YOU CAN COUNT ON THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL
to serve generous helpings of authentic regional flavors, rather than the flavor of the
month; artists such as Papa Grows Funk, Kermit Ruffins & the Barbeque Swingers,
Keith Frank & the Soileau Zydeco Band, and Astral Project found themselves gracing
grand stages before oceans of “Fess Heads,” rather than jammed onto diminutive
stages at local watering holes.
The dominant bass force this year
was Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk.
What started out as a glorified cover
band formed to play Jazz Fest in 2003
found its own footing through collaborative
songwriting that draws from
all regions and eras of soul music.
Dumpsta delivered heavy doses of
material from its first two releases,
and dabs of fresh phunk from its new
offering, Dirty Word. Obsessive touring
and the relentless energy of relatively
new drummer Nikki Glaspie
has turned them into a lean, mean,
funk machine. Dual electric 5-stringers Tony Hall and
Nick Daniels have essentially melded into a 20-digit
bass monster. The colossal low end and filthy grooves
they threw down from the Gentilly Stage must have set
a Jazz Fest record for baddest bass jams ever.
The premier bass import was Esperanza
Spalding, who made her first Jazz
Fest appearance and fell victim to a more
dubious record—worst soundcheck ever.
Eager fans waited 45 minutes for the
hottest jazz act on the planet as crews
tweaked instruments and cables, only to
watch Spalding subjected to the horror of
picking up an upright she referred to as
“my voice” and finding that it still didn’t
work. She audibled to a fretless Fender
referred to as “her other voice”
and proceeded to demonstrate the kind of
Pastorius-inspired chops, profound composition
skills, and sheer radiance that
earned her the 2011 Grammy Award for
Best New Artist. Well handled, young lady.
| Robert Mercurio
The Foo Fighters were probably the
heaviest band ever to appear at Jazz Fest.
Some didn’t feel the Fighters were appropriate,
but after listening to countless
funk, jazz, gospel, and blues acts many
agreed that the Foo Fighters were a welcome
kick in the teeth. Bassman Nate
and his fellow Foos had their
grooves locked in sheer granite. Props to
Mendel for channeling unbridled energy
through his Fender P-Bass into the Foo
Fighters’ stellar tune missiles. Any Foo
in the vicinity was blown to smithereens!
Respect to Galactic for its ability to
re-invent itself not only year to year, but
also from song to song. Robert Mercurio
and the Galactic krewe always conjure an
extra special Jazz Fest set, and this year’s
extravaganza included several selections
from the Mercurio-produced Carnivale
Electricos with groovy guests including
Trombone Shorty, Golden Comanche
Big Chief Juan Pardo, and Living Colour
frontman Corey Glover. Galactic’s hornheavy
rendition of “Cult of Personality”
was miraculous. It’s easy to envision Galactic
replacing the Neville Brothers as Jazz
Fest closers in the not-too-distant future.