by: Hobart Taylor
Well, I'll get to the big names first. On Friday night George Clinton and Parliament Funkadelic and on Saturday on both the main stage and at the grittier Big Easy stage The Robert Glasper Experiment both danced around the edges of multiple dimensions of Afro-Futurism and funk.
Clinton played the hits for sure, and at age 76, he commanded the best funk band since James Brown. He had a few thousand people of all ages, races, genders, and lifestyles jumping. The sound was so coherent that if you wanted to search for individual brilliance from among the players you'd be frustrated because the band itself was one glorious instrument. The show was crafted down to the minute.
In contrast, Glasper's crew took forever setting up, half an hour on the main stage, an hour at the more intimate gig, "Sorry folks, you ain't gonna like it if it doesn't sound right". Once they got going though, the neo soul slow jams with Casey Benjamin's vocals evoked the golden era of Vandross and Gaye. Glasper's nuanced play and extraordinary changes made his sets long meditations on the miracle of the groove.
What emerged for me in general at this festival was the seamless integration of electronic instruments in genres previously considered antithetical to their incorporation. Clinton, the logical successor to JB, is, of course, one of the major originators of funk electronica, and Glasper's sound is essentially connected to the effects he and his crew master, but synth and computer elements emerged in the work of a variety of other "traditional " acts.
Organ maestro Dr. Lonnie Smith, playing at an indoor venue, the Hammer Theater, took his trio to new heights by adding synth commentary on top of his B3. Ironically, by miming trumpet and cellos so accurately that I was looking around the room for them, he showed his subtle mastery of the intonation of his electronics. At one point, Smith who walks with a silvery metal cane, came from behind his behemoth of an organ, plugged a cord to the bottom of his walking stick, and using fingering like a guitarist or bassist played sounds that crackled, crunched, collapsed in static, boomed, and spit. I would be remiss not to mention also the guitar work of Jonathon Kreisberg.
Here are some other highlights of the festival.
Trumpeter Eddie Henderson famous for his recordings with Herbie Hancock in the '70's displayed the range that made him in demand for artists as diverse as Grover Washington Jr. and Archie Shepp. Playing in a quartet format, he gave a master class on tonal control, emotional resonance, and speaking your mind through the instrument.
FatsO is a Colombian Tom Waitsian jazz inflected blues band with players of the highest order. They are fronted by bassist and vocalist Daniel Restrepo and feature the finest jazz clarinetist I've ever been privileged to hear live, Daniel Linero. They played a late night club date Saturday, at one of America's few remaining great jazz clubs, Cafe Stritch. Restrepo's gravelly vocals and piercing ironic lyrics (mostly sung in English) sit atop an extraordinarily tight woodwind ensemble. They occasionally play pieces influenced by Colombian traditions. "This is Colombian...but not Cumbia", Restrepo said introducing a wondrous piece based on Afro-Colombian tropes. Check them out on "Illegal Intern Radio", Wednesdays 6 AM to 8 AM.
Naughty Professor from New Orleans is a perfect amalgam of super tight horn driven New Orleans funk and hip-hop. They occasionally work with Chali 2Na (Jurassic 5, Ozomatli), who wasn't on this gig. They are totally intoxicating in live play. The focus and intensity of their performance push the envelope, bringing Sun Ra and Tech N9ne sensibilities to the Galactic tradition.
Sasha Masakowski is another example of an artist who uses electronica subtly to augment her performance of traditional styles like New Orleans blues and jazz, as well as a key element in her contemporary singer/songwriter material. Preternaturally hip, she still has the fire and purity of her hometown New Orleans, where she often performs with her father, the house guitarist of the Big Easy Steve Masakowski. Her set was an intimation of how she can be a transitional bridge to deeper music for pop fans in the way Norah Jones is.
San Diego pianist composer Danny Green, who also performed at Club Stritch, brought his deeply profound mix of emotional color and compositional acuity to the festival. Sort of a jazz Glenn Gould, Green brought thoughtfulness and reflection to the party.
Art Hirahara is another pianist composer. He evokes Bill Evans finesse. Frequently a part of the mix on KUCI's "The Crystal Egg" Thursdays 6 PM to 8 PM, his quiet and brilliantly delicate precision of play was a distinct high point of the festival.