Big Easy Beats: Bass Notes from the 46th New Orleans Jazz Fest

Time moves slowly in New Orleans, where grooves from 1975 are practically modern, but the sands of the hourglass shift everywhere eventually—even in the long laid back of the Big Easy.
By Jimmy Leslie ,

TIME MOVES SLOWLY IN NEW ORLEANS, WHERE GROOVES FROM 1975 are practically modern, but the sands of the hourglass shift everywhere eventually—even in the long laid back of the Big Easy. Evidence during the 46th annual New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival included Nevilles Forever, a star-studded farewell tribute concert honoring the Neville Brothers that took place offsite at the stunning Saenger Theatre, where Tony Hall played bass with the Brothers. Skeptical Fest veterans still expect reunion shows, but the gala indicated that the original Neville epoch is truly closing.

Rick Barrio Dill digs deep with Vintage Trouble. Onsite, the original Meters reunited for a set on the main stage, but they weren’t headliners—they played before NOLA transplant Lenny Kravitz, and heir apparent Trombone Shorty & Orleans Avenue. Meters bassist George Porter Jr. and drummer Zigaboo Modeliste brought their famously syncopated funk alive with plenty of vigor, fervor, and blessed imperfections on “(The World Is a Bit Under the Weather) Doodle-Oop.” Porter thumbed out a phat solo on a Lakland during “Just Kissed My Baby.” But keyboardist/singer Art Neville’s age and waning health have caught up to him. He was capably backed up by Ivan Neville, and returned the favor by sitting in with Ivan’s main act, Dumpstaphunk.

Uptown rulers: George Porter Jr. and Zigaboo Modeliste. Dumpsta didn’t miss a beat playing its first Jazz Fest with relatively new drummer Alvin Ford Jr. on a ridiculously rainy Saturday afternoon. Bassists Nick Daniels and Tony Hall conjured dual thunder playing a Tobias Classic 5 and a Peavey USA Millennium 5 respectively. They were particularly devastating on vocals and bass during the set closer, “Dancin’ to the Truth.”

New/old-school quartet Vintage Trouble erupted on the Gentilly stage with a set of searing rock & soul. Their dressed-up and buttoned-down groove was practically the antitheses of Meters funk—more like a heavy-duty version of the James Brown style. Singer Ty Taylor was as dynamic and as vocally outstanding as a young Soul Brother No. 1, and the rhythm section of Rick Barrio Dill and beat master Richard Danielson locked down the groove as tight as Brown’s old bandmembers fearful of mistake-induced fines!

Tony Hall (right) and Nick Daniels (left) crunch guitarist Ian Neville in a bass sandwich. Speaking of Brown, Tony Hall actually fronted a solid JB tribute on the Congo Stage. The hardest-working man at Jazz Fest dropped his bass, donned a brilliant red jacket, sang his butt off, and did an admirable job as a frontman.

Christian McBride was perhaps the most prominent jazz bassist on the bill. By the time we arrived to see his Big Band with special guest vocalists Dianne Reeves and Jeffrey Osborne, McBride’s upright was lying on the floor and he was raising the roof via an Atelier Z J-style 5-string. McBride closed the final day of festivities at the Zatarain’s/WWOZ Jazz Tent with a spirit and energy that will tide over endlessly hungry Fest fans until next year—fo’ sho’!