Posted by: russdavis | April 18, 2013

MOJANS Ken Nero & Bill Lewis See The Shows! (And report from the front!)

Russ Davis here…and two SUPERMOJANS (that’s citizens of MOJA Nation who are REALLY involved) Ken Nero and Bill Lewis, have recently seen some fantastic shows and I asked them to write up their thoughts to be posted on the MOJA Radio blog site. Ken saw the latest incarnation of THE JEFF LORBER FUSION at his hometown club in Washington DC, Jazz at the Hamilton, while Bill, who hails from Pittsburgh, traveled to New Orleans to take in the 2013 French Quarter Festival. Read their blogs and see their pics. Thanks guys!

MOJANS SEE THE SHOWS (Ken Nero sees the new Jeff Lorber Fusion in Washington, DC)

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Tragically, Monday, April, 15, 2013, is another day that will live in infamy in American history. But I had circled that date weeks ago in anticipation of a date with fusion history. And, as the saying goes, life must go on. And there was no better place to be Monday night, in my biased opinion, than to witness Jeff Lorber’s latest fusion offerings at a new joint, The Hamilton. I must give a shout out to the Jazz Near You website because without those emails I doubt Jeff would have made it to my radar. I took my son Kenneth and daughter Koren along to see why, after all these years, their dad still gets his moneymaker moving by this thing called modern jazz. Jazz fusion always played a major role in my young adult life, especially while I was raising four children during their early years. Thirty plus years later, I could barely contain my joy that I was about to see another legend on stage, for the second month in a row (saw Mike Stern in March).

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From the get go, the evening had a buzz. The Hamilton, located at 14th Street and F NW in downtown DC, was easily accessible by Metro rail. I really didn’t know what to expect since the building was the former home of the late Borders Books. In an instant, it was clear that Borders was history. The Hamilton looked like a scene out of HBO’s glamour sets such as Boardwalk Empire. My initial reaction was where’s the jazz? The first floor presented two well-furnished happy hour rooms and a luxury (from my budget standards) restaurant too. The jazz scene was on the lower level and the star-studded stairs leading to the venue continued to deliver the ambiance of something of the Great Gatsby.

After we we found good seats, there was no doubt in mind that we were about to get served some serious MOJA.

As Jeff got himself comfortable at the electric Yamaha and the grand piano, I was pleasantly surprised to see Jimmy Haslip and Eric Marienthal on stage. My gut feeling was right. This was going to be night to remember. The man handling the kit was drummer Lionel Cordew.

From the first notes it was apparent that the current Jeff Lorber aggregation was on a mission to bring us the most modern fusion in the style that is uniquely Jeff Lorber. The band came out of the box jamming from the get go. The first song, Live Wire,signaled that this music was going to jam and not let up until the intermission. After the break, Jeff and the gang continued to throw down  incredible MOJA until it came to the end.   

It began with Live Wire from the Galaxy CD. He served up a few songs from the fusion era that sounded even better in the 21st century. i’m sure his talented supporting cast had something to do with that.  It seemed like everyone at the Hamilton were moving to the music. For me, I couldn’t keep my hands, feet, shoulders, and head from moving to in the groove. I looked over at my son and he was just as locked in fusion energy as I was. Eric and Jimmy complemented Jeff’s chords and scales with a high level performance that had most of the audience tapping fingers, hands and toes with the rhythms. My soul was bouncing off the walls in an ecstasy of sound.  . In his introduction to Horace, a track from the Galaxy CD, he gave a salute to the late Horace Silver as the mentor \ who inspired him to embrace jazz and pursue his musical aspirations. I even overheard one patron trying to explain to his unimpressed date that she needed to take notice of the unbelievable talent on the stage. It’s Jimmy Haslip baby! You are in the presence of bass genius!  Frankly, I couldn’t have said it better myself, except I didn’t need convincing. Jeff, Jimmy, Eric, and the drummer (who I regret not writing his name down), established April 15 as a night of MOJA brilliance. There was no smooth jazz vibe here. It was hardcore fusion for the 21st century with a tip of the hat to the fusion era that memorialized Jeff Lorber as one of its pioneers.

