Little Freddie King Blues Band
New Orleans' dapper elder statesman of the blues, Little Freddie King personifies the raw and storied qualities of the genre, and not many bluesmen can boast of being shot multiple times by multiple women. Born just above the state line in McComb, Mississippi in 1940, King finger-picked alongside his guitarist father during childhood. Eventually, he rode the rails to New Orleans, where he jammed with titans including John Lee Hooker and Bo Diddley when they visited the city. He combines gut-bucket electric guitar work and storyteller showmanship to keep audiences' hips shaking to tunes like "Crack Head Joe" deep into monthly Saturday night shows at the befitting juke-joint setting of BJ's Lounge in the 9th Ward.
New Orleans should be proud that the organic-yet-otherworldly talent Leyla McCalla chose to call it home. But not many cities could nurture a blossoming artist born in New York of Haitian heritage. She's also following a rarified muse: traditional Cajun and Creole styles (with Haitian influences as well) infused with jazz and folk and informed by an astute social conscience. She refined her delicate percussive style of playing cello by hand and bow as a touring member of the now defunct Carolina Chocolate Drops. McCalla moved to New Orleans in 2013, the same year she released her debut Vari-Colored Songs: A Tribute to Langston Hughes (the London Sunday Times' Album of the Year). Late last month, the soul-stirring video for "A Day for the Hunter, A Day for the Prey" arrived as a delicious tease of a title-track for an album slated for May release on Jazz Village. It also features stellar Louisiana musicians from Louis Michot to Sarah Quintana, showing she's making friends in her new home.
In March, the local indie-pop quintet Royal Teeth dropped the single "Kids Conspire," which aptly addresses its children-of-all-ages appeal. It features the twenty-something band's driving drums, wavy synth, fast-strumming guitars and huge hooks as it explores an uplifting, bouncy musical terrain. "Kids Conspire" may make its way onto an upcoming album, a follow-up to Royal Teeth's 2013 debut Glow, highlighted by fan-favorite "Wild." The band was formed when Joshua Wells, Gary Larsen, Josh Hefner and Thomas Onebane met in Lafayette and Baton Rouge and converged in New Orleans in 2010. Here, they discovered the final piece of the puzzle: Nora Patterson, who excels as a songwriter, vocalist and performer.
Ed Volker's Quintet Narcosis
Among the Radiators' members post-retirement projects (including Raw Oyster Cult and New Orleans Suspects), pianist and vocalist Ed Volker's efforts stand as the most adventurous. His Trio Mollusc held down the Lagniappe Stage from 2012-2015, and this year marks the Jazz Fest debut of his Quintet Narcosis, a rekindling of flames with longtime running partners Joe Cabral (baritone sax) and Rene Coman (bass) from the Iguanas, percussionist Michael Skinkus and Radiators guitarist Camile Baudoin. Expect the band to jam on absurdist takes of originals by Volker (aka Zeke Fishhead) and clever cover selections.
The Garifuna Collective
Jazz & Heritage Stage
The lush coastal Caribbean nation of Belize is being celebrated in Jazz Fest's Cultural Exchange Pavilion. It comes as no surprise that world-music star Garifuna Collective was invited to perform at the festival. Featuring some of Belize's leading musicians performing the nation's distinct punta music, the ensemble was on the cusp of global fame following the 2007 release of Watina. The band's growth was interrupted a year later by the death of founding force Andy Palacio — a superb guitarist and the most popular musician in Belize when he died. Known for soaring vocal harmonies and driving percussive rhythms, The Garifuna Collective carries the legacy of Palacio and Belize's unique Garifuna culture. Descendants of West African slaves who arrived in the eastern Caribbean island of St. Vincent circa 1635, the Garifuna today are closely associated with punta music and dance — grooves and moves connected to West African influences similar to those in New Orleans music. (The Garifuna Collective also performs in the Cultural Exchange Pavilion at 12:35 p.m.-1:25 p.m. and 2:55 p.m.-4:25 p.m. Saturday and 12:40 p.m.-1:55 p.m. Sunday.)
The now-defunct string band Carolina Chocolate Drops set ablaze the discerning musical ears of hipsters, critics, two-steppers and aficionados of black American roots music after meeting at the first Black Banjo Gathering in Boone, North Carolina in 2005. The band's meteoric rise was bolstered by the 2010 release Genuine Negro Jig (which won a Grammy for Best Traditional Folk Album). Bones, jug, guitar and four-string banjo player Dom Flemons departed to work on solo projects in 2013, eventually leaving vocalist, songwriter, banjoist and fiddler Rhiannon Giddens as the only founding member. She embarked on a solo career and released the superb T Bone Burnett-produced album Tomorrow Is My Turn (Nonesuch Records) in February 2015 and dropped the five-song EP Factory Girl in November. The vinyl arrived fresh on the heels of the video premiere for her sensually swinging "Black Is the Color," a rediscovered love song in which Giddens shows a full range of musical and performing talents. Nick Spitzer of public radio's American Routes interviews Giddens at the Allison Miner Music Heritage Stage at noon.
Herbie Hancock & Wayne Shorter Duo
Zatarain's/WWOZ Jazz Tent
This rare pairing is the stuff of Jazz Fest dreams. Intimately intertwined since the 1960s as players in Miles Davis' Second Great Quintet (and the 1970s, when the two icons settled in Los Angeles and shared Buddhist practice), composer/pianist Herbie Hancock teamed up with composer/saxophonist Wayne Shorter in 1997 to create the acclaimed duet album 1+1. They toured briefly in support of it in 1998 but have largely neglected the project since then. