Author Archives: Jay Mazza

Vijay Iyer brings Far From Over to the CAC for two nights, 11/30–12/1

The acclaimed jazz pianist Vijay Iyer last played in New Orleans at the Contemporary Arts Center in 2015, with an improvisational trio featuring saxophonist Steve Lehman and drummer/multi-instrumentalist Tyshawn Sorey. That gig was in the theater as part of the HIP Fest. I wrote about it here. On Friday and Saturday Iyer returns with his regular sextet to play two nights in the recently renovated warehouse space at the CAC. They should both be gigs for the record books.

Iyer is a polymath who has his foot in many different disciplines and is one of the most important young jazz artists on the scene today. His latest album, Far From Over, hit #1 on the Billboard jazz chart. He has been voted DownBeat magazine’s “Artist of the Year” four times—in 2018, 2016, 2015, and 2012—and “Artist of the Year” in Jazz Times‘ Critics’ and Readers’ Polls for 2018.

Needless to say these performances are special for jazz lovers and for the New Orleans music community in general. Though it’s rare for a performer of his stature, he’s one of the youngest artists to receive a McArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius grant”), to play in New Orleans outside of the Jazz Festival, the CAC has been aggressively booking cutting edge jazz talent for the last couple of years. The same space hosted New Orleans’ own trumpeter Christian Scott and pan-Latin jazz saxophonist Miguel Zenón.

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The baddest Indian
who never sewed a suit: Tyrone Miller Sr., R.I.P.

PHOTOS: CHRISTOPHER PORCHE WEST | Tyrone Miller, a charismatic and gifted singer of the traditional songs of the black Indians of New Orleans, was laid to rest on Saturday, November 24 in the cultural heart of the Tremé community. Widely known as, “the baddest Indian who never sewed a suit,” Miller was 61.

While the Mardi Gras Indians, as they are popularly referred, are best known for their elaborate handmade suits, the music of the Indians is also an intrinsic part of their culture, which is more than a century old. So though Miller never sewed or even wore one of the intricate costumes, he was respected across the entire city for his ability to improvise lyrics and his powerful voice.

Loosely affiliated with the White Eagles tribe under Big Chief Jake Millon in his younger days, Miller roamed the Sunday night practices of tribes both uptown and down. In a culture where bravado and sheer force of will are regarded as hallmarks of leadership, Miller never backed down during any of the vocal confrontations that are central to the concept of “playing Indian,” as practiced by the black Indians.

His sly wordplay and enigmatic gesticulating could slay virtually any rival save the most revered Indian elders. Miller relished the role and came to be regarded as a formidable foil but always with a satisfied smile on his face. He wouldn’t bow down, but he also had deep respect for the traditions of the black culture.

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Big Sam’s Funky Nation, Marc Stone and more
to play inaugural Wing Wars festival , 11/17

Central City BBQ has become a center of food-related festivals in New Orleans in the last few years. On Saturday, the hot spot on S. Rampart Street hosts the first Wing Wars festival, which is focused on a wide variety of vendors serving that ubiquitous appetizer, the chicken wing. Of course this being New Orleans, there’s plenty of live music on tap.

Conceived and produced by Marc Bonifacic of Central City BBQ and Shane Finkelstein, producer of the wildly popular Top Taco Nola and owner of Nacho Mama’s Mexican Grill, Wing Wars will showcase twenty local restaurants as they battle it out for Tiger Sauce’s “King of the Wing.”

For attendees, wings are only a dollar apiece offering everyone an opportunity to taste many of the competitors, which include fan favorites from the Fried Chicken Festival, Cooter Brown’s teriyaki wings (a recent winner at the “Brews, Blues and Wing Thing”), along with competitors from many of New Orleans’ top purveyors.

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Jazz Batá 2 from Chucho Valdés arrives in stores tomorrow, 11/16

A couple of years back I had the opportunity to hear Cuban pianist, composer, and bandleader Chucho Valdés in concert. It was one of the more inspiring performances, filled with fire and finesse, that I have ever seen. The 77-year old legendary musician has reached a new creative peak in a long career of them, with the release of Jazz Batá 2, his first album for Mack Avenue Records.

Cuba is similar to New Orleans in many ways especially the role that musical families play in the culture of the island country. This year also marks the 100th birthday of Bebo Valdés, Chucho’s father. Interestingly enough Bebo was born the same year as New Orleans’ own piano genius Henry Roland Byrd, aka Professor Longhair.

