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Gambit Weekly Jazz Fest Jazz

By Geraldine Wyckoff

MAY 4, 1998:  Conflicts are a natural part of Jazz Fest. Oh, not the "put up your dukes kind," but the difficult choices one has to make in deciding between favorite artists performing at the same time or picking a nighttime show. You're bound to miss something. Zydeco fans won't soon forget the year that two of the biggest names in the genre -- Terrance Simien and Beau Jocque -- played simultaneously on opposite ends of the Fair Grounds. Man, were folks mad about that. Afterwards, friends and fans who had gone their separate ways met to ask, "How was Beau (or Terrance)?" "Oh, man you missed it," were the replies.

Scanning over this weekend's fest schedule, I see no such obvious killer conflicts. Some clashes are bound to crop up once you're out at the festival with those additional unknown factors -- like some great music you didn't expect coming off a stage.

From various gloom-and-doom articles in national magazines, one might assume that interest in jazz is on the wane. Not being on the immediate jazz scene in other cities, it's difficult for me to assess, but the decline of jazz-format radio stations is a bad sign for listeners and artists alike. In New Orleans, however, the trend appears to be reversed. There's an increased interest in jazz, especially among young people.

I believe it initially changed when the new young brass bands began popping up around 20 years ago starting with the Dirty Dozen and, followed by the formation of the hugely popular ReBirth Brass Band. ReBirth, of course, is the group that spawned trumpeter Kermit Ruffins, who has built a career as leader of both the Barbecue Swingers and his Big Band. Likewise, NewBirth and Treme brass bands helped launch a solo career for trumpeter James Andrews, who has just released his first album as a leader. His Satchmo of the Ghetto (NYNO) mixes R&B and jazz.

In going out to hear brass bands, younger audiences grew accustomed to instrumental and improvised music with a mixture of a second-line, swing and bebopping rhythms as opposed to a rock beat. They also were getting to know the musicians, many of whom also were modern jazz players. Once friendships and loyalties were formed, many young brass band fans began to follow their favorites into modern jazz settings, where they would be further exposed to the modern scene. In New Orleans, where musicians and audiences mingle, those friendly relationships also have been a factor in the development of jazz audiences.

The number of new albums from New Orleans jazz musicians also is on the rise. Naturally, Jazz Fest is the best time to hit the market with any new release, and the following discs by musicians performing this weekend are hot off the press.

Los Hombres Calientes are (clockwise from bottom right) Bill Summers, Irvin Mayfield, Jason Marsalis, Victor Atkins, Yvette Bostic-Summers and David Pulphus

Los Hombres Calientes

Los Hombres Calientes (Basin Street Records)

Considering that percussionist Bill Summers is a member of this new group, which was formed only three months ago, it makes sense that rhythms -- especially those from the African diaspora -- are at the heart of its music. Latin American beats like Afro-Cuban, rhumba or salsa take the lead on much of the mostly original material coming from core member Summers, trumpeter Irvin Mayfield and drummer Jason Marsalis. Excitement is in the air with the super-speed of Mayfield and Marsalis' "Bill's Q Yvette," on which the trumpeter blows in a fairly straight-ahead jazz style over the tremendous thunder of percussion created by Summers, wife Yvette Bostic-Summers and Marsalis. On this cut and throughout the disc, pianist Victor Atkins is always right on the mark in his stylistic approach, while bassist David Pulphus provides a strong base for the group to work over. The voice of Cyril Neville, who makes a guest appearance on "El Barrio," brings a sense of New Orleans to the disc. His wife, Gayneille, trades lead vocals with Summers on the call-and-response of the Afro-Cuban "Ye Ye O," a song with deep roots in Africa that is the most traditional cut on the album. It's one world when all the styles come together wonderfully on Marsalis' closer, "Irvin's Crisis." Here, the American jazz base is purposefully stated both in composition and performance, while the percussion and scat-like vocals give the tune the rhythmic flavors of many lands. The fire in the souls of Los Hombres Calientes is evident on this debut album -- it's in the bright glow of Mayfield's trumpet, the insistence of Summers' congas and the Latin-tempered swing of Marsalis' drums. (Los Hombres Calientes perform Saturday at the Fair Grounds, Wednesday at Tipitina's and Friday at the Orpheum with Kermit Ruffins and the Barbecue Swingers.)

Jesse Davis

First Insight (Concord)

New Orleans-born alto saxophonist Jesse Davis returned to the city several years ago after moving to New York following his graduation from the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA). Davis soon established himself as a major force, a fact borne out by recording six albums on the prestigious Concord label. Davis' expressive horn is in outstanding company on an album of all original material with pianist Mulgrew Miller, bassist Ron Carter, guitarist Peter Bernstein and drummer Kenny Washington (all of whom perform with Davis' quintet at the fest Saturday). The beauty of the title cut is followed by the funky little groove established on "Nola," a tribute to the rhythms of Davis' hometown. Davis and Miller work so compatibly on this tune, which is reminiscent of those danceable jazz numbers produced by Les McCann and Eddie Harris. The group expresses a tremendous range of emotions throughout the disc and within each tune -- their ensemble is in constant motion both rhythmically and harmonically. For instance, the intensity of "Jet Lagged," on which the thrust of Davis' horn is fueled by Washington's drums, sighs with a satisfied swing. This is jazz in the hands of talented musicians filled with intuitive passion.

Victor Goines takes the lead and shows off his many skills on Joe's Blues.

Victor Goines

Joe's Blues (Rosemary Joseph Records)

Joe's Blues is strong from its first note and never steps back. Multi-reed instrumentalist Victor Goines, playing with two distinct combos, keeps the fire blazing on an album of all original material. On the fast-paced title cut and the turn-the-lights-down-low "The Mystique of Romance," Goines' tenor and soprano meet with pianist Eric Reed, bassist Reginald Veal and drummer Herlin Riley, all of whom, like Goines, have been associated with the Wynton Marsalis Septet. Goines' beautiful round tone on the B ´flat clarinet brings great warmth to "Ballad for Beanie," a modern song with traces of the instrument's traditional past breezing through. On that dreamy tune, Goines uses his local working band with pianist Victor Atkins, bassist David Pulphus and drummer Leon Alexander. Goines is back on tenor for a tribute to Sonny Rollins on "Stop 'N Go," with Reed playing a zillion notes per bar and Riley running beside him. As the title implies, Goines slows it down for a bit, but then the whole bunch is off to the races again. Goines, always a fine musician and devoted educator, has never been a "front seat" kind of musician, and usually takes the passenger seat to the music itself. On Joe's Blues, he is at the wheel, riding high with a vehicle full of eager players adding high-performance octane to the journey. (Saturday at the Fair Grounds, Saturday night at the Autocrat Club.)

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