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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

JazzTimes Critics’ Poll: Vijay Iyer’s “Accelerando” Takes Top Honors

vijay iyeCritical consensus says that Vijay Iyer‘s “Accelerando” (ACT) is one of last year’s finest jazz recordings: The CD, with the pianist joined by bassist Stephan Crump and drummer Marcus Gilmore, just topped the JazzTimes critic poll.

Also making the Top Ten, as selected by a large group of JazzTimes writers (I voted):

2. Branford Marsalis Quartet, “Four MFs Playin’ Tunes” (Marsalis Music)

3. Sam Rivers/Dave Holland/Barry Altschul, “Reunion: Live in New York” (Pi)

4. Ryan Truesdell, “Centennial: Newly Discovered Works of Gil Evans” (ArtistShare)

5. Ravi Coltrane, “Spirit Fiction” (Blue Note)

6. Gregory Porter, “Be Good” (Motema)

7. Henry Threadgill Zooid, “Tomorrow Sunny/The Revelry, Spp” (Pi)

8. Wadada Leo Smith, “Ten Freedom Summers” (Cuneiform)

9. Tim Berne, “Snakeoil” (ECM)

10. Brad Mehldau Trio, “Ode” (Nonesuch)

Check the January/February print edition of JazzTimes for the full list of the year’s Top 50 jazz releases.

Wanna see the individual ballots (including mine)? Click here.

The Blue Note 7: Mosaic

Blue Note Celebrates Its History … Again

A band organized by Blue Note, specializing in music from that label’s archives?

Déjà vu, anyone?

Blue Note’s New Directions Band, with the storied jazz label’s young stars — alto saxophonist Greg Osby, tenor saxophonist Mark Shim, pianist Jason Moran and vibraphonist Stefon Harris — joined by bassist Tarus Mateen and drummer Nasheet Waits, was just such a group.

New Directions, celebrating the 60th anniversary of the label, recorded a self-titled CD in 1999, and released it early the next year.

The band gave a significant boost to the careers of its members, several of whom obviously have notched considerable artistic and commercial success. I caught one performance on the group’s national tour, at a tiny, smoky, now-defunct club in Ybor City (Tampa).

Blue Note, too, has celebrated itself with countless concerts, films, sampler recordings, and other products.

The Blue Note 7 Launches

Now here comes The Blue Note 7, a band suggested by booking agent Jack Randall, and organized by Randall, pianist Bill Charlap, and talent manager Danny Melnick, as a way to celebrate the label’s 70th anniversary.

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“When plans for the extensive tour reached more than 50 American cities, the idea of a recording was inevitable,” according to jazz critic Ira Gitler’s liner notes for the group’s just-released CD, Mosaic: A Celebration of Blue Note Records.

 

The septet, this time not a group of upstarts, includes a stellar front line of horn players — celebrated New Orleans-bred trumpeter Nicholas Payton, underappreciated New York alto saxophonist and flutist Steve Wilson and tenor saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, still laboring to escape the shadow of his famous father.

Charlap, the musical director, is joined by rhythm-section mates Peter Bernstein on guitar, Peter Washington on bass, and Lewis Nash on drums – solid pros and creative players, all.

The material, variously arranged by band members and pianist Renee Rosnes (who happens to be married to Charlap), emphasizes compositions recorded for Blue Note from the mid-’50s through the mid-’60s.

Melnick, the CD’s executive producer, is head of the company producing the band’s tour. So is The Blue Note 7 an organically assembled outfit, or merely a sampler recording designed to promote a tour and boost sales of the label’s new and archival recordings?

Gitler writes, “It is more than a tribute band, a cadre with a cohesive compatibility, dealing with powerful music and reinterpreting it through new arrangements and individual solos.”

Mosaic

That assessment rings true, as the music on Mosaic is familiar (maybe overly so) but almost fresh — the band builds interesting new arrangements and consistently superb solo work on gems by major jazz composers. Thelonious Monk’s “Criss Cross,” arranged by Wilson, comes with new rhythmic twists, a spiky Coltrane solo and aptly rambunctious piano work.

Payton’s playing is particularly incisive and poignant on a floating-to-grooving version of Herbie Hancock’s “Dolphin Dance,” arranged by Rosnes, also responsible for a soaring arrangement of McCoy Tyner’s pretty, slow-moving “Search for Peace”; the horn players on the latter come off as a brass choir. Bernstein turns in warm melody work and a searching improvisation on his arrangement of Duke Pearson’s “Idle Moments,” originally recorded by Grant Green.

The title track, penned by Cedar Walton for the Jazz Messengers and arranged by Nash, lifts off with the drummer’s tricky rhythmic set-up. The tune later offers the kind of driving, chunky swing and extended trap-set wizardry sure to warm the heart of anyone who’s ever loved hard bop and lamented its passing (that includes me).

Also included in the eight-song set: Joe Henderson’s “Inner Urge,” arranged by Payton; Bobby Hutcherson’s “Little B’s Poem” (Wilson); and Horace Silver’s “The Outlaw” (Charlap).

Blue Note 7’s U.S. Concert Trek

The tour is off to an impressive start, according to jazz critic Doug Ramsey’s report on the band’s performance in Seattle. “…the little time they have spent as a unit is out of proportion to the ensemble’s spirit and unified sound,” Ramsey writes.

(Sadly, the tour itinerary doesn’t include any Florida dates).

Will this band continue working together after its weeklong engagement at New York’s Birdland, which concludes April 19?

Yes, as Charlap relates in the above video clip.

“We’ll be continuing later in the year, in the fall, in Europe,” he says. “Many of the players are already writing new arrangements. … Perhaps there will be a volume two and a volume three. I would not be surprised if that happens.”