Fresh Sounds During the Fest

SUBHEDE: Taking a spin with new CDs from performers playing during the second week of Jazz Fest.

by , , , , and

Marcia Ball
So Many Rivers

Gulf Coast boogie-woogie queen Marcia Ball is a pro in the recording studio, having recorded nine albums since 1984. On each effort, Ball offers a big dose of her signature sound: driving New Orleans-inspired piano playing backed by ace session men, her sunny vocals, and generous helpings of swinging R&B horn arrangements. Since those qualities are never in question, Ball's CDs ultimately fail or succeed on the strength of the songwriting -- and in that regard, So Many Rivers is one of the strongest albums of her career.

On her latest effort and sophomore release for Alligator Records, Ball's tapped two classics from legendary Nashville songwriter Donnie Fritts ("Three Hundred Pounds of Hongry" and "If It's Really Got to Be That Way"), a few humorous gems from Danny Tims ("Dance With Me" and "Honeypie"), and wrote a few keepers of her own ("Baby, Why Not" and "Give It Up, Give In"). Ball's girlish voice is perfectly suited for the sassy R&B of the rocking opener "Foreclose on the House of Love" -- a great song despite its clunky metaphor -- and she radiates steamy sexuality on the "Give it Up, Give In"'s slurred swamp blues shuffle and over the simmering snare-drum rhythms of "So Many Rivers to Cross." (Contemporary blues fans will remember Maria Muldaur's similarly hot version of this song on her Meet Me at Midnight album.)

Ball's inherently upbeat musical personality isn't best suited for ballads, and there's a couple of slow clunkers here such as "The Storm" and "Give Me a Chance." But the overall quality of the material makes this River flow quite nicely. -- Jordan

Marcia Ball plays Jazz Fest's Louisiana Heritage Stage at 5:55 p.m., Friday, May 2.

Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie
Everybody's Dancin'
(Times Square Records)

Everybody's Dancin' is a snapshot of a top zydeco band hitting full stride. The elements are all here: Geno Delafose's playing is characteristically versatile and his singing is strong, and his band -- John "Popp" Esprite on bass and vocals, Wilfred "Caveman" Pierre on rubboard, Jude Curley Taylor Jr. on drums and vocals, and Lee Tedrow on guitars and vocals -- is propelling. The past and present -- and future -- of south Louisiana music are seamlessly represented in what seems like a set list lifted straight from a good night at the Rock 'n' Bowl.

Delafose's reach extends back to the Creole songbook, with hot new versions of "Le Bluerunner," most associated with the late fiddler Bebe Carriere, and "Les Flammes D'Enfer," a traditional tune played memorably by the late Canray Fontenot. Delafose knew these musicians, and he knows these songs better than most young players. (He's aided by Michael Doucet, who contributes fiddle to three songs, including "Les Flammes D'Enfer.") Delafose also remakes tunes by Cajun pioneers Nathan Abshire and Adam Hebert, and zydeco master Rockin' Sidney Simien. His "He-Haw Breakdown" is a scorcher that conjures the fiery spirit of Boozoo Chavis, and his version of "Gotta Find My Woman," a song by his father, the late John Delafose, is a highlight.

So is Geno's first recording of the crowd-pleasing zydeco version of Sam Cooke's paean to selective intelligence, "What a Wonderful World." Geno Delafose says he may not know much about a "science book," but he certainly knows the richness of the zydeco and Cajun tradition, and he mines it all in Everybody's Dancin'. -- Tisserand

Geno Delafose & French Rockin' Boogie play Jazz Fest at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 1, on the Sheraton N.O. Fais Do-Do Stage.

Los Hombres Calientes
Vol. 4 Vodou Dance
(Basin Street Records)

On their fourth CD, Los Hombres Calientes take a wild ride around the Caribbean, making stops in Trinidad, Haiti and Cuba. Although their previous recordings have used elements of the various music forms abounding in this region, this is the first time that all these elements sound integrated into the overall sound and concept of the record, instead of seeming like they were added on to flavor the group's formidable sound. Here, these elements are the roux, not the spice.

Such elements include Trinidadian steel pan music, Haitian Vodou religious songs, and Cuban clave rhythms. These come to the fore in the short interludes between the compositions, some of which were recorded on location on the islands. They also are the basis for the original tunes such as the breezy number "Trinidad Nocturne" or the driving "Yo Soy El Malo Te."

