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Live Reviews

New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival 2011

By Published: May 25, 2011
I'm not one of them. Jamal's playing is too peripatetic for my taste. He rarely plays more than a few bars of a melody before jumping off into innumerable displays of his immense technique—jagged stabs at the keyboard, skittering single-note runs, cascades of chords, full-arm sweeps down the 88s. It's all dazzling, but is it sufficiently musical?

I did delight, however, in the drumming of hometown boy Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
Herlin Riley
b.1957
drums
, whose ear-to-ear grin reflected the joy in his playing. Clearly, he and the quartet's percussionist and bassist had great rapport with Jamal.

Earlier, veteran tenor saxophonist Charlie Gabriel
Charlie Gabriel
Charlie Gabriel

clarinet
was welcomed back after a long absence in Detroit, and played "Body and Soul" with the same passion Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
Coleman Hawkins
1904 - 1969
sax, tenor
did in his landmark recording.

Trumpeter/singer Jeremy Davenport is a local favorite, offering American Songbook standards in a Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr.
Harry Connick, Jr.
b.1967
piano
-like voice, and occasionally exercising his jazz chops, as he did in a rapid-paced duet with alto player Aaron Fletcher on a Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
Charlie Parker
1920 - 1955
sax, alto
bopper.

At a news conference early in the day, with Mayor Mitch Landrieu and Jazz Fest founder George Wein
George Wein
George Wein
b.1925
piano
, the fest's CEO, Quint Davis, announced that Shell Oil Co. has signed on for another three years as lead sponsor.


Day 3: May 1, 2011

A third straight day of near-perfect weather blessed the first weekend of the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival.

Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
Terence Blanchard
b.1962
trumpet
is a NOJHF favorite, having played here for some three Decades. Once again, he demonstrated his fertile imagination as a composer and distinctive sound on trumpet, with passages ranging from breezy to blistering.

Terence Blanchard

The set's centerpiece, "Choices," began with the recorded voice of Cornel West, philosophizing on the meanings of life and jazz, and grew from its serene theme to roaring intensity, before receding again to tranquility. Both Blanchard and saxophonist Brice Winston constructed solos to match—calm-to-storm-to-calm, while the trumpeter employed tone-splitting technology to create the illusion of a brass choir on another composition, to stunning effect.

Blanchard introduced his pianist daughter, Sidney Bechet Blanchard (age 14), for a tender duet on the theme from his Grammy-winning suite, A Tale of God's Will. (Blue Note, 2008).

That was the only set I caught in the WWOZ Jazz Tent all day, as I wandered the vast fairgrounds along with some 100,000 other festival visitors to sample the many other sounds of Louisiana music.

Reggie Hall and the Twilighters covered rhythm-and-blues and rock hits of yore, though not the New Orleans ditties I craved. The keyboardist and his array of horn men and guitarists played superbly, but mostly as a backdrop for singer Lady B to belt out the anthems of Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin
Aretha Franklin

vocalist
, Tina Turner, Etta James
Etta James
Etta James
1938 - 2012
vocalist
and others.

An hour of duets by pianist Tom McDermott and clarinetist Evan Christopher
Evan Christopher
Evan Christopher
b.1969
clarinet
proved a welcome respite in the picturesque Lagniappe venue, nestled behind the old racetrack's grandstand. Their originals—waltzes, tangos, choros, and a rumba-laced boogie in tribute to the classic New Orleans piano sound—were flawlessly executed gems.

A traditional jazz tribute to gospel great Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
Mahalia Jackson
1911 - 1972
vocalist
—a New Orleans native whose 100th birthday is this year—drew me to Economy Hall to cap the day.

Clarinetist/jazz historian Dr. Michael White
Dr. Michael White
Dr. Michael White
b.1954
clarinet
gathered four singers with remarkable voices for the tribute, and Barbara Shorts, Mathilde Jones, Danielle E. Wilson and Cynthia Girtley (who also was the pianist), were up to the task, earning ovations from a crowd that included some of Jackson's family members.


Photo Credit
All Photos: Steven Sussman


Days 1-3 | Days 4-7


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