Author Archives: Jay Mazza

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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The Chris Robinson Brotherhood returns
to the Joy Theater tonight, 9/7

PHOTO: JON CORNICK | It’s been just about a year since the former Black Crowes singer brought his latest ensemble to New Orleans. The Chris Robinson Brotherhood is embarking on another phase of their seemingly endless tour. This segment began last night in Pensacola and after tonight’s show at the Joy Theater, the band will criss cross the south before heading to points east and midwest before the tour concludes in mid November.

The group is ostensibly touring in support of their latest, critically acclaimed studio album, Barefoot in the Head. But this is a band that continually records and releases concert recordings.

Earlier this year, The CRB released Raven’s Reels, Vol. 1, an exclusive limited edition, 6-LP box set, for Record Store Day. It features a complete concert recording from their September 24, 2017 show at the Bijou Theatre in Knoxville, TN. That show was just over a week after their last performance in New Orleans.

Besides their extensive touring schedule, the band has already commenced work on their next studio album at Brotherhood Arts Laboratory in Unicorn, CA. “Venus In Chrome” and “The Chauffeur’s Daughter”—recent staples of CRB live sets—are among songs expected to be featured on the collection. A release date for the album has yet to be determined.

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Silver & Stone from singer Mike Farris in stores tomorrow, 9/7

At the end of a week when music lovers celebrated the life of Aretha Franklin, the greatest gospel singer-turned-soul-legend in history, another gospel singer tries his hand at soul and R&B. Mike Farris won the 2015 “roots gospel” Grammy award for Shine For All the People. His new album, Sliver & Stone, is in stores today on Compass Records.

Though the instrumentation, complete with pulsing organ and backing vocalists that recall the Memphis heyday of Stax Records, may seem to be a departure, Farris’s music is rooted in the gospel tradition of celebrating and getting through life’s hardships.

The album is also a return of sorts to secular music. Farris first rose to the attention of the music world with his 1990s band, the Screamin’ Cheetah Wheelies. Though that band trafficked in southern rock rather than gospel or soul, Farris’s voice was its defining feature and earned them a major label deal on Atlantic Records after emerging on the bar scene in Nashville.

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The Optimist, solo LP from Vulfpeck guitarist Cory Wong, arrives in stores today, 8/17

When Vulfpeck played at Tipitina’s this past spring, they sold out two nights in a row. Numerous friends went both nights. I had never even heard of the band, so when the sophomore solo effort from the band’s guitarist Cory Wong popped onto my radar I immediately popped it in. Though I listened to a pre-release download, the album will be released on vinyl today.

Wong surrounds himself with great musicians on The Optimist. The opening song, “Jax,” features members of Prince’s horn section. It is funky in a way that the Purple One would certainly have enjoyed.

“The Hornheads are best known as Prince’s horn section,” explains Wong, “and their leader, Michael Nelson, did most of the horn arrangements for Prince. The guys are all 20-30 years older than us, but we fit right in as friends because they love seeing young musicians with such passion.”

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Debut from Noisewater in stores today, Tipitina’s release party Saturday night, 8/11

They play instrumental music that is all over the map genre-wise, but one thing you can certainly be sure of with Noisewater—they rock out live. The band’s eponymous debut album arrives today on Louisiana Red Hot Records. They celebrate the release with a show tomorrow night at Tipitina’s.

Since writers always want to pigeonhole bands into a specific genre, Noisewater has opted to call their music funk rock. But to my ears, both on the album and in the live setting, the band inspires comparisons to Galactic for three reasons. They have a distinctly jazzy approach to their sound with a saxophonist, Ole Anders Oddlokkken, out front on many of the tunes.

The second reason is their instrumental sound. Though it’s true they have elements of other genres including metal, reggae, and prog rock, they come across as jazzy funk to the casual listener. Thirdly, this band flat-out jams.

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Satchmo Summerfest Weekend Picks, 8/4–8/5

Saturday morning Satchmo Summerfest kicks off the same way as it did on Friday with a performance on the neutral ground. This time it’s the Edna Karr Marching Cougars and the Satchmo Sound Off. Here are our thoughts for Saturday and Sunday. The full schedule is here.

Trumpeter Doyle Cooper makes his Satchmo Summerfest debut at 12:15 PM. Known in some circles as Trumpet Red, I have been listening to him play since he was a pre-teen. He’s now a leader with a crack band. Check out the future of New Orleans jazz.

When I first saw Japanese trumpeter Yoshio Toyama back in the early days of the Satchmo Summerfest, I thought his act was a bit of a novelty predicated on his ability to imitate the vocals stylings of Armstrong. But then I found out all the good work he’s done on behalf of the music students of New Orleans and I realized his homage was genuine. Now getting up in years, this could be his last year back in the city. Check him out while you can and see how far the influence of Armstrong has traveled.

Dr. Brice Miller, now an important member of Mayor Cantrell’s administration in charge of the cultural economy, has led the Mahogany Brass Band for years. They will definitely put on a spirited set.

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