Percussionist/producer Bill Summers, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield, pianist Victor Atkins, bassist Edwin Livingston, and drummer Ricky Sebastian all shine individually and then lock into dense grooves that move on multiple levels. At the end of the record, the band brings it all back home to New Orleans with a version of "I'll Fly Away" that is solely vocal and tambourine, and then a take on Sugar Boy Crawford's standard "Jock-a-Mo" (sung by Cyril Neville and Davell Crawford). Other local players such as trombonist Stephen Walker and trumpeter Leon Brown contribute solos and arrangements. In this musical trip, Los Hombres Calientes shows the Caribbean and New Orleans connection, making a fine record in the process. -- Kunian

Los Hombres Calientes plays Jazz Fest at 2:55 p.m. Friday, May 2, on the Louisiana Heritage Stage.

The Iguanas
Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart
(Yep Roc Records)

The Iguanas' new CD is the sound of one of New Orleans' favorite bands rejuvenated. Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart is the group's first studio record since 1998, and reunites them with producer Justin Neibank, who produced the band's stellar 1994 album, Nuevo Boogaloo. The result is an exceptional record full of Tex-Mex flavors, the driving beat the Iguanas are known for, and contemporary production abundant in brilliant ideas.

From the opening chords and vocals of "Yesterday," the Iguanas present a batch of new songs and hooks that seep into your subconscious. "Machete y Maiz" is a nicely executed guajira that brings Rod Hodges' beautiful, subtle voice to the foreground. This is one of the many acoustic songs that are treated with an airy and well-balanced sound. A love song about a girl's kisses that smell like cinnamon and taste like "Mexican Candy" brings Joe Cabral and Derek Huston together for their signature twin-barrel sax sound.

"Zacatecas" proves that the Iguanas can still rock you all night long, or bring you to a dusty south-of-the-border cantina on "The Liquor Dance." Some songs bring to mind Van Dyke Parks, Brian Wilson, even Burt Bacharach with a touch of Sergeant Pepper-esque psychedelia surrounding melancholy lyrical excursions such as "Abandonado." Named as a tribute to the transistor radios of the bandmembers' youth, Plastic Silver 9 Volt Heart is a vital reminder of the days before media conglomeration when diverse, soulful sounds filled the airwaves. -- Lander

The Iguanas play at The Dock on Friday, May 2, and Mid-City Lanes on Saturday, May 3.

Lynn Drury
(Mothership Entertainment)

In their sophomore effort together, Lynn Drury & Bad Mayo prove that theirs is truly a natural match. This isn't some "chocolate in my peanut butter" accident; on Spun, the country-influenced vocalist, and homespun groove troupe by way of Tallahassee, Fla., spin humid country with a taste of the Crescent City.

Maybe it's because of the hum of Trevor Brooks' Hammond B-3 that floats throughout the proceedings. Or maybe it's guitarist's Chris Mulé's Radiators-tinged solos. "Wanna know what ya' gonna say about me now/ You'll run your mouth," Drury drawls in the twanger, "Slide Down." "Having drinks with your friends at the Whirling Dervish/ You'll run your mouth." It's a testament to a city that's always smaller that it seems, where everyone knows everyone else's business and is always ready to share.

Drury's vocals often are a mixed bag; sometimes her clear alto has a ring of truth about it, while other times they're a little flatter than they should be. This isn't like listening to the shimmering gloss of, say, a Neko Case. But Drury compensates with a nice dash of ache that feels more befitting this Dirty South town. Bad Mayo has become a perfect foil, with bassist Dave Stover and drummer/percussionist Chris Plyant laying down a soft funk underbelly to the proceedings.

Spun is a promising progression for this group. "It's gonna be a long ride/ Or not," Drury proclaims at the close of "Take What You Got." Here's to arguing the former. -- Simmons

Lynn Drury and Bad Mayo play Jazz Fest at 4:05 p.m. Saturday, May 3, on the Lagniappe Stage.

Papa Grows Funk

The word "funk" was originally slapped onto music that is curious, off-kilter, a sort of curveball that doesn't seem like it should work, but, man, does it ever; remember the first time you heard the original Meters' odd, stuttering staccato -- a fresh sound like a skeleton falling down a staircase -- did you not smile, asking yourself, what was that?

Shakin', the new record by popular New Orleans funk troupe Papa Grows Funk, is funk with the edges sanded off. The accomplished playing on Shakin', from some of New Orleans' most revered living musicians, is effortless to the point of auto-pilot; here Papa Grows Funk sounds like a band that's read the Funk Instruction Manual so literally that the true crazy spirit of funk is lost.

