Jazz Fest: Snarky Puppy, Stevie Wonder, Wayne Shorter & Herbie Hancock, Terence Blanchard, Neil Young, Paul Simon, Steely Dan, Joe Lovano, more

Yes, as expected, another juggernaut of musical talent is slated for this year’s New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

I’ve attended this mammoth and amazing musical gathering umpteen times (although, oddly, not since 2010), and I still get excited by the quality, variety, and sheer quantity of the music presented at Jazz Fest.

Yes, I could do without some of the overtly commercial pop/rock (Nick Jonas? Seriously?) and rap headliners, but there’s enough jazz, blues, funk, R&B, brass band, zydeco, gospel, folk, world beat, and generally rootsy music to whet the appetite of any music lover.

Great to see the mighty, mighty Snarky Puppy on the bill again, along with some big-name acts I’ve caught at previous editions of Jazz Fest, including Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Elvis Costello, and Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings.

And some great bands and artists I’ve seen elsewhere (some of whom also have played at Jazz Fest) including the Tedeschi Trucks Band, Los Lobos, Neil Young, the Red Hot Chili Peppers, Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy, and loads of New Orleans favorites, from Dr. John to the Iguanas.

Then there are several world-class jazz heavy hitters, including the Herbie Hancock-Wayne Shorter Duo (wow!); Jack DeJohnette with Ravi Coltrane and Matt Garrison; Gregory Porter; Arturo Sandoval; Joe Lovano Us 5; and Heads of State Featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Al Foster, and George Mraz

jazz fest 2016

(This year’s Jazz Fest poster features the Marsalis family in what looks like a double-decker shotgun home)

And, of course, several top-shelf jazzers living in NOLA or with NOLA roots: Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective, Irvin Mayfield and the NOJO, Nicholas Payton, Astral Project, Jason Marsalis, Ellis Marsalis, and Donald Harrison, among others.

Who would I be keen to see at Jazz Fest, if I were able to get there this year? Well, here’s the rundown, my top picks, day by day. Modern or traditional jazz or jazz-rooted acts (except brass bands) are in bold.

Friday, April 22: Steely Dan, Gov’t Mule, The Subdudes, Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings, Buckwheat Zydeco, Donald Harrison Jr., Geri Allen, Christian Scott, Jason Marsalis, The Music of Stevie Wonder featuring Brian Blade.

Saturday, April 23: Van Morrison, Pearl Jam, Boz Skaggs, Galactic, Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Anders Osborne, John Hammond, DeJohnette-Coltrane-Garrison, Leo Nocentelli (of the Meters), Tribute to Jelly Roll Morton featuring Henry Butler, Butch Thompson, and Dr. Michael White, Tab Benoit, Joe Krown Trio featuring Walter Wolfman Washington and Russell Batiste, Jr.

Sunday, April 24: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo, Voice of the Wetlands All Stars, Taj Mahal & the Trio, Henry Butler & Jambalaya, Terence Blanchard featuring the E-Collective, BeauSoleil, Little Freddie King Blues Band, Herlin Riley Quintet, The Iguanas,

Thursday, April 28: Tedeschi Trucks Band & Friends, Elvis Costello & the Imposters, Snarky Puppy, Gary Clark, Jr., Cyril Neville & Swamp Funk, Corey Harris Band, George Porter Jr. & Runnin’ Pardners, Savoy Family Cajun Band, Marlon Jordan Plays the Music of Miles, Trane, and Bird, Spencer Bohren & the Whippersnappers, Tuba Skinny, Bill Summers & Jazalsa

Friday, April 29: Paul Simon, My Morning Jacket, Irma Thomas, Elvin Bishop, Los Lobos, Bonerama, Dirty Dozen Brass Band, John Boutte, John Mooney & Bluesiana, Terrance Simien, Irvin Mayfield & the New Orleans Jazz Orchestra, Joe Lovano Us Five, Nicholas Payton & Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, Astral Project, C.J. Chenier, Raw Oyster Cult, and Tom McDermott & Friends.

Saturday, April 30: Stevie Wonder, Buddy Guy, Dr. John, Jon Batiste and Stay Human, Gregory Porter, Rebirth Brass Band, Arturo Sandoval, Kermit Ruffins’ Tribute to Louis Armstrong, Jon Cleary and the Absolute Monster Gentlemen, Roy Rogers & the Delta Rhythm Kings, Cyril Neville’s Royal Southern Brotherhood, New Orleans Klezmer Allstars, Paul Sanchez & the Rolling Road Show, and the James Rivers Movement.

