TVD Live: The New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival,

PHOTOS: DENNIS MCDONOUGH |  With the exception of a small smattering of rain on Friday morning that delayed the opening of the gates of the New Orleans Fairgrounds by 30 minutes and some sound troubles, the second weekend of Jazz Fest went off as expected with thousands of festers renewing the traditions of a lifetime.

One of the most highly anticipated sets in many years was an acoustic performance of some “lost” original songs by Meters guitarist Leo Nocentelli. Accompanied by three backing vocalists and guitarists Marc Stone and Lo Faber, the funk icon displayed songwriting chops on a set of songs not heard in 50 years.

Despite being hobbled by sound problems at the outset, Nocentelli delivered a sweet set culminating in his unique, guitar-based cover of piano man Elton John’s first major hit, “Your Song.”

On the much smaller Fais Do Do stage, South Carolina-based Gullah musicians Ranky Tanky brought so much spirit it felt at times as if we were in jazz church. The band sang and played their hearts out much to the delight of the smallish crowd.

On Friday, the Lagniappe stage gradually filled up for a powerful set of Americana songs from Shannon McNally. She took advantage of both her time living in New Orleans and the fact that New Orleans has some of the best musicians working today. She hired a crack rhythm section that featured Tony Hall on bass, Raymond Weber on drums and “Papa” John Gros on keys. Fun Fact: Hall and Weber were out until 4 AM the night before playing the annual Jazz Fest tribute to James Brown at the Maple Leaf Bar.

Later in the day, in one of the best “Easter eggs” on the Jazz Fest schedule, million-selling artist Norah Jones (pictured at top) performed with her side project Puss N Boots (pictured below). This group of three sassy women traded instruments, gaffes and guffaws, while having more fun than many in the crowd. Jones really turned heads when she took a turn behind the drum kit.

Cuban sensation Cimafunk played two sets on Saturday and I caught the first one on the intimate Jazz and Heritage stage. He is a charismatic performer, but his saxophonist and trombonist practically stole the show with deft soloing, energetic dancing, and a charismatic presence of their own.

The Jazz Tent was conspicuously empty most of the times I ventured there perhaps because of lingering fears of the coronavirus. Considering the number of musicians that had to cancel gigs including Willie Nelson, Melissa Etheridge, George Porter, Jr. and numerous others, those fears may have been well founded.

But the set from Amina Figorova on Sunday afternoon was well worth the effort. The New York-based, Azerbaijan-born pianist brought her sextet for a performance grounded in compositional fluidity and deft musicality. She gave plenty of space for her bandmates to solo and solo they did—much like the hundreds of musicians who played before her over the seven days of the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival.

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