In a live situation, the physical punch of Papa Grow's amplifiers can get you dancing. And pro musicians flying across their instruments in person can often distract from a band's lack of ideas. But without an accompanying physical experience, the tunes on Shakin' are bland; the production and the playing throughout are spotlessly safe; the arrangements way too familiar (unless "Yakiniku" is actually a tamed-down Meters cover); the sparse lyrics bleed cliche ("Footsteps of angels, whispers of children ... in this house of love"); and on tunes like "Rat a Tang Tang," the organ sounds nice where it should sound grimy.

In the end, unless you can get off on simple impressive physical dexterity, Shakin' never rises above background music -- which is fine if you're drinking and dancing, but on CD, this band's effortlessness drowns them out. It may technically qualify as funk, but Shakin' isn't funky. -- Welch

Papa Grows Funk plays Jazz Fest at 5:40 p.m. Thursday, May 1, on the Louisiana Heritage Stage.

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux
Mr. Stranger Man

One of the best developments in the last 18 months in New Orleans music has been the breakout of Big Chief Monk Boudreaux. Ever since he decided to go out on his own after 25 years in the Wild Magnolias, Boudreaux has been playing all over town with musicians including Anders Osborne, Brian Stoltz, Tab Benoit, Kirk Joseph and Tim Green. His second album since going solo, Mr. Stranger Man continues his funky combination of Mardi Gras Indian street chants and electric instruments.

The tunes, written either by Monk alone or with producer Anders Osborne, have the traditional themes of Indian music such as epic battles between rival tribes, the efforts that go into making an Indian suit, and Indian warriors who have passed on. Monk has many guest musicians on this record, and each of them locks in the groove for Monk to chant over. Dr. John lays down some great Rhodes piano on the opening cut "In The Morning." That's followed up by Tab Benoit ripping leads on "Sew Sew Sew" like Snooks Eaglin did so well on the first two Wild Magnolias records. Elsewhere, John Gros smokes some funky organ, Leroy Jones blows tasty trumpet licks in response to the chants, and the rhythm section of Doug Belote on drums, Earl Nunez on bass, and the secret weapon of Indian percussionist extraordinaire Geechie Johnson vary the beats from the reggae sounds of "The Tambourine" or the Indian march of "Katie Mae."

Most of all, it's the voice of Monk Boudreaux that rings out. His voice possesses an understated soul and depth, and both his chanting and singing resounds with the authority of four decades of masking Indian -- and the enthusiasm of a man finally making art that bears his name alone. -- Kunian

Big Chief Monk Boudreaux plays Jazz Fest at 1:25 p.m. Saturday, May 3, on the Acura Stage.

Highway 80 East

(Louisiana Red Hot Records)

Finding a good, authentic roadhouse blues and R&B band in the current crop of contemporary rock/blues screamers can be like finding a needle in a haystack. But Shreveport trio the Bluebirds make hay with a greasy, slide-guitar driven sound and a mix of the prerequisite Saturday-night ingredients: shuffles to boogie to, and slow numbers for the chance to hold your baby tight.

The band's undeniable creative force is six-stringer Buddy Flett, an extraordinary slide guitarist with masterful instincts and tone. Flett comes solidly from the Elmore James and Muddy Waters school of blues, able to torque up breakdown workouts or hold quivering notes on minor-key deep blues laments. Such fare is best heard when praising (or crying over) the opposite sex, and Flett originals like "What You Got Down There" and "Bend Over Baby" fall squarely in the great tradition of horndog anthems like Chick Willis' "Stoop Down Baby." While Flett's vocals have an appealing world-weary quality, the band's drummer, Kerry Hunter, has a strong and robust set of pipes suited for covers of classics such as the R&B nugget "Mess Up a Good Thing."

The Bluebirds' good taste is evident in the band's treks through Los Lobos' "Evangeline" and Clarence Carter's "Road of Love," though they understandably can't top the original versions. Another case in point is the Bluebirds' version of Cookie & the Cupcakes' swamp-pop classic "Got You on My Mind," a passable reading that's the weakest cut on the record. That quibble aside, the instrumental genius of Flett's instrumental workout "West Milan Street" is a perfect reminder that the Bluebirds' are blues groove masters, and if you can't make it out on a Saturday night, Highway 80 East can still transform your living room into a dance floor. -- Jordan

The Bluebirds play Jazz Fest at 12:35 p.m., Friday, May 2, on the Popeye's Blues Stage.