The new album is a return of sorts for Valdés to the small-group concept of his 1972 Cuban album Jazz Batá. That album was originally considered experimental when it was first released. Now it has stood the test of time for a musician whose long career includes his work with the groundbreaking dance band Irakere.

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Mr. Blotto to record live album at the Maple Leaf Bar, 11/16–11/17

It’s kind of surprising that the Chicago-based jam band, Mr. Blotto, has never played in New Orleans. The two principal members of the group, bassist Mike and guitarist Paul Bolger, have been coming to the city for decades and have great stories about wandering the decadent streets of the French Quarter as children. That oversight in Mr. Blotto’s long history will be rectified this weekend when they play two epic shows at the Maple Leaf Bar. Both nights will be recorded for an upcoming live album.

Besides childhood memories of hippies washing their hair using rainwater runoff flowing from French Quarter downspouts, the brothers have has also visited the city numerous times over the decades. Paul even busked on the streets in his younger days.

Mike says, “We grew up in musical household; our Dad loved listening to (the) Preservation Hall (jazz band).” The bassist even took a solo road trip from Chicago to South Bend, Indiana in the 1980s to see what the fuss was all about. Though he was more into punk and metal at the time, he said, “it was one of the most profound shows I’ve ever seen.”

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Billy Strings brings Turmoil & Tinfoil to D.B.A., 11/10

New Orleans is not known as a bluegrass town, although that appears to be slowly changing with inroads being made by some of the bigger names in the genre. That partially explains why the latest phenom to light the scene on fire, guitarist Billy Strings, is playing in a venue the size of D.B.A. In cities with a larger bluegrass fan base he sells out much larger rooms. So this intimate show on Saturday night will be a rare to chance to see this incredible artist up close and personal. It’s likely the show will sell out. Tickets are available here.

Part of the reason the 26-year-old Strings has been blowing up around the country since he first burst on the scene is the intensity of his attack on the guitar. Rolling Stone magazine called him, “the improbable child of Pantera and Doc Watson.” He picks so fast and with such power that he is known for breaking multiple strings in any given song.

His father was a picker too and was one of his first influences growing up in Michigan. He turned him on to the classic players such as Watson, Bill Monroe, and Earl Scruggs. But as with every child of the internet age, he was also influenced by other sounds including the hard rock and metal of Jimi Hendrix, Black Sabbath, and mostly likely the aforementioned Pantera.

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John Medeski’s Mad Skillet in stores, 11/9

Most of the late night jam sessions at Jazz Fest are just that—late night jam sessions with the music flowing from the musicians into the ether. While occasionally magic happens, it is often of the one-off, not-easily-repeated variety. John Medeski’s Mad Skillet, featuring New Orleanians Kirk Joseph on sousaphone and Terence Higgins on drums, formed under those very circumstances. But the magic stuck. Their eponymous debut album is in stores Friday.

Since this writer is New Orleans-based, I had to lead with the local musicians who defined a certain period in the long career of the Dirty Dozen Brass Band, but John Medeski is one of the best known musicians in the jazz and jam band worlds. As the keyboardist with Medeski, Martin and Wood, he is highly influential and is one of the leaders of his generation.

The guitar player in the band is no slacker either. Part of the genesis of the band was Medeski seeking out Will Bernard at Jazz Fest in order to jam together. Medeski was already connected with Joseph and Higgins because he produced the Dirty Dozen’s 1999 album, Buck Jump.

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Legendary bassist Jerry Jemmott plays the Maple Leaf Bar tonight, 11/1 and Café Istanbul, 11/2

Johnny Vidacovich’s trio shows at the Maple Leaf Bar have become one of the best shows around town for fans of improvisation in virtually any genre. Usually the other members of the trio are local luminaries on the music scene, but every now and then a legend pops on by. Tonight is no exception when Jerry Jemmott, one of the most recorded and acclaimed session musicians from the 1960s and 1970s, comes to New Orleans. He will also join Vidacovich on Friday night at Café Istanbul.

Thursday night’s gig will also feature keyboardist Joe Ashlar. On Friday night expect to see one of the founding members of the trio, guitarist June Yamagishi. Vidacovich said about the gigs, “I’ve always been a fan! Who hasn’t? I know that I’ll be smiling! I can’t wait.”

