being smart enough to bring their own sound guy (Mark Bingham in this case). The poor fest engineers have a lot asked of them and most of them do a good job, but nothing beats having an engineer that is good AND really knows you and your music. Rob’s set was very good. I dig his melodic sense in that setting.
From there I headed over to the Accura Stage to perform with George Porter. It is quite a view from the stage to look up and not be able to see the end of the people. I had a blast playing with George (I always do). We had the “every member of the pool” horn section on the gig with Tracy Griffin, Alonzo Bowens, Brian Graber, Mark Mullins and me. I spent many a night in college listening to this band with those guys playing in the horn section, so it is a real honor, and a little bit of a trip, to now be a part of that band.
The rest of Friday included hearing parts of sets from Dr. John (which was fabulous), Astral Project, the James Carter Organ Trio, and Bonerama. It was all good. Friday night I played with Luther Kent and Trickbag and got some hard blowing blues added to the weekend’s musical mix.
I didn’t get to the fest on Saturday, but had a great day on Sunday. It started with hearing an ensemble from Julliard that featured trombonist Marshall Gilkes and New Orleans natives Jonathan Batiste and Victor Goines. I only caught a couple of tunes, but it was very happening. Next I played with Vivaz. We had a fun set, and the crowd seemed to dig it. I then hurried over to the Jazz tent to catch as much of Kidd Jordan as I could. He had Alvin Fielder, Joel Futterman, Clyde Kerr, Kent Jordan, and Maynard Chatter, Jr. on the set. It was good, but it is sometimes hard to come in on the middle of a free jazz set and get the flow of what has been happening. The big festival setting also lacks the intimacy that can make that type of listening so rewarding. But, even with the difficulties, it is always good to hear Kidd.
I was on my way to hear the New Orleans Social Club, when I was sidetracked by running into Lolet Boutte. Lolet is the mother of Tricia “Sista Teedy” Boutte, and used to manage Teedy’s reggae band Cool Riddims, which I played in in the late 90’s. Lolet has been displaced to Houston, and it was a real joy to run into her and get to visit for a while. She told me that Teedy was getting ready to go on stage with Bob French at the Economy Hall tent, so of course I had to go see her as well. The Boutte’s had been on my mind lately, so it was a real blessing to see them.
I did finally catch some of the New Orleans Social Club, as well as a bit of The Revealers, Dr. Lonnie Smith (who had a fabulous sounding Peter Bernstein in his band), and the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra.
The find of the day however was Banda el Recodo. I saw their three huge tour busses emblazoned with their logos when they arrived earlier in the day. Fortunately Ben Lyons prodded me to go check them out. Imagine if you put Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass, the Jackson 5, and the Rebirth Brass Band in a blender. Add a touch of Ricky Martin and the LSU Tiger Marching band. That would get close to the vibe of these guys. The first thing you notice are the matching intricately decorated blazers and the slick choreography. Then you realize that there are 4 clarinets. It isn’t until later that I noticed that what I though was a stringed instrument of some sort playing the upbeats was actually two alto horns. These guys were so tight I couldn’t hear that it was two people, I had to see that it was too people. The sousaphonist was astounding. It was quite a show.
The highlight of the weekend however was playing with Bonnie Raitt to close out the Gentilly Stage on Sunday evening. A horn section made up of Tracy Griffin, Alonzo Bowens, Reggie Murray and me joined Bonnie and her band for a medley of New Orleans classics to close her set. Ivan Neville was also sitting in at that point, and when Irma Thomas walked out during “I Know”, the crowd went nuts. Bonnie’s band is great. It is always inspiring to hear the tops of the professional music world, and these guys are the tops. They are clean and precise and deeply soulful all at the same time. What a treat.
And what a great weekend. Of course, when your weekend ends with a kiss on the cheek from Bonnie Raitt, that’s usually a sign of a good weekend.