Esperanza SpaldingYOU 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 Jazz she Nate Mendel 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 Mendel 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!
Tony HallRespect 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.