Sunday, May 1: Neil Young, Bonnie Raitt, Mavis Staples, Aaron Neville, Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk with Art Neville, Punch Brothers, B.B. King Blues Band, Allen Toussaint Band, Ellis Marsalis, Davell Crawford, The Gospel Soul of Irma Thomas, Walter Wolfman Washington, Marcia Ball, Heads of State Featuring Gary Bartz, Larry Willis, Al Foster, and George Mraz, Rockin’ Dopsie & the Zydeco Twisters, The Mashup featuring Ike Stubblefield, Terence Higgins and Grant Green, Jr., Trumpet Mafia

I should add that, as usual, some of the most amazing shows during Jazz Fest week are held in the evenings, at various clubs and concert halls around New Orleans. Offbeat is the best place to go for all the music listings.

And Swagland, operated by a guy who has attended Jazz Fest for two decades consecutively, remains the essential online guide to “doing” the festival, with loads of practical tips on lodging, logistics, food, and general tips about NOLA.

Headed to Jazz Fest? Here are a few more resources:

Gambit, a major weekly, annually puts out a detailed guide to Jazz Fest acts.

My Spilt Milk is Alex Rawls‘ informative and opinionated blog/site on all things NOLA music (and culture). “Jazz Fest is Re-Reeling in the Years” is the headline on his piece announcing this year’s lineup.

The Times-Picayune, a once thriving daily now largely gutted, is worth checking out, although that paper’s music writers, Keith Spera and Alison Fensterstock, have taken their talents and a deep knowledge of NOLA music, to The New Orleans Advocate, so expect better informed fest coverage there.

And Louisiana Music Factory, an indie record store, remains THE place to go to pick up audio souvenirs of your trip. It’s  jam packed with recordings by New Orleans and Louisiana artists (as well as other musicians, of course). And the in-store performances during Jazz Fest week are great.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Aaron Neville, “My True Story” (CD review)


my true storyAaron Neville, “My True Story” (Blue Note)

Fans of the Neville Brothers, whose combination of sweet soul singing, deep R&B grooves, jazzy touches and Caribbean influences practically define the sound of New Orleans, doubtless have been feeling a bit blue lately.

Why? Angelic-voiced front man Aaron Neville has opted to officially exit the group and focus on his solo career. He, rather than the Neville Brothers, will play the closing set at this year’s Jazz and Heritage Festival, while siblings Art, Charles and Cyril, rechristened “The Nevilles,” will cap the first weekend and, one guesses, resume touring — no doubt they’ll be lighter on the sweet harmonies if heavier on the funk.

It would hardly be fair to blame Aaron for making his move. The time is right. After all, the family band, with “Papa Funk” Art Neville now 75 and in less than robust health, largely has been inactive in recent years. What’s more, at 72 and having survived the loss of his wife Joel to lung cancer and relocation from New Orleans to the Nashville area and then New York City in recent years, he’s more than earned the right to go his own way.

“I put the Neville Brothers on hold for a while so I could do my solo thing,” Neville told Relix magazine. “We’ve been together 35 years and I’m thinking, ‘I don’t know how long I’ve got to do what I want to do.’ I need to take that time now and dedicate it to me, and just try to do my stuff I’ve been wanting to do all my life.”

“My True Story” suggests that Neville’s instincts were, well, true. Initially conceived as a doo-wop project reflecting his formative experiences in the art of street-corner singing, the album expanded into something larger. It’s a broader tribute to the pre-rock era, with a dozen retro pop radio favorites originally recorded during a roughly 12-year period ending in 1964.

Don Was, once part of soul-fired pop act Was (Not Was) and now head of the revived Blue Note label, put together a dream team to back Neville. Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards leads a band that includes Benmont Tench, of Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers, on keyboards; guitarist Greg Leisz (Sheryl Crow, Beck); bassist Tony Scherr (Norah Jones, Steven Bernstein); New Orleans drummer George G. Receli (James Brown, Bob Dylan); and journeyman saxophonist Lenny Pickett (“Saturday Night Live” band, Tower of Power).

The band, with Was and Richards co-producing live-in-the-studio sessions at New York’s Electric Lady Studios, reportedly cut nearly two dozen tracks, all of which benefit from an appealing immediacy — the stuff sounds fresh.

For the first volume of what may become a series, Neville applies his rich, shivery, tenor vocals to material that still comes with a kick after all these years. He opens with the rollicking, starting-stopping “Money Honey,” a 1953 chart topper by Clyde McPhatter and the Drifters, this time featuring Richards’ slinky six-string stabs, and closes with a suitably light and altogether effervescent version of the much-recorded “Goodnight My Love” (Pleasant Dreams).”