Jemmott, who is known as the “Groovemaster,” has a resume that crosses genres much like the work of Vidacovich. He began playing music as a youngster obsessed with jazz players like Paul Chambers and Charles Mingus. But his first claim to fame was with the great soul and R&B saxophonist King Curtis.

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Trombone Shorty welcomes Michael Franti and others to Champions Square, 10/20

The Voodoo Threauxdown, Troy “Trombone Shorty” Andrews and his band Orleans Avenue’s summer tour, hit dozens of cities this summer bringing a serious taste of New Orleans to venues across the country. The finale of the extravaganza, dubbed “Hometown Threauxdown,” takes plays a dozen blocks from the Tremé neighborhood where Andrews grew up. The show features Michael Franti & Spearhead, the Preservation Hall Brass Band, the New Breed Brass Band, Mannie Fresh, and many others. It kicks off at Bold Sphere Music at Champions Square at 6 PM on Saturday.

The summer tour featured a number of special guests including Walter “Wolfman” Washington and Kermit Ruffins, but it’s Franti and his band Spearhead that has people in New Orleans energized. The acclaimed singer/songwriter is touring in anticipation of his upcoming album, Stay Human Vol. 2, which is due January 25, and his new self-directed documentary Stay Human that is screening at select film festivals now.

Franti explains about his new music and film, “I’ve traveled the globe making music and throughout the years I’ve always hoped that it could inspire small steps towards making the world a better place. Struggling with the challenges of the world I began filming my new documentary, Stay Human, telling the stories of heroic everyday people who helped me to discover more deeply what it means to be and STAY HUMAN.”

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Unidos do Swing brings Brazilian brass band music to Café Istanbul, 10/18 and 10/22

Regular readers of this space know that I love Brazilian music almost as much as I love New Orleans music. So when a serendipitous encounter with a Brazilian trombonist at Satchmo SummerFest presented a chance to hire a Brazilian brass band, I jumped to attention. Now, two and half months later, Unidos do Swing is in New Orleans and will be playing two shows at Café Istanbul.

The group is from São Paulo and their music is an infectious mix of traditional jazz with the music of the Brazil. The band is a parading unit, like a New Orleans brass band, featuring brass, wind, percussion, and string instruments. The musicians are inspired by the sounds of jazz and traditional Brazilian rhythms. The video below has some information about the band with English subtitles. At the end you will hear a snippet of the Rebirth Brass Band’s “Do Whatcha Wanna.”

The repertoire of Unidos do Swing is a unique fusion of New Orleans second line music, swing era jazz, blues, and the Brazilian sounds of maracatu, baião, and of course, samba. They also throw some ska into the pot along with their original tunes and arrangements. The band is in the middle of their first international tour with performances at HONK! Festivals in Somerville MA, Providence RI, and New York City.

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Robert Walter’s 20th Congress bring Spacesuit to D.B.A., 10/18

For several years organist and keyboardist Robert Walter was a fixture on the New Orleans scene, performing in various combos and collaborating with New Orleans musicians. Since moving out of town, he’s put together a new version of his flagship band, the 20th Congress, featuring two local stalwarts—drummer Simon Lott and guitarist Chris Alford. They will perform songs off their new album, Spacesuit, at D.B.A. Thursday night.

Spacesuit is a bit of a departure for Walter whose modus operandi has mostly been mining the fertile territory of jazz, funk, and soul as it was practiced by the greats throughout the 1960s and 1970s. For the new album, Walter decided to stretch his influences into another realm entirely.

While the album retains much of his hallmark scintillating keyboard work and the quartet, which also features funky bassist Victor Little, is tight at the proverbial drum, some of the sounds may seem out of place to listeners used to Walter’s more straight ahead soul jazz work particularly on his albums with New Orleans drummer Stanton Moore and with his seminal group, the Greyboy Allstars.

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Debut release from
Max Moran & Neospectric in stores, Maple Leaf Bar release show tonight, 10/12

Bassist Max Moran has always been one of the brightest lights in the new generation of jazz players now coming into their own in New Orleans. A member of the award-winning Bridge Trio since his high school years, he’s also an in-demand sideman across the city and the country. The eponymous debut album from his band Neospectric, is in stores today and the group will celebrated the release with an early performance tonight at the Maple Leaf Bar. Showtime is 8 PM.

