(Text by David Kunian, with photos by Erika Goldring.)
The audience had already absorbed a lot of music by the time they arrived at the Fais Do-Do Stage in New Orleans, where the wild guitar clusters of the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars were getting people spinning like tops. The occasion: the final day of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, which this year ran from April 28–May 7. It was hardly the only highlight. From the high-energy Cuban melodies coming from the Cultural Exchange Pavilion to the trad-jazz sounds of the Paulin Brothers, music lovers of all types got their ears turned out.
Percussionist Pedrito Martinez
Cuba was a big highlight. The Festival featured over 150 Cuban musicians in one of the largest gatherings of Cuban culture in the U.S. since the 1950s. Festival goers could watch cigars being rolled and murals being painted while listening to the traditional son styles of Septeto Nacional Ignacio Piñeiro, Chucho Valdés, Pedrito Martinez and the soaring vocals of Daymé Arocena. Great singing was the rule rather than the exception, as rockers Elle King and Britney Howard of the Alabama Shakes moved from falsettos to growly rasps on the big stage at one end of the New Orleans Fairgrounds.
Jamison Ross, known more for his jazz drumming, sang a terrific take on Etta Jones’ “Don’t Go To Strangers” that demonstrated his versatility. In traveling from stage to stage around the Festival, the idea of genre fell away. Nicholas Payton held true to his Afro-Caribbean Mixtape concept that combines jazz, soul, subtle hip-hop, spoken word and rhythm and blues in the WWOZ Jazztent with a chill yet passionate set of forward-looking grooves.
On the same stage, several days earlier, drummer Stanton Moore’s trio of warriors—known best for modern jazz—ended their set with Neville Brother Cyril Neville singing the Lee Dorsey/Allen Toussaint funk anthem “Night People.” It made me recall a quote by Duke Ellington (who premiered his New Orleans Suite during the first New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival in 1970), in which he states, “There’s only two kinds of music: good music and that other kind.”
Drummer Stanton Moore
New Orleans musicians are more than adept at combining virtuoso chops with an entertaining presentation. Astral Project, now going on 39 years, can incorporate knotty and complex lines into their playing, but their music still comes with feeling and soul. Ashlin Parker’s Trumpet Mafia, with its 20-plus trumpet players, has a similar quality, as did Jesse McBride’s Next Generation Big Band, which played selections of New Orleans modern jazz by local composers.
Steve Masakowski (left), James Singleton, Tony Dagradi and John Vidacovich of Astral Project
Members of Ashlin Parker’s Trumpet Mafia
Members of the Jesse McBride Big Band saxophone section
As the Festival came to a climax May 7, Trombone Shorty blasted his trombone fueled rock ’n’ roll on one end while the Meters celebrated 50 years with their classics “People Say” and “Fiyo On The Bayou.” Midway between that in longevity, physical distance and temperament, the New Orleans Klezmer All Stars’ also brought listeners their singular brand of musical ecstasy to finish off a great 10 days of music. DB