Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part III: Lady Soul bailed out by three of the four elements

Part three in our five-part series, where a gaggle of Hall of Famers step in to replace another Hall of Famer.

Most of my comrades decided to take this day off, since Friday seemed to present perhaps the least best overall lineup of the weekend. But they missed out on some great stuff. It was an overcast day that threatened rain, but the weather gods were most kind as the precipitation held off until just after the festival ended on Sunday.

Astral Project, WWOZ Jazz Tent
Jazzfest brings in lots of great rock bands to up the fun factor and sell more tickets, but I was definitely of a mindset to catch some jazzy jazz too. The Astral Project’s 1:30 pm set delivered in a big way. In contrast to the main stages, the jazz and blues tents feature rows and rows of seating. It can still be hard to find seats though, and the tent was pretty packed for this performance. But there’s an usher who works to help stragglers find seats, and it was nice to get one after the late night out. Local daily paper The Times-Picayune has called the Astral Project the city’s “premier modern jazz ensemble,” and there were few who would disagree after this great set. Drummer John Vidacovich, saxman Tony Dagradi, guitarist Steve Masakowski and bassist James Singleton form a dynamic quartet. The songs were mostly up-tempo with lots of changes, hot solos and just plain great playing that received numerous rounds of applause from the appreciative audience.

Kermit Ruffins & the Barbecue Swingers, Congo Square Stage
Trumpet ace Kermit Ruffins came up with the Rebirth Brass Band (which he co-founded) and now fronts his own unit. Ruffins and his current band mix the jazzy jazz with elements of funk, pop and hip-hop for a genre-bending unit that has become a New Orleans classic. Some might also recognize Ruffins from a recurring role on HBO’s new show “Treme,” which takes place in New Orleans. A groovy take on “I Can See Clearly Now” was a hit with the crowd in the mid-afternoon time slot. The sky was gray, but with no rain it felt indeed like a “bright, sunshiny day.” The smooth horn lines sounded great over the upbeat groove, while Ruffins’ vocals conjured a nostalgic big band era. Ruffins then stepped up and delivered one of the best trumpet solos of the weekend, exploring the melody with full jazzy flair.

Forgotten Souls Brass Band, Jazz and Heritage Stage
This small stage near the main entrance of the fairgrounds featured a series of great brass bands throughout the weekend. Almost any time you walked by, there was a brass brand making sure things stayed jazzy and funky. The Forgotten Souls had a big lineup and a classic sound that drew in most who walked by.


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Lettin’ it ride in the Big Easy: Jazzfest 2010 recap, Part II: Bringing the ‘phunk

The second of our five-part series, Greg Schwartz spends five days in New Orleans, absorbing more music than one thought humanly possible, grinning ear to ear the entire time.

Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk, Acura Stage
Music started at the fairgrounds in the 11 am hour, but I felt like I was doing well to make it there by 1:30 pm for the main stage set by Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk. I’d caught Dumpstaphunk opening for Phil Lesh & Friends at their January 2008 Mardis Gras show in San Francisco, so I knew this was a band not to miss. Ivan is of course one of the legendary Neville Brothers, so the band’s sound is rooted in that classic New Orleans funk style pioneered by the Meters (which featured Art Neville, and later also Cyril Neville.) It was a picture-perfect beautiful, breezy sunny afternoon and hearing these funky sounds kicked things off in high style. Bassist Tony Hall, who some might recognize from his time served with the Trey Anastasio Band, was a star of the show. He laid down a bright punchy low end that made every tune bounce, and also sang with soulful flair on songs like Sly and the Family Stone’s “You Can Make it if You Try.”

Amanda Shaw & the Cute Guys, Gentilly Stage
The Gentilly Stage is the second biggest stage and the furthest walk from the main stage, but it still only takes five to ten minutes to get over there (as opposed to some festivals where certain stages can be much farther apart.) Local lass Amanda Shaw drew a large crowd to hear her high-energy, rootsy country rock sound as she led the band on fiddle. A spunky cover of the Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” got things rocking as the charismatic Shaw sang with punk energy, but then injected Cajun-rooted fiddle runs for a unique take on the punk classic. Shaw’s instrumental talent shined brightest on an instrumental tune that closed the set with a bluesier flavor. The 19-year-old New Orleans native soloed brilliantly, while also moving and grooving with a dynamic stage presence making her one to watch moving forward.

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Gov’t Mule, Acura Stage
Warren Haynes and his blues rock quartet took the main stage at 2:50 pm and rocked out for the next hour. “Broke Down on the Brazos” from the band’s latest album By a Thread was an early highlight, with Haynes riffing out on the high-octane jam. “Beautifully Broken” slowed things down a bit, but sounded great on such a sunny afternoon. An instrumental jam went in a decidely Allman-ish direction, and even featured a “Blue Skies” tease that unfortunately did not fully materialize (the Allman Brothers Band had however played the festival on the previous weekend.) Haynes then sang a little bit of the Rolling Stones’ “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” before returning to the jam. Mule standard “Thorazine Shuffle” cranked the blues rock back up to peak level, with Haynes throwing in a “Get Up Stand Up” tease on his guitar. The man is a classic rock encyclopedia, which makes every Mule set an adventure since you never know what tune might pop up.

Govt_Mule_01


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Jazzfest 2010: April 29 recap


Photo from fOTOGLIF

The second weekend of Jazzfest saw fans enjoy a beautiful sunny day of music, although potential thunderstorms loom. Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk rocked the main stage in the 1:20 pm slot, with bassist Tony Hall leading the way via his super funk playing. “You Can Make It” was a great funky anthem to get attendees going who were still waking up from the previous late night out.

Amanda Shaw and the Cute Guys (pictured above) drew a big crowd to the Gentilly Stage, where Shaw’s bluegrassy rock entertained. A cover of The Clash’s “Should I Stay or Should I Go” mixed punk energy with bluegrassy fiddle breaks from Shaw with great results.

Gov’t Mule threw down an hour-long set back on the main stage, with guitarist Warren Haynes tearing it up as usual (after he’d been out late jamming with Eric Krasno at Maison the previous night.) Teases of classics like “Blue Skies” and “Get Up Stand Up” fit nicely with Mule’s bluesy hard rock on the sunny day.

New Orleans‘ own Soul Rebels entertained with jazzy flair on the Congo Square Stage, while Steve Martin and his Steep Canyon Rangers drew a huge crowd to the Gentilly Stage for their 3:35 pm set. One fan said it was the largest crowd he’d ever seen at that stage. Martin is a great banjo player and his crossover appeal made this set a huge draw.

Widespread Panic closed out the main stage with a massive two-and-a-half hour set that featured an extended sit-in by four-piece horn section, the Megablasters. The extra horns added a great touch to “Up All Night,” a laid-back rocker that is easily the anthem of the festival (since most fans are out on the town all night it seems.) A rip-rocking “Tallboy” followed for Spreadhead heaven. Many choices abounded. Other bands playing at the same time as Panic included Elvis Costello and the Sugarcanes, the Average White Band, Blues Traveler and more.

The Derek Trucks and Susan Tedeschi Band threw down an incendiary evening show at the House of Blues, featuring mainly great new material and a couple choice covers like Clapton’s “Coming Home” and The Beatles’ “I Got a Feeling.” They’ve got bassist Oteil Burbridge in the band now, along with his brother Kofi on keys, plus two drummers and two backing singers to formwhat is easily one of the best rock ‘n’ roll bands on the planet today. Trucks & Tedeschi close out the Gentilly Stage today for what should be another highlight performance.

  

Bullz-Eye’s Favorite Albums of 2008: Staff Writer Greg Schwartz’s picks

2008 has been a fantastic year for rock & roll to this reporter’s view. Last year, I felt like I was struggling to come up with enough albums just to fill a top 10. It’s been a far different story this year as sifting the top 10 from the many worthy honorable mentions has been a tough process that has required rigorous listening and re-appraisal. When new albums by longtime personal faves like the Black Crowes and King’s X can’t quite crack my top 10, I can only pay homage to the music gods for such a plentiful bounty.

