LIVE: Bridge Jazz Festival (Day Two) @ Massry Center for the Arts, 2/27/16
Night Two of last year’s Bridge Jazz Festival was like the first stage of a relationship: Gretchen Parlato & Alan Hampton produced the quiet, shy opening; the Fred Hersch Trio let us delve into the personal details; and Cecile McLorin Salvant brought that first bloom of real passion.
Now it’s one year later, the relationship is a lot more comfortable, and we’re ready and eager to party down – and party we did!
Shifting the paradigm right from the jump at the Massry Center for the Arts was Greater Nippertown’s “garage-band jazz” ambassadors, the Arch Stanton Quartet. The key word there is “ambassadors,” as ASQ dove right into “Kofta,” the first piece from the suite of music inspired by their whirlwind tour of Egypt a few years ago. Guitarist Roger Noyes and trumpeter Terry Gordon were both on point, deftly passing the melody back and forth during the lurching opening movement. Noyes’ first solo growled and snapped like a pissed-off crocodile, while Gordon’s knee-bending spotlight moment threatened to blow the place down before we’d even gotten started. While the band wasn’t amplifier-heavy, the baffling curtains definitely came into play, because Arch Stanton was both loud and proud.
ASQ’s set may have been limited to the four pieces that make up the “Lady Egypt Suite,” but don’t think that the band (or the sold-out crowd) was shortchanged. Each tune was a little more muscular and a little more fleshed-out, as the Stanton Quartet hit us with wave after wave of musicianship and energy. Gordon absolutely busted it on the swinging “Zamalek,” blowing up real good as Noyes’ jangling fills slashed the air behind him and drummer Steve Partyka cheered Gordon on; Partyka feverishly worked the rims as bassist Chris Macchia stepped out for one of several tasty moments of his own. Noyes’ opening strum on “Groovin’ at the Azur” was completely out of tune, which actually matched the mental and physical state Gordon was in when he heard the Egyptian wedding party that inspired the epic, swirling tune; Gordon muted his trumpet in places to accentuate the middle eastern vibe. Partyka’s short, sweet, simple drum solo knocked us right into the middle of the laughing “Blues for Soli,” which put a very sporty cap on the evening’s scene-setter.
When you see a group named No BS! Brass is a 10-piece band where nine of the pieces are horns, you have to think New Orleans, right? I mean, that’d only make sense, given that the headliners of the evening are NOLA royalty. But don’t think for a minute that the Virginia-based tentet is some Preservation Hall knock-off. Funk, rock and hip-hop shared equal space with jazz as this pack of young players went off like a bomb and kept on exploding through an hour and change of some of the most exciting music I’ve seen in a long, long while. And where New Orleans outfits like Ivan Neville’s Dumpstaphunk and Big Sam’s Funky Nation take their non-jazz activities more than a little overboard, No BS! has found the sweet spot where these disparate genres can live in harmony and have a grand old time. Besides, you have to love a brass band where the tuba player plays with his instrument on his shoulder like a rocket launcher.
Bass trombonist Reginald Chapman may have had the lead vocal on the opening tune, but everyone in No B.S. was singing, shouting, and (occasionally) bouncing around the stage. Chapman wasn’t the only singer, either, as trombonist/leader Reggie Pace, trumpeter Marcus Tenney, and trombonist Bryan Hooten each took turns galvanizing the initially stunned crowd (“Shoulda given you the earplug warning before we started,” Pace playfully told us) with their fiery set of original compositions. Pace introduced the complex, driving “3am Bounce” by deadpanning, “We all feel our most intelligent at 3am!” Hooten rapped out lyrics like a machine gun on “Get It On,” and it was nothing but a party when drummer Lance Koehler led the all-band vocals on “Runaround.” Koehler may have been the biggest bundle of energy onstage; when he wasn’t singing or playing on the Jaws-like “The Centipede,” he stood at the back of the stage bouncing on the balls of his feet to the music. Maybe the crowd wasn’t expecting this level of musical firepower, but they were all in on No BS! by the end of the set, sending the group off with a standing ovation.