In between are 10 other gems that ought to be familiar to anyone with even a passing familiarity with pop music history.

Neville’s voice slides into the falsetto stratosphere on the title track, a 1961 single by the Jive Five that soared up the R&B and pop charts.; the tune, like many on the disc, is bolstered by a blue-chip backup crew of old-school singers, including the Jive Five’s Eugene Pitt, Bobby Jay of the Teenagers, and Dickie Harmon of the Del-Vikings.

There are plenty of other finger-snapping delights here, including “Ruby Ruby,” with its infectious call and response, and Pickett’s crunching bari sax; “Ting A Ling,” all romantic frustration and pounding piano and sax; a pleasantly streamlined “Be My Baby”; heartbreak ode “Tears On My Pillow”; a laidback, gently grooving “Under the Boardwalk”; a chug-a-lugging “Work With Me Annie,” with “Papa Funk” Art Neville on B3; and a medley stitching “This Magic Moment” to “True Love.”

Yes, these tunes inherently come with a strong whiff of nostalgia. Give Neville and Co. credit for reinvigorating these classics in a manner that’s often irresistible. Great concept, beautifully executed. Now, about that sequel.

Neville Brothers: Mardi Gras Mambo Tour

cpas_neville_brothers_11Still deeply funky after all these years, the Neville Brothers are now traveling around the U.S. on their “Mardi Gras Mambo” tour, a double-bill with Dr. John’s band.

Here’s the link to my Nevilles story, as published in the St. Petersburg Times. I spoke with saxophonist Charles Neville.

And below is the story:

Quint Davis, longtime producer and director of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, often calls the Neville Brothers “the heart and soul of New Orleans.”

Keyboardist Art “Poppa Funk”, saxophonist Charles, singer Aaron and percussionist Cyril indeed are often treated as their hometown’s official musical ambassadors. They regularly bring their infectious mix of New Orleans R&B, funk, jazz and African and Caribbean sounds, and socially conscious messages to festivals and concert halls around the world.

But the Nevilles, playing the “Mardi Gras Mambo” tour on a double bill with Dr. John, represent just one variety of the Crescent City’s musical gumbo, Charles said. The concert trek comes to the Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall in Sarasota on Saturday.

“People ask, ‘Is what you’re doing New Orleans music?’ ” he said by telephone last week. “Well, New Orleans music is not just us. Fats Domino is New Orleans music. Satchmo (Louis Armstrong) is New Orleans music, and Harry Connick, and the Marsalis family, and Dr. John. When you listen to the brass bands – that’s New Orleans music. New Orleans music covers a broad spectrum of styles and genres.”

The Nevilles, together and separately, have played New Orleans rhythms and melodies and harmonies for more than five decades, beginning in 1954 when oldest sibling Art put together the Hawketts. That band’s “Mardi Gras Mambo” became a huge hometown hit.

Later, Art formed monstrously funky quartet the Meters, which eventually included Cyril, and Aaron in 1966 scored a national hit with gorgeous soul ballad “Tell It Like It Is.” The Nevilles’ first notable appearance together on record was with Mardi Gras Indians, on the classic Wild Tchoupitoulas in 1976, and the next year they teamed for the debut Neville Brothers album. Their most recent label-affiliated CD, Walkin’ in the Shadow of Life, was released in 2004.

Which Neville Brothers albums are among the band’s best? Charles’ names Yellow Moon, the popular 1989 album helmed by revered producer Daniel Lanois, and Live on Planet Earth, released in 1994.

“Lanois was able to, in the studio, capture the spirit and the feeling of the music, and capture what we do and what we mean with the music,” he said. “What we do — the spirit of New Orleans is in our music. It’s the spirit involved in those rhythms. Those rhythms are the ones handed down (from) voodoo.”

The Nevilles play tonight in Charlotte, N.C., and the final stop on their current round of tour dates is May 3, their traditional second-Sunday set closing out Jazz Fest (the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival).

2-25 Charlotte, NC Blumenthal Performing Arts Center More Info
2-26 Columbus, GA Rivercenter For the Performing More Info
2-28 Sarasota, FL Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall More Info
3-01 Tallahassee, FL The Moon More Info
3-02 Naples, FL Philharmonic Center For the Arts More Info
3-03 West Palm Beach, FL Kravis Center for the Performing Arts More Info
3-13 Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Hilton Theater More Info
3-14 Las Vegas, NV Las Vegas Hilton Theater More Info
5-03 New Orleans, LA New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival M