THURSDAY, APRIL 28—LAGNIAPPE STAGE, 3:05 P.M.
Equally at home playing traditional, plaintive French chansons and musettes as she is manipulating tape loops and embarking on wild improvisations, the cellist Helen Gillet is one of the most versatile, curious and innovative musicians at work on the stages of New Orleans. And during the 2016 Jazz Fest, she’ll be hard at work on a multitude of stages showcasing all the sides of her eclectic talent and hosting some intriguing visitors, as well.
The two centerpiece events of Gillet’s festival program are inspired by the work of twentieth-century avant-garde visual artist Ray Johnson, famous for his “moticos”—collages of cutouts and found objects he would send to friends and colleagues in the mail, encouraging them, the cellist said, to embellish on the work themselves and then pass it along.
“I was inspired by that idea,” she said, “to take an idea, change it and pass it along and create a mood, a flow.” Her performances April 30 at the AllWays Lounge and May 1 at the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Art Center are both titled “What is a Motico?” and feature ensembles of local and visiting guests. Both nights include Chicago percussionist Michael Zerang and sax player Mars Williams, probably best known from the Psychedelic Furs; the AllWays motico includes Mike Dillon, pianist Brian Haas of the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, and Mark Southerland, who crafts hybrid, playable (and wearable) sculptures out of horns. Doug Garrison joins the ensemble at the Zeitgeist concert, which begins with a 7:30 p.m. performance featuring Mr. Quintron’s Weather Warlock, a synthesizer that interprets changes in light (thus, most of its shows are at sunset), wind and barometric pressure.
Gillet opens her Jazz Fest series with another long-desired collaboration: two shows, on April 21 and 23, with current Nth Power and former Beyoncé drummer Nikki Glaspie, providing the beat for Gillet, Skerik and Brian Haas.
“We’re going to play some standards of the avant-garde world—Sun Ra, Ornette Coleman,” she said, “and see where that takes us. I’m excited to interact with Nikki in this environment where she really gets to stretch out. She’s such a heavy-hitting drummer. It’ll be more beat-oriented improv.” Rounding out the wild week is Gillet’s regular Monday Bacchanal show April 25; collaboration with Southerland and Walt McClements’ Lonesome Leash at Siberia April 26; a solo concert at the Circle Bar on April 27; and the final Chaz Fest, on the afternoon of April 27.
Gillet’s live album The Wind Shakes the Trees is out for the Jazz Fest season. It features live recordings, including atmospheric bird sounds, taken during a residence at the Antieau Gallery. A limited-edition version of the vinyl release comes with a handmade, embroidered fabric applique cover by artist Chris Roberts, which is reproduced as the regular cover image.