Vieux Farka Toure performs in the Jazz Tent.
Malian guitarist Vieux Farka Toure calls himself “The Jimi Hendrix of the Sahara.”
I only caught the last 15 minutes of his set in the Blues Tent, and it wasn't marked by blistering solos, rather the band's guitar line and percussion were driving a pulsing, ecstatic jam. I wish I had gotten there earlier, and sets by central and west African guitarists – including Niger's Bombino on two Jazz Fest visits in recent years — seem to be very good bets at Jazz Fest.
Having two festivals to play, Jazz Fest and Festival International in Lafayette, seems to make it easier for bands from some remote regions to put Louisiana on their tour calendars. Angelique Kidjo, Lagbaja and Toure all are playing both festivals this weekend (in addition to many New Orleans and Acadiana bands).
Jazz vocalist Cassandra Wilson performed in the Jazz Tent, and her set featured many of the songs on her recently released tribute to Billie Holiday, Coming Forth by Day
. The centennial of Holiday's birth was April 7, and Wilson lauded her as one of the greatest influences in jazz. Wilson sang the first few songs off her album in order, including “Don't Explain,” “Crazy He Calls Me” and a slow, low-key rendition of “All of me.” She also sang “Billie's Blues” and “Pennies From Heaven.” Wilson's voice doesn't have Holiday's raspiness — though she's not striving for imitation — and she makes the songs her own with rich but understated and bluesy vocals. Wilson also seemed very much ease and in a playful mood in the Jazz Tent — at times walking off into the wings and waving at the VIP areas in the back corners of the tent until people waved back.
Every year when the Jazz Fest schedule is announced, some people complain that there's not enough jazz in jazz fest. That's certainly not true this year with visiting artists including Kenny Garrett, Monty Alexander, Cecile McLorin Salvant, Charles Lloyd and others. And it seems that every year, some rock star on the Acura Stage delivers a witticism about playing at a “jazz” festival — yesterday from Pete Townshend: “I'm going to play some jazz in a moment, and you're going to hate it.”