The 2016 New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival has reached its middle-point. And on its third day of music, the Jazz Tent turned out to be a highlight of the festival.
Festival goers gave a warm welcome to New Orleans’ own Herlin Riley, who brought home to the Crescent City a group of young cats particularly well-versed in the post-bop groovy style that New York city was crawling with in the 1960s.
The cast was the one found on Riley’s recent release, New Direction: pianist Emmet Cohen, saxophonist Godwin Louis, trumpetist Bruce Harris and bassist Russell Hall. And they kicked the show off with that hard bop sound in the “Harlem Suffle,” a blues march composed by Harris that would capture the attention of any classic Blue Note enthusiasts.
Exhibiting his usual contagious smile, Riley led the quintet through three more cuts from the record: “The Big Banana,” “Spring Fantasy” and the title track, also throwing in a very successful rendition of another classic hard bop joint, Lee Morgan’s 1963 hit “The Sidewinder.”
Throughout the performance, Riley provided a solid rhythmic foundation for the youngsters’ solos, not afraid to push their improvisation in different directions with changes of pace and rhythmic figure.
The show closed after an interpretation of Danny Barker’s “Tootie Ma,” a love letter from Riley to Barker and New Orleans, which concludes the album as well under the name “Tutti Ma.”
As the stage crew started switching the set, the tent welcomed a constant flow of people that quickly surpassed its original capacity. The air was shaking in anticipation of the next act, a meeting between two legends: pianist Herbie Hancock and saxophonist Wayne Shorter.
The conversation between the two giants that followed was an intimate, exploratory journey in sounds. We were then very far from the days of the Headhunters or Weather Report, and rather on the side of meditative, conceptual music.
That very realization helped alleviate the jam-packed tent, as Hancock switched from playing the grand piano to a Korg Kronos, which turned out to be an endless pit of different sounds from which Hancock pulled percussive beats, African string sounds and digital sounds flirting with the sci-fi universe. All the while, Shorter’s introspective journey was riding on the meandering of his partner, finding paths of profound expression with the soprano saxophone. With a meticulous touch in his playing, Shorter wouldn’t utter a note that wasn’t charged with intention.
After an hour of reflective music involving many unusual sounds, textures, colors and so forth, the duo conquered its audience who greeted them with a standing ovation.
Almost as a favor in return for this burst of gratitude, Hancock and Shorter capped their performance with a loose interpretation of Charlie Parker’s “Now’s The Time,” sending winks at the audience with Miles Davis quotes and famous licks on more than one occasion.
It was another New Orleans native that followed the historic duo, as Terence Blanchard introduced his E-Collective to the Jazz Tent. And Blanchard wasted no time bringing his crowd from Hancock/Shorter cosmic sphere all the way back to Earth, kicking things off with an appropriate cover of Prince’s “Diamonds & Pearls.”
Blanchard is constantly moving: little music was played from the E-Collective’s latest release, Breathless, but rather new material, showing his trust in the Jazz Fest audience as a judge for his musical advances.
The band’s sound remains a continuation of the funky fusion and jazz rock period that roared in the 1980s, particularly with Miles Davis’ electric band. Blanchard elaborates on the genre with new electronic tools and a cast of young musicians with fresh ideas.
The set was an intense concentrate of virtuosity and attitude, pushing the rock element on the fringe of metal at some instances, multiplying the head-bobbers in the audience.
Guitarist Charles Altura’s complex and intricate soloing was a highlight as he led his listeners into labyrinths of musical ideas intertwining in a seamless flow of notes, all with a prodigiously timed precision.
The E-Collective wrapped up another day of jazz music at the Fest, which will resume next weekend with more big names including Joe Lovano, Nicholas Payton, Arturo Sandoval, Gary Bartz and many others.