Jazz Fest hit an eclectic array of high notes Saturday, ranging from Native American hip-hop to the Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra to some low-down blues by Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite.
Jazz Fest's 2013 Cultural Pavilion programming is focused on Native American music and culture and performers are spread throughout the regular tents and stages as well as the pavilion area in the lawn between the Congo Square Marketplace and Food Area II. The Canadian hip-hop trio A Tribe Called Red (pictured) had an early set on the Gentilly Stage, and it started with a traditional flourish, dancers in traditional Native American costumes on stage with the DJs. Ian "DJ NDN" Campeau, Dan "DJ Shub" General and Bear Witness mix a reggae and dub-step influenced blend of beats and Native American songs and chants. The vocal chants work really well with the slow tempo and it was pretty mellow original and compelling sound. The DJs pumped some politics into the final tune when the dedicated it to "racist sports teams everywhere," and Florida State Seminole fans couldn't have missed the dig at the sample of the "War chant" played as fans do their "tomahawk chop," which was later adopted by Washington Redskins fans.
In a more edifying moment, one of the Stoney Creek Singers who was performing on the Fais Do-Do stage explained that the traditional "rain dance" isn't done to summon rain but to offer thanks for rain.
A Tribe Called Red is on the interview stage Sunday at 4:15 p.m. The Stoney Creek Singers perform twice Sunday in the performance tent at the pavilion area, first at 12:05 p.m. and again at 3:15 p.m.
Another international visitor Saturday was Brazilian performer Magary Lord. He's created his own type of music called Black Semba, and it's a mix of African beats, Latin rhythms and some of the twinkling guitars and steel pan drums (sampled electronically) of the Caribbean. It took a few songs to get the crowd in step with its Brazilian party music, but the crowd picked it up and it's a very upbeat Latin-Caribbean blend. The group returns Sunday on the Congo Square Stage at 12:35 p.m.
The Eddie Palmieri Salsa Orchestra turned in the best set I heard today. I am not familiar enough with Latin jazz to offer much context, but the horn section and array of percussion was simply stunning.
Also amazing was the set turned in by harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite, a blues legend at this point, and Ben Harper, who spent much of the set playing slide guitar. The two have collaborated through the last decade and released Get Up! in January. The age difference isn't as great as it seems, Musselwhite is almost 70, Harper is 43. But they seem to bridge generations and more in their extraordinarily natural connection. Musselwhite seems solidly grounded in an almost elegant style of old-school Mississippi Delta blues, and Harper has synthesized blues, folk, soul and rock and been embraced by jam band fans and younger generations, but their rapport is seamless.
Charles Bradley didn't fill the Blues Tent with fans, but he did with his amazingly deep voice and soul singing. Bradley was a James Brown impersonator for years before becoming a solo headliner. He certainly has the an impressive voice, and to a great degree the stage presence for his former gig. He also works some of Brown's stage moves, and at 65, his near drop to a split is pretty impressive. He's at One Eyed Jacks Sunday night for anyone interested in checking out his blend of R&B and soul.