Zion Trinity
Eyes on Zion

(Zion Trinity Records)

You may recognize them as the white-clad ladies who sit on Frenchmen Street selling incense, soaps, and potions, and feeding the crowds with love and intergalactic advice. Give them a microphone and a solid backing band, and you get one of the most impressive vocal harmonizing groups in the Crescent City. Zion Trinity is deeply rooted in gospel, reggae, Yoruba ritual songs, Nyabinghi culture, and all the other traditions that make New Orleans the cultural melting pot on the 33rd parallel.

It's quite refreshing for a reggae band to be doing such excellent original material. Noted New Orleans producer/arranger Mark Bingham (R.E.M., Cubanismo!) also deserves props for capturing the ensemble's live sound.

A prayer to Elegba, which opens all Yoruba rituals, is arranged by Zion Trinity to demonstrate their vocal prowess and commence their ascent to "Mount Zion," a rendition of Psalm 87 with a great reggae arrangement by Dorise Blackmon. Zion Trinity's message is strong, positive, and intensely spiritual without being pedantic, biased or aggressive. They prove this point with "Shelter of Yahweh," which often closes their live performances, when they invite everybody to join them as "We pray for Anointing/Protection/ Jah shine your light on me/Just seek Him/you'll find Him/His love will set you free." -- Lander

Zion Trinity play Jazz Fest's Lagniappe Stage at 6 p.m. Sunday, May 4.

Evolution Revolution
(Basin Street Records)

The core rhythm section from Herbie Hancock's 1970s groundbreaking funk/jazz outfit the Headhunters reunites on this new CD for an extension, or perhaps retrofitting, of previously explored concepts. With this release, Mike Clark (drums), Paul Jackson (bass) and Bill Summers (percussion) garner effective support from an all-star jazz cast, including trumpeter Nicholas Payton and other notables.

Throughout these 16 works, the listener will be treated to supercharged funk motifs, interspersed with gospel vocals, Afro-Cuban rhythms and much more. The recording is a celebration of sorts, as onetime Headhunters drummer Harvey Mason and saxophonist Bennie Maupin lend their talents for a few groove-oriented pieces. Highlights include Jackson's funkified bass lines and wailing, soul-drenched vocals amid the various keyboardists' chirpy '70s-style synth sounds on selected works. The musicians surge forward with a stylistic melding of peppery rhythms and funk-based philosophies to coincide with a rather divergent song mix.

A dazzling funk drummer, Clark is also a heavyweight jazzhead, witnessed by his turbo-charged soloing and crisp, swing beats on the bop burner named after his ex-employer, trumpeter Woody Shaw. The scenario changes again thanks to saxophonist Donald Harrison Jr.'s soul-blues sax choruses atop a laid back 2/4 vamp on the song "Martell on the Rocks." And while some editing might have been in order -- a few compositions just don't sustain long-term interest -- this upbeat affair is a comprehensive musical package featuring a potpourri of groove-based frameworks in a gleaming program, topped off by the artists' good cheer and upbeat exchanges. -- Astarita

The Headhunters play The Howlin' Wolf on Thursday, May 1.

(Free Electric Sound)

The city of New Orleans is not generally referred to as a haven for progressive-rock or jazz-fusion bands. With six recordings supporting a 28-year (!) union, Woodenhead has maintained a cult-like following in these Southern parts amid stints opening for like-minded bands like The Mahavishnu Orchestra. Not your typical stock and trade rockers, the quartet's methodologies consist of pumping rhythmic structures, laced with climactic movements and much more.

For instance on the piece titled "Bone Wars," the band interweaves complex '70s-style progressive rock stylizations a la Gentle Giant with a dashing, contemporary vibe. Guitarist Jimmy Robinson and keyboardist Fran Comiskey commingle polytonal treatments with traces of psychedelia on occasion. As the ensemble injects a personalized stamp into multi-genre explorations, such as hard-rock drenched flamenco episodes and funk/groove motifs with odd-metered time signatures. Moreover, Robinson's slick picking on "Yes and No" steers the band into a quasi hoedown/modern rock-type opus.

This unit has evolved into a tight-knit entity, subsidized by drummer Mark Whitaker and bassist Paul Clement's disciplined timekeeping along with a few well-placed twists and turns. An added pleasure resides within the musicians' penchant for integrating memorably melodic themes into their repertoire, where Ms. Comiskey fuses multi-hued synth treatments with jazzy lines into the mix. Needless to say, this group deserves widespread exposure, as they loom rather large within the sometimes-stagnant progressive rock arena. Its perseverance has paid off with this fine release. -- Astarita

Woodenhead plays Jazz Fest at 4:10 p.m. Thursday, May 1, on the Lagniappe Stage.

Add a comment