Top 10 Albums of 2008

1. Jefferson Starship: Jefferson’s Tree of Liberty
One of the greatest rock heroes of the ‘60s comes back with superb new relevancy as Paul Kantner hits the jackpot again with Cathy Richardson, the band’s dynamic new vocalist. The soaring harmonies between Richardson, Kantner and David Freiberg are simply majestic, adding a revelatory new flavor to songs that are mostly covers of ‘60s tunes that inspired the Airplane back in the day. But the new “On the Threshold of Fire” might be the song of the year – no other gave me chills like it did.

2. Susan Tedeschi: Back to the River
The blues diva delivers her best album yet, packed with soulful rockers, guest stars and oh so compelling vocals that assure the blues are in good hands with the current generation. “People” is one of the top tracks of the year and should have been Obama’s victory song in Grant Park. It’s among several tracks that offer a taste of the musical magic that occurs when Tedeschi and hubby Derek Trucks (slide guitar) join forces. Look for a Soul Stew Revival album featuring that combo to top this list in 2009 or 2010.

3. Michael Franti & Spearhead: All Rebel Rockers
Franti and his rock/reggae/hip-hop/funk/soul crew help keep the Bay Area at the cutting edge of the music revolution with their best album since 2001’s album of the year, Stay Human. There’s no one else mixing it all up like Franti, and no one else lyricizes the zeitgeist of the times like he does. Guest vocalist Cherine Anderson sounds like a star in waiting.

4. Guns n’ Roses: Chinese Democracy
It’s overproduced, should probably be labeled an Axl Rose solo joint, and should have been released at least six years ago. But all that aside, Rose has finally delivered the unique type of kick ass rock n’ roll that only he can (although the lyrics aren’t nearly as accessible as they used to be.) He’ll probably never live down the backlash over the album’s tardiness, but tunes like “Better,” “There was a Time,” “Catcher in the Rye” and “I.R.S.” are epic rockers that conjure that classic Gn’R sound. Now if only Axl would pick up the phone, apologize to Slash & Duff for being so difficult, and get the band back together. They’d sell out every arena in America.

5. Blue Turtle Seduction: 13 Floors
I’d never heard of these Lake Tahoe jam rockers until they saved last New Year’s Eve in San Francisco with their stellar “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the 12 Galaxies” show to usher in 2008 in festive style. Then they issued this superb album packed with tight playing and a bunch of tunes that sound like instant classics. Is it rock? Bluegrass? Funk? Punk? All of the above and more.

6. Sound Tribe Sector 9: Peaceblaster
These electronica-oriented, yet still organic jam rockers make their bones with their incendiary live shows, but this release captures that energy and delivers it in an album form that can get ya bumping in your car or grooving around the living room. The production value is dazzling, as the electronic layering is expertly mixed with top-shelf percussion and superbly tasteful guitar on songs that still inspire deep thoughts even though they’re instrumental. The band also put up a great informational companion site, www.peaceblaster.com

7. Alanis Morissette: Flavors of Entanglement
Alanis joined up with British electronica producer Guy Sigsworth to create a dynamic album that’s her most compelling work since her 1995 breakthrough. Tunes like “Citizen of the Planet,” “Straightjacket” and “Giggling Again for No Reason” ripple with unique sonic energy, while the rock goddess delivers an array of dazzling vocals demonstrating she’s still one of the best in the biz.

8. Ryan Adams & the Cardinals: Cardinology
This album could have ranked higher but the songs are too short (it clocks in at a mere 40 minutes) and it could really use a couple more rockers. Still, Adams’ uniquely cathartic vocals are superb, the pedal steel guitar from Jon Graboff is majestic and it’s another solid collection of tunes. But it’s starting to look like Adams is falling victim to jam band recording disease – plays amazing live shows, can’t quite capture the same fire in the studio. Still waiting for another album to approach 2005’s best of the year Cold Roses.

9. The Watson Twins: Fire Songs
These Los Angeles-by-way-of Louisville gals break through in a major way with this compelling platter of alt-country magic. The identical twins’ otherworldly mix of country, soul, gospel and rock is mesmerizing – their voices are akin to the sirens they sing of on the ethereal last track, “Waves.” The girls can sort of rock ya too, on tunes like “Bar Woman Blues” and “How Am I to Be.” This is the first album since I can’t remember when that I was inspired to rush out and buy after witnessing a performance by a band I wasn’t so familiar with, following their revelatory Saturday night set opening for Railroad Earth at the Fillmore in September.

