Well, and here we are again with the exciting part two of our New Orleans Jazz Fest ’03 coverage, or, almost, we are, anyway. And I’m Thurston Kelp, your jazz fest correspondent embedded in New Orleans, dressed up funny and ready to eat! (Of course, I’m using the word “embedded” here in the usual sense of “chatted with some of the musicians.”)
First, a word about why the Jazz Fest is so important to anyone seeking local music news: please know that I never once forget that this is, after all, very much a local music column, sometimes even with news about actual events alleged to have happened on this particular side of the bridge -and i take those responsibilities seriously. The local tie-in here, of course, is the Orleans-New Orleans connection: Orleans is a small, quiet town on Cape Cod, while New Orleans is bigger, noisier, more generally apocalyptic and insane, and not on Cape Cod. Where did we go wrong?
New Orleans is currently leading us in music, money, food, murders, football, magic, and voodoo; we’re still leading them in quiet and beach, though. Still, we should try to keep up. Orleans should have a Jazz Fest, if only for the misunderstandings and confusion it would cause. Come on, everybody, let’s get together and put on a show!
Which brings us back to, know your competition: after the first five bands on opening day (which is all I managed to cover last time), we made perhaps our best new discovery of the fest, which was Patrice Fisher & Arpa with Chiko & Rogerio of Brazil, a New Orleans/Brazilian hybrid featuring harp, violin, piano, nylon string guitars, a couple of horns, electric bass, and drums playing Ms. Fisher’s gorgeous and thoughtful arrangements. They were most notable for being so tight, so sublime, and so oblivious to funk. Among Ms. Fisher’s many recordings is “Wanderings” (Broken Records, available at Gourd.com), which features Chiko & Rogerio on 2 cuts.
Then over to the Blues Tent (via the Gospel Tent, of course; after a while, you learn to do as much as you can via the Gospel Tent) for a bit of Bob Margolin and Pinetop Perkins (guitarist Margolin had a nice, hard, stinging tone, and they managed to play a version of “Kansas City” that captured both the spirit and the letter of the original band track, which seemed almost shocking after all these years of bastardizing -who ever would have thought a simple, faithful version of “Kansas City” could sound so enlightening and refreshing.
Allen Toussaint, who is pretty much the Godfather figure of New Orleans rock’n’roll, played twice at Jazz Fest; we caught him in his jazz quartet disguise, which was one he had not tried previously. The set was casual, elegant, and pleasant -cool jazz for a cool day (Thursday was the only non-sunny day, which kept the crowd down a bit and made for very comfortable conditions;. actually, the whole weekend was notable for its unseasonable lack of serious heat or humidity.)
I know the next thing you’re going to want to know is, what was Mrs. Kelp- my gently floating, flaffling fashion faun; the light, the way, woot, lawdey! -it’s Mrs. K! -wearing, and I’m sorry that I cannot divulge that at this time, except to say that it was exceptionally tight and revealing, making me think from time to time, hubba hubba, that’s some serious wife I have there.
She must have spotted me thinking that, because at that point she deserted me for Lucinda Williams; meanwhile, I was resolute in my determination to see Fats Domino, who I had never seen before, and who has always been one of my heroes. He also performs very rarely, and even less outside of New Orleans, so I figured I’d better not miss him. Sure enough, he was absolutely wonderful, timeless and un-changed, playing perfect, untouched arrangements of all his hits (when he did choose a higher note in “Red Sails in the Sunset”, the move was stunning by contrast), never once stopping for a breath between hits, still perfect after all these years.
So, OK, it’s taken me two columns to tell you who we saw on the first day; better go into overdrive: Dylan was wonderful on Friday, playing almost nothing but keyboards, and smiling frequently (!!!) He played a version of “Mr. Tambourine Man” where he seemed to be singing as badly and perversely as he possibly could, sometimes cracking himself up in the effort; yet his band played it so beautifully that it somehow worked, mysteriously and profoundly. Then we watched the U.N.O Gospel Choir transform the Gospel Tent from a snooze into an eruption, as we rushed the stage like we’d seen the light.
We loved the New Leviathan Oriental Foxtrot Orchestra, all 30 or so of them, dressed nautically and playing pop music of the twenties and thirties (with a name like that, it hardly matters what you sound like); and I was told that Sam Butera, Louis Prima’s famed sax man, was a riot on Saturday (I had to leave early, darn it.)
Sunday’s highlights included a wonderful clarinetist named Tim Laughlin, who played nicely chosen standards with a beautiful, round tone (Tim also has a bunch of albums out -try timlaughlin.com); a procession of great zydeco accordionists including D. L. Menard, Sean Ardoin, and Mingo Saldivar at the Fais Do-Do Stage; serious gospel from some of Richard Smallwood’s background singers; the Rebirth Brass Band, Dr. John, Ornette Coleman (who I still don’t really understand), and the Plastic System Band of Martinique.
When we left, there were so many amazing people playing in the clubs on the Festivals’ days off that I could hardly bear to leave; next year, I may in fact refuse. People should all go to this; please, please, do yourself a favor and go next year!