Nicholas Payton's Afro-American Mixtape
Zatarain's/WWOZ Jazz Tent
In recent years, Nicholas Payton's sets at Jazz Fest have showcased his move from trumpet to keyboards and, more recently, to playing both Fender Rhodes piano and trumpet at once. This year, he shifts gears to debut a new project inspired by the migration of African rhythms through the Caribbean and into New Orleans, where he says they influenced contemporary music around the world.
Dubbed Afro-Caribbean Mixtape, the new quintet features bassist Vicente Archer, pianist Kevin Hays, percussionist Daniel Sadownick and Joe Dyson on drums. Archer and Hays have worked with Payton before and they developed intuitive approaches to communicating on the bandstand. Paired with the Bronx-born Sadownick's flexibility on congas, Dyson's power and Payton's affection for warmth and shifting textures in his expansive compositions, this set should be a treat.
Sweet Pain featuring Chico Ramos and Supa G
Jazz & Heritage Stage
Big, tropical rhythms, dance-ready grooves and boundless energy drive this Belizean punta rock collective fronted by two of the genre's hottest singers. Punta rock is an edgier, more electric offshoot of its predecessor, also called punta, a traditional form of music and dance created by the descendents of Central and West African, Island Carib and Arawak people known as the Garifuna.
Much like soca, punta rock has been updated over the years with the infusion of elements of other popular contemporary music, making it a go-to sound for parties, clubs and festivals. (Tracks on Supa G's new album, Undeniable, feature titles "Party Insane," "Best Night," "Party Anywhere" and "Get Up and Dance.") The group is joined by Chico Ramos, who's been heralded as the "godfather of punta rock."
At 75, Irma Thomas remains an essential musical icon of the city, which is underscored by her busy schedule at Jazz Fest. In addition to her perennial mainstage and Gospel Tent appearances, the soul and R&B legend is slated to discuss her decades-long collaboration with Allen Toussaint in a panel discussion at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage (1 p.m.-1:45 p.m.). She'll also participate in the B.B. King's Blues Band's tribute to its late leader (5:45 p.m.-7 p.m., Sunday, May 1). But this performance is where she has the most freedom to apply her soulful, church-trained voice to classics such as "It's Raining," "Breakaway" and "Ruler of My Heart," plus newer pieces she brings into the mix.
T-Ray the Violinist
Jazz & Heritage Stage
Among the many positive lessons the New Orleans Center for Creative Arts (NOCCA) instills in its students is to work with a sense of adventure. Trenton Thomas is a prime example. The NOCCA graduate applies his classical violin training to riffing on hip-hop, R&B, pop and dance tracks by artists including A$AP Rocky, Nicki Minaj, Jay Z and Adele. He often performs plugged in alongside a DJ, which explains his SoundCloud tracks, most of which are set to hits like Drake's "Hotline Bling" and The Weeknd's "Can't Feel My Face." Though his performances sometimes hew too closely to the original melodies, T-Ray approaches music with a refreshing determination to explore new territory on violin. He is joined by frequent collaborator DJ Dreams2Reality.
Joe Lovano/Us Five
Zatarain's/WWOZ Jazz Tent
When the Jazz Fest lineup was announced, Director Quint Davis said programming included an increase in the number of nationally renowned jazz and blues acts. Presenting saxophonist and composer Joe Lovano in the same weekend as Herbie Hancock, Wayne Shorter, Jack DeJohnette, Ravi Coltrane and Matthew Garrison is a big step forward for modern jazz fans.
Boasting multiple Grammy Awards and stints working alongside Charlie Haden, Bill Frisell, Woody Herman and Dr. Lonnie Smith, Lovano is widely recognized as a master in his field. His award-winning quintet, Us Five, gets much of its memorable sound from the two-drummer punch of Francisco Mela and Otis Brown III, who provide a flexible and swinging anchor to Lovano's often rhythmic approach to his reeds. The group's last release, a reimagining of Charlie Parker's repertoire called Bird Songs, arrived in 2011, and Lovano has been busy in the past year with a variety of other projects. Material from his contributions to Smith's new release, Evolution, or John Scofield's 2015 recording, Past Present, would both be at home in the Zatarain's/WWOZ Jazz Tent.
Los Lobos performs La Pistola y el Corazon
Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage
The Los Angeles-based six-piece Los Lobos shot to international fame with the 1987 release of "La Bamba," a jazzed up, rock-infused take on the Mexican folk tune Ritchie Valens made famous. The Grammy-winning La Pistola y el Corazon followed in 1988, taking core members David Hidalgo and Louie Perez and their cohorts back to their roots with a mix of traditional and new songs in the style of Tejano and Mariachi music. Here, the band performs the album's string-centric material in its entirety, giving the stage's dancing crowd a change of pace. The album clocked in at just under 30 minutes, so it wouldn't be a surprise to hear tunes from Los Lobos' acclaimed 2015 release, Gates of Gold.
It's hard to divorce the notion of singer and songwriting titan Paul Simon performing at Jazz Fest from the memory of his Graceland recording, "That Was Your Mother." An ode to Lafayette, Clifton Chen-ier and the value of keeping one's heritage alive through storytelling, the song incorporated the music of zydeco star Rockin' Dopsie, placing it in a long line of Simon songs that draw on regional folk music for inspiration. Simon & Garfunkel's forthcoming album, Stranger to Stranger, features more of the same, along with a strong focus on experimentation. According to Simon's website, work with a flamenco band and an Italian EDM artist who goes by the name Clap! Clap! lent color to the recording, which is due in June.
This performance marks the kickoff for a tour which wraps this summer in Queens, N.Y., where Simon grew up.
My Morning Jacket
My Morning Jacket has brought its dreamy rock and lush, swirling guitar palette to Jazz Fest before, but the Louisville, Kentucky-based group seems poised to embark on a new phase of development. It just released a remixed and remastered edition of 2003's It Still Moves, long held as the cornerstone of its early output. The expanded disc features new, previously unreleased music and some shiny production values Jim James told The New York Times he hoped would improve issues regarding the album's clarity.
Meanwhile, the band is gearing up to drop a new studio album and James' latest solo effort is expected to land later this year. Finally, band members — currently including guitarist Carl Broemel, bassist Tom Blankenship, keyboardist Bo Koster and drummer Patrick Hallahan — have been performing regularly with Ray LaMontagne, adding yet another potential new influence to the mix. Should Ben Jaffe, James' longtime friend and frequent collaborator, be available, fans may see another Jazz Fest stage visit from Preservation Hall Jazz Band members.
- Photo by Barry Brecheisen
- Ms. Lauryn Hill
Ms. Lauryn Hill
Congo Square Stage
After years of battling criticism over erratic performances and lack of a follow-up to The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill, the singer, songwriter and guitarist recently bounced back with six haunting cuts on 2015's Nina Revisited ... A Tribute to Nina Simone, which arrived alongside the documentary What Happened, Miss Simone?
These days, Hill seems to be on slightly surer artistic footing, though some fans are waiting for a full second dose of the witty, raw and politically minded fire that made her 1998 solo debut a wild success. Judging by her latest output, Hill's ability to glide between jazz, soul, R&B, reggae and hip-hop vibes remains solid, as does the strength and beauty of her powerful voice. In recent performances, she's delivered gems like "Final Hour," "Everything Is Everything" and "How Many Mics," along with reggae classics and occasional forays into stretched out, roots-meets-jazz explorations on acoustic guitar. Hill remains one of the most influential and arguably brilliant artists of the 1990s.