10. Anti-Flag: The Bright Lights of America
These political Pittsburgh punks polished up their sound a bit here to deliver an album of arena-ready rock that sounds big but still rails with punk angst and energy. The lyrics are a spot-on indictment of Uncle Sam’s paradigm of Titanic turmoil, and what could be more punk than that? Rolling Stone should be utterly ashamed to have given Bright Lights only two stars. Green Day’s American Idiot is the only punk album of the decade that tops it.

Honorable mentions (in no particular order)

King’s X: XV
Ty Tabor: Balance
The Black Crowes: Warpaint
Donna the Buffalo: Silverlined
Indigenous: Broken Lands
Widespread Panic: Free Somehow
My Morning Jacket: Evil Urges
Jenny Lewis: Acid Tongue
Tea Leaf Green: Raise the Tent
Joan Osborne: Little Wild One
Railroad Earth: Amen Corner
Mike Gordon: The Green Sparrow
Lotus: Hammerstrike
Los Lonely Boys: Forgiven
Aimee Mann: @#%&*! Smilers
The Black Keys: Attack and Release
Taj Mahal: Maestro
Buddy Guy: Skin Deep

Strong albums by unsigned regional bands

Cleveland – Mifune: Time Is Watching Us
Husband and wife team Jacob (guitar) and Chris (vocals) Fader dial up a dazzling sound on their second album that blends the rhythms and horns of an afro-beat instrumentation with a groovy psychededelic jam vibe. The politically edgy lyrics continue a band tradition of looking for trouble with authority, and modern rock can always use more of that.

Dallas – The Bright: In Lucid Dreams
Formerly known as Superstring, the Bright’s mix of alt-rock edge with power pop grandeur and charismatic vocalist Julie Lange is a winning formula. The production value here is superb. They’ve licensed songs to MTV, but the major labels still haven’t called for some reason. The band’s cover of “Kashmir” is epic.

Oakland – The Passive Aggressives: Conflict Resolution
Take an alt-rock power trio with a heavy Les Claypool influence, add in a vocalist who’s like a cross between Alanis and Amy Lee, and you’ve got a powerhouse sound. Former Israeli Defense Forces member Keren Gaiser is a breakout star on the verge now that she’s shed her Celine Dion-style past and found her inner rock goddess.

Breakthrough artist of 2008

Cathy Richardson of Jefferson Starship – She not only sounds amazing on the album, she delivers stunning power and mesmerizing rock ‘n’ roll mojo onstage, from Airplane classics to the new mashup “Imagine Redemption.” She’s got the skills to land next to Grace Slick in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame some day.

Live performance awards

Multiple-night performance of the year

Phil Lesh & Friends @ the Warfield Theater, San Francisco CA
May 13-14, 16-18
This monumental run of five shows in six nights to close down the Bill Graham Presents era at the venerable Warfield was simply stunning, in so many ways. Start off with the fact that the 68-year-old bassist is not only still truckin’, but is at the height of his powers. The first three shows offered the Grateful Dead’s first six albums played in their entirety, but of course way more jammed out, which was tremendous. The sets featuring the GD’s eponymous debut album on night one and American Beauty on night three were among the best sets that Lesh has played since Jerry left us.

Night four featured two live albums in their entirety and then the finale was a three-set, six-and-a-half hour marathon akin to New Year’s Eve in May, complete with “Sugar Magnolia” balloon drop to kick off the last set. Lesh topped that off by offering up a free soundboard of the electrifying 5/13 show, a magnanimous gesture he is generally known to grant at least once per tour. How many other artists can say the same?

Unprecedented collaboratory jam of the year

New Monsoon + EOTO @ The Fillmore – San Francisco, CA – February 9
EOTO, the new electronica project from String Cheese Incident percussionists Michael Travis and Jason Hann, warmed up the night – with guest help from SCI mandolinist Michael Kang – for a set that blew the roof off. New Monsoon’s second set opener then built one by one until all members of both bands were onstage for an epic jam that summoned all of the Fillmore’s legendary psychedelic power.

  

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