Jazz Road supports emerging and mid-career jazz musicians. Aya Takazawa photo by Kim Welsh.

Mason Ruffner, Aya Takazawa Shine on Day One of Jazz Fest

Mason Ruffner, a New Orleans resident since last summer, launched the Blues Tent’s opening-day music Friday, April 22, with a blues-rock set propelled by groove. New Orleans drummer Kerry Brown and Nashville bassist David Hyde, who’s originally from Hammond, served as Ruffner’s propulsive rhythm section.

Archetypal blues-rocker Ruffner sang and jammed with Brown and Hyde in songs and instrumentals. “Let’s groove a while,” he said before locking in with his two-man band during the sprinting named “Running Son of a Gun.” Ruffner’s grooving guitar work during the song included solos one end of the guitar neck to the other and in-the-pocket rhythm guitar.

There was more running in “Gypsy Blood,” a song Ruffner recorded in the 1980s with primal British roots-rocker Dave Edmunds. Brown smacked a bouncing, popping beat at drums as Ruffner sang lyrics about a restless soul who can’t stop moving. “It’s in my blood, y’all!” Ruffner said during the song. The band kept the momentum going with an instrumental Ruffner dubbed “roadhouse music.”

In the 1980s, Ruffner toured with U2 as well as Jimmy Page’s band, The Firm. He was also signed to CBS Records Backstage, he recalled learning his musical chop decades ago on Bourbon Street.

After moving from Sweden to New Orleans last year, he’s currently in a rebuilding phase. He left Sweden because the country didn’t give him enough performing opportunities.

“I was hungry to perform more,” Ruffner said. “I think New Orleans is better than ever. The culture and the music is still alive.”

Over at the WWOZ Jazz Tent, Tokyo-based trumpeter Aya Takazawa collaborated with special guests from New Orleans during a stylish mid-century American jazz-based set.

Drummer Jason Marsalis, pianist Jesse McBride, saxophonist Wess “Warmdaddy” Anderson and cornetist Gregory Davis (of the Dirty Dozen) joined Japanese musicians Takazawa, bassist Kengo Nakamuro and saxophonist Mina Kano.

Prior to their Jazz Fest show, Takazawa and the group spent the week at Music Shed Recording Studio. At Jazz Fest, the New Orleanians and Japanese made cool, melodic, gently swinging jazz together.

For Takazawa’s original composition “Chicken Tails,” Freddie Hubbard’s “Mr. Clean” and Anderson’s “Herlin ‘Homey’ Riley,” Takazawa played tasteful trumpet solos that avoided flash for flash’s sake. A highly musical artist, she never rushed what she wished to express. Flash did appear in Kano’s sax solos, which also crossed colorfully into the blues.

Marsalis at the drums played most of the spectacular stuff in Takazawa’s set, especially his multi-layered solo for the second-line based “Herlin ‘Homey’ Riley.” Anderson composed the piece for Riley, one of New Orleans great drummers.

“You hear this,” Anderson said before the group performed the piece, “you’re going to want to dance.”