For jazz lovers expecting more of the straight ahead post-bop Moran is known for with the Bridge Trio and some of his work as a sideman, you will be in for an unexpected, but delightful surprise with this album. It’s a homage of sorts to the legendary funk and R&B sounds of the 1970s; think bands like Earth, Wind and Fire, the Meters, and the work of George Clinton filtered through the perspective of the 29-year old musician. Some of the songs even hint at the fusion music of that era.

The combination makes for compelling listening. As another generation of jazz artists begin exploring music outside that genre, they bring a collection of experiences and musical influences unavailable to musicians who grew up in the 1980s and ’90s and looked back fondly on the seminal music of the 1970s. These players are part of a continuum of discovery that helps invigorate every generation of inquisitive players across the length and breadth of modern music.

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Jazz pianist Christian Sands’ Facing Dragons
in stores today, 9/21

PHOTO: ANNA WEBBER | Just thirty years old, critically acclaimed jazz pianist/composer Christian Sands represents a new generation of musicians schooled, like many of his contemporaries in other genres, on a wide range of musical styles. He brings all of his influences to bear on Facing Dragons, his current effort for Mack Avenue Records. It’s out today.

“Sangueo Soul,” a track that was pre-released back in early August, sets the stage for what’s to come on the full album. Sands had this to say about the song, “(It’s) an infectious groove influenced by the rhythms of the Caribbean and South America…I grew up in the gospel church but also around many other styles of music, so they all inspire me in similar ways.”

Though much of the album was recorded using his touring trio of Yasushi Nakamura on bass and Jerome Jennings on drums, some of the most fascinating tracks feature two percussionists—Cristian Rivera and Roberto Quintero on Venezuelan indigenous percussion (cumaco, clarin, laures, maracas). The first three of those instruments may be unfamiliar to most listeners but they help create a mighty force, especially in conjunction with Sands’ very percussive piano technique.

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Hep Cat brings Portugal. The Man and Chicano Batman to the Sugar Mill tonight, 7/14

Hep Cat Entertainment, one of New Orleans’ most innovative independent promoters, is bringing one of the most exciting tours of the season to New Orleans. Eclectic rockers Portugal. The Man are riding high after their Grammy win last year and Chicano Batman is gaining more and more followers and attention for their unique mix of genres that could only have been birthed by four Latinos out of Los Angeles. They play at the Sugar Mill tonight.

I first saw Portugal. The Man on one of the small stages at the Voodoo Fest long before the festival moved to City’s Park’s new festival grounds and began focusing more on EDM, mainstream rock, and hip hop acts. I first saw Chicano Batman on the tiny stage at Euclid Records.

Portugal. The Man has been on Atlantic Records since 2010 and have been growing in popularity with each album. Their Grammy win came in the category of “Best Pop Duo/Group Performance” for the song “Feel It Still.” Their latest album, Woodstock, is another musical coup featuring lead singer John Gourley’s easy rapport and vocal synergy with his partner and background singer Zoe Manville.

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MuleBone reunites to celebrate the re-release of two classic albums at One-Eyed Jacks, 9/14

In the 1990s, long before the trombone-driven rock of Bonerama became part of the evolving fabric of modern music in New Orleans, Mark Mullins, one of that band’s founders, and keyboardist and vocalist John Gros, formed MuleBone. Gros would go on to form Papa Grows Funk and also take his place in the New Orleans musical pantheon. MuleBone, recorded two well-received albums and slowly faded as the musicians’ other projects came to dominate their careers.

Mullins and Gros, along with guitarist Jimmy Robinson and drummer Mike Barras, mainstays of the group’s short but acclaimed tenure, will reunite for one night only at One-Eyed Jacks to celebrate the re-release of MuleBone’s two albums. (The publicity photo below was taken during the recording of their debut in 1998.) Like many bands that begin and develop in New Orleans, numerous musicians rolled through the ranks. Dave Pomerleau of Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes will play bass on Friday night.

2018 marks the 20th anniversary of MuleBone’s award-winning debut album 5 Shakes, 7 Spirits. A year later, the band swept the ceremonies of the city’s two music-awarding publications winning “Best Rock Band” at Gambit’s Big Easy Awards and OffBeat magazine’s Best of the Beat. OffBeat readers also honored the group for “Best Rock Album.” In 2001, MuleBone released their follow-up album, Only in New Orleans. By that point Gros had amicably left the group to focus on Papa Grows Funk.

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  • SUPPORTING YOUR LOCAL INDIE SHOPS SINCE 2007


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