If there was one person at the Hamilton who I envied, it was the videographer. As he moved around the stage recording musicians and their instruments, I could only wonder how cool was that? Before the night was out, one of the technicians had to removed some cables from behind our table. I asked him whether the video of the show would be available for sale or on YouTube. I was surprised by his answer. He said it was eventually going to featured on a Voice of America program.  

In short, I was a kid in a candy store. 

Ken Nero (MOJAN)

Now, Here’s another blog from MOJAN BIll Lewis, taking us on a trip to NOLA! 

MOJANS SEE THE SHOWS (Bill Lewis attends the new French Quarter Festival in New Orleans)

This was the 30th year for the French Quarter Festival. In contrast to the probably more widely-known Jazz and Heritage Festival, the FQF features only local musicians. But it’s not a small event by any means: four full days from 11am until 9pm, nineteen (official) stages, five or so performances per stage per day, for a total of more than two hundred acts—not counting the street and club musicians! Most of this less-formal music was just as excellent as that coming from the stages. You can sometimes see the same (in-demand) players in multiple bands, but this gives an idea about the number of excellent musicians living and working in and around NOLA. Performances ranged from traditional jazz through electric funk and modern jazz. The common factor of course was improvisation.

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My experience began on Friday morning with the Second Line Kickoff Parade down Bourbon Street. (Check Wikipedia for an explanation of the “Second Line” tradition.) The parade featured several excellent traditional marching bands, most with only five to ten musicians, along with costumed marchers, bicyclists, and even a calliope.

After lunch I made my way to Jackson Square to see and hear Dr. Michael White. Near the stage I struck up a conversation with a fellow who had come from the UK with a group that has journeyed to the festival annually for over 20 years. Dr. White and his band—clarinet, trumpet, trombone, piano, banjo, bass and drums–played excellent traditional jazz; it was the first performance I heard of “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder”, but not the last.

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The three biggest stages were at Woldenberg Riverfront Park, where I rocked with the New Orleans Nightcrawlers on Friday evening and Bonerama Saturday evening. But after braving the crowds by the river for the night shows, on Saturday and Sunday I decided during the daytime to mostly let my eyes and ears lead me among the stages, streets and clubs of Royal and Bourbon, a strategy that was well rewarded.

At high noon on Saturday on the stage at 522 Bourbon Street, performing on sax, clarinet and vocals was Aurora Nealand, leading the Royal Roses. Ms. Nealand can’t be much more than 30 (if that) but the traditional music she and her excellent band made had me longing for the heydays of trad jazz early in the last century. She got folks in the audience dancing in the street and then joined them at one point, waving her soprano sax in the air.

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And speaking of the heydays of trad jazz, at Preservation Hall I experienced a venerable traditional jazz group including cornet, banjo, piano and drums, featuring the excellent clarinetist Louis Ford. These guys were certainly well over thirty but sounded fresh as a morning on the bayou.

Along Boubon Street music also spilled out through the open doors and windows of one club after another. The one that caught my ear was Tropical Isle and the music of Cajun band T’Canaille. I really enjoy the musical ability of the fiddlers and accordionists in Cajun bands, and this one was no exception. And I never would have thought an electric bass player in a Cajun band could be having so much fun—much more than just plunking out the tonics and dominants.

On Saturday and Sunday I came upon the violin and guitar duo, Tanya & Dorise, comfortably seated under an umbrella in the middle of Bourbon Street. Tanya laid down beautiful, long improvised solos seamlessly fusing jazz licks with orchestral violin lines.

The sounds from a side street led me to a trio of alto sax, drum set, and (since it was clearly described on a sign in front of the band) an African Bass Harp (known as a Kora). You can enjoy The Assembly Kora Band on YouTube. Imagine, if you can, Ben Affleck playing a huge kalimba.

The wrapup to my French Quarter Festival experience was Astral Project, a modern jazz quartet including the astounding saxophonist Tony Dagradi and the now-nearly-legendary drummer John Vodacovich. All original music; all virtuoso players.

Oh, and I neglected to mention another difference between FQF and the Jazz and Heritage Festival later this month: all FQF performances are absolutely free of charge. Leaves cash left over for gumbo, red beans, jambalaya and Abita Jockamo IPA!

Bill Lewis (MOJAN)

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