A lot of headlining acts – veteran and otherwise – would have looked at a juggernaut like No BS! laying waste before them and simply folded up their tents. But the headliners here were literally “The Last Southern Gentlemen,” >Delfeayo & Ellis Marsalis, and the Marsalis family has seen fire-breathers come and go. Instead, father and son simply walked onstage and got to work, cutting the atmosphere down to size with a dead solid perfect take on Louis Armstrong’s “Tim Roof Blues.” (“Not ‘Louie,’” Delfeayo told us gently but firmly. “’Louis.’”) Delfeayo channeled Satchmo through his trombone, displaying masterful structure and control, while the senior Marsalis dropped diving comps here and there. Drummer McClenty Hunter and bassist Eric Wheeler kept the foundation straight and true as Ellis took over the spotlight and showed that, while he may walk with a cane, he hasn’t lost a step.
This was the pure stuff, the uncut stuff. While the new New Orleans sound has elements that can set your soul on fire, taking a trip back to Old School NOLA can make you smile in the worst of moods. “Speak Low” came at us right down the middle, and they weren’t playing low, either – they were cooking, with Hunter letting himself loose towards the end of the piece. Ellis tossed a piece of “Satin Doll” into Phil Silvers’ “Nancy With The Smiling Face,” and while the soulful follow-up “Back to Africa” was obviously not in Ellis’ wheelhouse, he was more than willing to go with it. Delfeayo then turned the stage over to Ellis and the rhythm section, telling us, “I always like to hear my father play solo or trio, because he knows how it’s supposed to sound.” Ellis played both solo and trio on Johnny Mandel’s “Emily,” keeping it both lyrical and pastoral. It may have been vanilla, but it was artisanal vanilla, made by hand from a recipe we’ll never see again one of these days.
A perfect close to the night would have been when Delfeayo invited members of No B.S. onstage to “jam a little.” Pace led the ‘bones and the horns out, and after a quick discussion, the suddenly-big unit rolled into the New Orleans chestnut “Li’l Liza Jane.” When Preservation Hall does this tune, it’s a jaw-dropper, but they’ve been doing it for years and years; this was a spur-of-the-moment moment, but the resulting music was both fun and respectful, with Delfeayo and the horns taking big individual swings before Ellis brought it on home. At the end, Delfeayo gathered the horns together and took a gang selfie with his phone, cracking up the crowd that was already on their feet cheering.
Like I said: That would have been a perfect close to the night. Instead, the perfect close we got was Delfeayo & Ellis Marsalis playing duo on the eternally winsome “Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans.” The Bridge Jazz Festival is only two years old, but as any parent will tell you, a two-year old can have character and personality that will rock you to your toes. What started as an experiment inspired by the multi-venue NYC Winter Jazz Festival has become a glowing bit of warmth in the coldest part of the winter, and I’m already crossing days off my calendar in anticipation of Year Three.
Greg Haymes’ review at The Times Union
Excerpt from Michael Hochanadel’s review at The Daily Gazette: “Pianist Ellis (81) seemed frailer than at Jazz Fest last May, until he started playing and more than held his own with trombonist son Delfeayo, drummer McClenty Hunter and bassist Eric Wheeler. Ellis turned Johnny Mandel’s ‘Emily’ inside out before inviting the rhythm section in with a clear melody statement. He was elegant and eloquent in every note. Delfeayo romped through ‘Sesame Street’ and ‘The Flintstones’ themes, quoting ‘When the Saints Go Marching In’ — playing for laughs and for real. He recruited seven of the No BS! horns on for ‘Lil Liza Jane,’ to jam in a big-fun way. Delfeayo and the other horns invented section parts on the fly while their bros soloed out past the moon, then knocked it out like they’d practiced for months. Fist bumps all around as everybody left but Ellis and Delfeayo who gave us the perfect closer. First playing muted, then open after his dad’s bluesy solo, Delfeayo asked: ‘Do You Know What It Means to Miss New Orleans?'”
More of Rudy Lu’s photos of the Arch Stanton Quartet’s performance
More of Rudy Lu’s photos of No BS! Brass’ performance
More of Rudy Lu’s photos of Ellis & Delfeayo Marsallis’ performance