Bass Highlights from the 45th New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival

THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL celebrated the first weekend of its 45th anniversary event with guitar-heavy marquee acts including Santana, Phish, Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, and Eric Clapton.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

THE NEW ORLEANS JAZZ & HERITAGE FESTIVAL celebrated the first weekend of its 45th anniversary event with guitar-heavy marquee acts including Santana, Phish, Robert Plant & the Sensational Space Shifters, and Eric Clapton. Bassists Benny Rietveld, Mike Gordon, Billy Fuller, and Dave Bronze provided solid platforms for the guitar stars, but there was a deeper bass story bubbling just below the surface, with local players including Myles Weeks, Sam Price, and Charlie Wooten powering Eric Lindell & Co., the Honey Island Swamp Band, and the Royal Southern Brotherhood—acts that appear to be on their way to headliner status by the time Jazz Fest’s 50th anniversary rolls around.

Mike Gordon and his big Phish-ing rig Weeks infused Eric Lindell’s groovy rhythm blues with jazzy adventure, playing an upright through an Ampeg SVT. He stuffed his ƒ-holes with cloth to deaden the sound, but Weeks’ playing was absolutely alive in the moment. He whooped out some sweet flamenco-style flourishes with his plucking hand.

Sam Price sweetened up Honey Island’s set when he utilized a Kala U-Bass for a few tunes, including “Josephine.” “I love to mix in the Uke-Bass once in a while because it freaks folks out to hear such a big, round sound coming from such a little instrument,” Price said after the performance.

“Serve the song” is a major bass player cliché, but Jimbo Hart epitomized the ethos backing former Drive-By Trucker Jason Isbell on a Fender Precision. Hart demonstrated a Rick Danko-like understanding of how to support and enhance Isbell’s colorful tunes.

Sam Price plucks a Kala U-Bass with the Honey Island Swamp Band.Colorful character: Jimbo Hart with Jason Isbell Musical director Benny Rietveld provided much more than supportive bass on his Music Man for Carlos Santana. He led the guitar icon’s ensemble headlong into a fiery set that kicked off with a slew of crowd pleasers including “Jingo,” “Oye Como Va,” and a version of “Black Magic Woman” that morphed into a Latin-jazz take on Hendrix’s “Third Stone from the Sun.” Rietveld and Santana often shared smiles as they stood toe-to-toe trading ideas.

Scorching hot with a few flurries: Myles Weeks jazzing up the Blues Tent with Eric Lindell & Co. Clapton’s set was as laid back as Santana’s was energetic. With longtime bassist Nathan East focused on his solo record this year, Slowhand recalled Dave Bronze. He demonstrated a wide range of touch tones as Clapton alternately played straight blues, a mini acoustic set, and a select few arena rockers such as “Cocaine” that left Festgoers wanting more.

Phish played it fairly safe as well, but one could hardly blame the band considering it was blamed for fans’ unruly behavior at Jazz Fest in 1996. This year the tone from Gordon’s Modulus 5-string was as clear as an unmuddied lake—especially when he took a jazzy solo on “Lawn Boy”—and even as his sound faded into the background as we moved on to see Robert Plant.

Plant did not play it safe. In fact, his band’s sense of sonic adventure made it the most impressive headliner. Bassist Billy Fuller and the rest of the truly sensational Space Shifters were spot-on when Plant played it straight-ahead on gems such as “What Is and What Should Never Be,” and when the Space Shifters played mightily rearranged traditional blues tunes such as “Spoonful” and “Fixin’ to Die,” past and future collided.

Royal Southern Brotherhood’s Charlie Wooten cops regal groves (with drummer Yonrico Scott).Billy Fuller Space Shifting with Robert Plant Charlie Wooten left a lasting impression. His pocket playing with drummer Yonrico Scott (Derek Trucks Band) was as precise as it was profound, and his 5-string solo was mind-melting. He may not be related to that other Wooten, but he showcased comparable chops, including copious double thumbing. The entire Royal Southern Brotherhood ensemble—which also features Cyril Neville, Devon Allman, and Mike Zito—was as hot as the sultry Jazz Fest afternoon. This Southern brotherhood is heir apparent to the disintegrating Allman Brothers Band.