JazzFest ’17, Day I: Souled Out & Sated

Posted: April 28th, 2017 | Filed under: Culture, Music | 1 Comment »

There’s a fundamental miscalculation that plagues just about all of the spate of contemporary retro-style R & B singers.

It’s a disturbing tendency for them to oversell their songs, an apparent belief that if they don’t go full James Brown or Otis Redding, their soulfulness might be questioned.

Two of the guiltiest are among the most popular.

Charles Bradley would be but an afterthought back in the heyday. Maybe an opening act on an extended bill featuring Solomon Burke, Jackie Wilson and others far better. If he’s even worthy of that?

St. Paul and Broken Bones singer, bespeckled Paul Janeway also tries way way way too hard. That he looks like a pledge chairman of the KAs at Alabama and sings like the winner of a Fraternity Song Festival Otis Redding Sing Alike contest has carried him a long way.

Those two aren’t alone in their lack of subtlety.

Too many singers don’t comprehend that soul can be easy and still ring true to the bone.

Sam Cooke was smooth and easy. Sam Cooke was gold standard.

Which brings me to Leon Bridges, who mesmerized on the Gentilly stage this afternoon.

Cooke is the guy to whom he’s often compared. That’s a high bar. Not being very familiar with his music, I was skeptical. I grew up on Cooke and Dee Clark and Ray Charles and the other rhythm and blues forefathers.

I am now convinced. Leon Bridges comparison to Sam Cooke is legit. The highest of praise.

He cleverly opened with his hit, “River.” What a coup. Get it out of the way then do the meat of the show.

His second tune was straight ahead rock & roll. Coulda been a Little Richard song. Followed by straight ahead doo wop. Gimme a friggin’ break. I was locked in.

Didn’t know any of the songs. Didn’t know any of the lyrics. Didn’t matter.

I was transported to one of those Shower of Stars tours that dominated the scene in the early 60s.

Quiet. Unassuming. Easy. Leon Bridges is far and away the best of the new soul singers. (And, his mama grew up in the Crescent City.)

What a damn treat.

 * * * * * *

From that satisfaction, which carried me back to shows I savored in ’62, I ambled over to Congo Square to hear Mokoomba. They transported me back to one of my favorite JazzFest moments decades ago.

From Zimbabwe and singing in a totally unfamiliar tongue, which I’ve just learned is Tonga, they shredded me.

Their lilting, harmonic, unbelievably rhythmic tuneage blew in like whiffs of comforting breeze off the savannah.

I was reminded of the first time I heard Mahlathini and the Mahotella Queens on the same Congo Square turf. Though back then the stage was at the other end and area was smaller, closed in by other stages.

On that day I morphed to total energy, sweated through my clothes dancing.

Today with Mokoomba, I transcended beyond corporality. I closed my eyes and started to sway and became invisible, nothing but movement.

It is the most magical of feelings, an attainment often hoped for, but only present on the rarest of occasions. It evolved today, as that described day years ago. The only other times I can recall are two concerts of Youssou N’dour et le Super Etoile, also an African ensemble from Dakar.

While I’ve heard many of these bands from the Lost Continent through the years at JF — It’s a prime reason I keep returning — Mokoomba is the first whose music almost (but not quite) matched the sophistication of N’Dour’s.

Bottom line: We wuz dancin’ til we wuz mindless.

Damn, I love this festival.

So sated was I that I left. There was no need to hear anything more. The left/ right punches of Leon Bridges and Mokoomba — along with treats earlier in day soon to be mentioned — made me whole.

Serenity prevails.

 * * * * * *

Meschiya Lake is the best of New Orleans’ old timey throw back chanteuses.

Her tatts, orange hair and skintight dress did not distract from her incredible singing chops. The Little Big Horns backing her were suitably tight.

Not of lot of political proselytizing from the stages at JF.

But, before one tune, Ms. Lake dedicated it to our president, whom she named.

Then sang, “Satan/ Your kingdom must come down.”

 * * * * * *

My favorite t-shirt of the day.

“You Can’t Beat Wagner’s Meat”

 * * * * * *

Mr. Sipp, who hails from Bo Diddley’s home town of McComb, Mississippi, is the hottest young blues guy I’ve heard in awhile.

They loved him early on in the Blues Tent, where the sound remains, as always, mushy for some reason, and the ushers remain overbearing for some reason.

Especially entranced was a gal in a flamingo dress, who was dancing on her chair when Mr. S ventured into the adoring crowd. Always a performing affectation that pleases.

 * * * * * *

Two favorite non-musical moments of the day: One, my man Joe, 88 years young, saved my parking spot in front of his house, as he’s done for years. Two, I ordered up a bottle of water at one of the beverage stands, where they also sell beer.

“Card him,” one of the ladies said.

 * * * * *

For the first time ever I tried the pheasant, quail and andouille sausage gumbo. Zesty. But my favorite nosh of the day was an old fave: Crawfish Strudel.

 * * * * * *

Loved hearing the dulcit tones of Larry McKinley when entering and leaving the Fairgrounds.

He’s the “voice in the box” that greets attendees with admonishments about what can or cannot be brought in. (The speakers are in a styrofoam cooler, thus “voice in a box.”)

Welcome to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival presented by Shell.

Please hold your own tickets and open all bags which are subject to search.

Remember, for your fun and safety, the following are strictly prohibited . . . 

It’s way more welcoming than it sounds. One last assurance that JazzFest has arrived for another round.

 * * * * * *

Love the b/w photo that now hovers over the center of the Blues Tent stage.

BB King is sitting down, Lucille in hand. Leaning over to whisper in his ear is Allen Toussaint. Their foreheads are touching.

May they both rest in peace.

 * * * * *

It was a cloudy, windy but rain-free day.

The crowd was really manageable.

Very pleasant.

 * * * * * *

The Real Untouchable Brass Band was tight on the Jazz & Heritage Stage.

There are three first families of New Orleans music these years.

The Neville clan.

The Marsalis clan.

And the one you’re probably less familiar with: the Batistes.

Batiste Fathers & Sons (and several brothers from other mothers) opened the day on the big stage. 15 strong. Big funky sound. Deep groove led by Russell Batiste Jr. on traps. David Batiste Sr. in a purple tux with a purple bowtie and cummerbund was the center piece.

He buttplayed the organ. Among other things.

 * * * * * *

The Revealers, a local reggae soul group, were into peace and love.

It’s about time we all found a way to get along

I like the sound of that/ I even like the echo

Tomorrow I’ll be back for more.

— c d kaplan


One Comment on “JazzFest ’17, Day I: Souled Out & Sated”

  1. 1 Hoya Destroya said at 9:51 am on April 29th, 2017:

    “There’s a fundamental miscalculation that plagues just about all of the spate of contemporary retro-style R & B singers.

    It’s a disturbing tendency for them to oversell their songs, an apparent belief that if they don’t go full James Brown or Otis Redding, their soulfulness might questioned.”

    STONE COLD TRUTH! Perfectly stated, CD. Thanks for the reports. I thrill vicariously annually. First families of NOLA music; don’t forget Kidd Jordan’s talented family.


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