Ravi Coltrane, Jack DeJohnette and Matthew Garrison perform in the Zatarain's/ WWOZ Jazz Tent.
After a cool and breezy opening day at Jazz Fest, crowds enjoyed sunshine all day Saturday at the Fair Grounds.
As the heat bore down on the Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage, Warren Storm, Willie Tee and Cypress enticed a willing crowd to dance during the first half of a set that featured Tee’s rock-inspired sax solos and a red and black-clad Storm crooning his way through a string of classics. The band’s rendition of “Lucille” had plenty of fire and the shimmering guitar work on “Baby Come Back Home” elevated the set., Although still a powerhouse drummer, Storm struggled to hit the high notes, causing some of his more plaintive heartbreak numbers to fall flat.
He closed with the punchy hangover jam, “I Got Loaded,” a magical choice given the collection of face-planted twentysomethings whose snoozing bodies were spread around the outskirts of the field in front of the stage.
Midway through the set, Storm passed lead vocal duties to Tommy McLain. Spiffed out in a red hat, silver and black suit jacket and tumbling white beard, the former Boogie King sang hits like “Jukebox Songs” and “Before I Grow Too Old” with a warm rasp. He had some help in the sing-along department with “If You Don’t Love Me (Leave Me Alone),” which he wrote for Freddy Fender, and the 1966 chart-topper “Sweet Dreams.”
At Congo Square, Alpha Blondy’s band stood awkwardly — and silently — as they waited for the reggae star to join them onstage. It was unclear what caused the 30-plus-minute delay, but the group managed to turn in a shining set once the lead singer arrived.
Blondy, whose given name is Seydou Koné, sang mostly in French over the spacey and ethereal opener. Later, he alternated between politically charged numbers and party tunes, delivering bursts of vocal power that mirrored his guitarist’s wailing solos. By the end, his love and regret-fueled “Sweet Fanta Diallo” made up for the time he’d missed.
One of Saturday’s highlight for jazz fans came courtesy of drummer Jack DeJohnette, saxophonist Ravi Coltrane and bassist Matthew Garrison, who stretched out on tunes culled mostly from their debut trio album, In Movement
DeJohnette has known Coltrane and Garrison since they were children (Ravi is the son of John and Alice Coltrane; Matthew’s father was the bassist Jimmy Garrison). And though he took the lead — anchoring tunes like “Atmosphere” with tabla-inspired motifs on what looked like an electric drum pad attached to his kit — he also left plenty of space for his colleagues to step out front.
“Atmosphere” began with a drum meditation that grew in dynamics as Coltrane’s horn and Garrison’s rumbling bass added depth and color. As the tune built up to a climax, Garrison worked in a handful of funk-laced riffs, shifting the texture of the piece.
On “Blue In Green,” the band’s take on Miles Davis and John Coltrane’s famous track from Kind of Blue
, DeJohnette switched to piano, exercising a light touch on the keys that bolstered Coltrane’s soft sound. He returned to long, complex soundscapes on drums for the trio’s original composition, “Two Jimmies,” written for Garrison’s father and Jimi Hendrix.
As the day came to a close, Acura Stage festival-goers braved heat and sardine-like crowding for Pearl Jam while Maxwell’s fans enjoyed a more comfortable and soul-soaked set at Congo Square.
After funking things up with his early hit “Somethin’ Somethin’,” the R&B and neo-soul singer paid homage to Prince, whose anthem “1999” had gotten a shout-out earlier in the day from the positive message-espousing skywriter. Prince’s iconic symbol appeared in the sky with the crowd cheering, “We love you Prince” in unison at Maxwell’s behest.
Maxwell wrapped with the billowing (and Grammy-winning) “Pretty Wings,” with fans in front singing along as their hands made dove signs in the air. Though it tells the story of a protagonist who sets a lover free, the song was also an apt memorial to the Purple One.