New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival / May 1-4, 2008 / New Orleans (Fair Grounds Race Course)
The Neville Brothers, playing their traditional closing-day slot at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the first time since 2005, offered an emotional conclusion to the 39th annual celebraThe Neville Brothers, playing their traditional closing-day slot at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival for the first time since 2005, offered an emotional conclusion to the 39th annual celebration of Louisiana music and culture.
The band -- singer Aaron, organist Art, saxophonist Charles, and percussionist Cyril -- has been together for three decades, and is none the worse for wear. Joined by longtime drummer Mean Willie Green and a rotating cast of backup musicians including second-generation keyboardist Ivan Neville and Meters bassist George Porter, Jr., the Nevilles emphasized their inimitable mix of earthy New Orleans funk rhythms and sticky-sweet harmonies on such tunes as "Meet de Boys on the Battlefront," "Fire on the Bayou," "Brother John," "Iko Iko," "Voodoo Woman" and "Yellow Moon."
Aaron, having already led his own gospel-soul set, and sitting in on Art's set, took center stage on his vintage ballad "Tell It Like It Is," while Charles' tenor sax led the way on instrumental "Besame Mucho." Carlos Santana, whose performance preceded the Nevilles on the same stage, dropped in to rip out some stinging guitar lines on "My Blood" and other songs.
Jazz Fest, again held the last weekend of April and first weekend of May, this year regained its seventh day after running just six in 2006 and 2007. And the attendance continued its post-Katrina surge, with as many as 400,000 people visiting the Fair Grounds' dozen stages to enjoy a mix of music that remains impossibly eclectic.
The second weekend's fare included good-time troubadour Jimmy Buffett, benefiting from a visit by New Orleans R&B legend Allen Toussaint; the Raconteurs, Jack White's side project; innovative hip-hop act the Roots; jazz piano master Chick Corea, joined by Bobby McFerrin; bluegrass purveyors the Carolina Chocolate Drops; and Louisiana-born L.A. singer-songwriter Randy Newman, accompanying himself on piano.
As usual, there was an abundance of early jazz, zydeco and Cajun music. And Jazz Fest, despite several pop and rock headliners, retained its local emphasis: 87% of the festival's 557 acts were based in New Orleans or south Louisiana, said Quint Davis, the event's longtime producer.
The fest's numerous highlights included a grooving-to-esoteric performance by New York piano trio the Bad Plus; deeply funky workouts by Galactic, trombone-crazy Bonerama, the Dirty Dozen Brass Band and the New Orleans Nightcrawlers; the jammy jazz grooves of saxophonist John Ellis, joined by a group including sousaphonist Matt Perrine and drummer Jason Marsalis; Keb' Mo's acoustic guitar blues, bolstered by the drumming of his young son; and a double-tuba jazz attack led by Perrine and Kirk Joseph.
For some listeners, the weekend began and ended with the May 2 performance by Stevie Wonder. The singer, in fine voice, started slow and meandered a little too much, but turned in inspired versions of "Love's in Need of Love Today," "Living for the City," "Master Blaster," "Higher Ground," "Don't You Worry 'Bout a Thing," "Signed, Sealed, Delivered," "Sir Duke," "I Wish" "My Cherie Amour," "Isn't She Lovely" and "Boogie Op Reggae Woman." He was joined by New Orleans soul queen Irma Thomas on an unpolished if affecting rendition of "Shelter in the Rain," appropriate for an afternoon that ended with heavy showers.
The artistic and commercial success of this year's Jazz Fest was another sign of the city's renaissance, according to Davis. "After Katrina there was a lot of question about whether the music culture would survive," he said. "To the outside world the Jazz Fest is easily the most visible and concentrated proof that it's not only surviving -- it's flourishing."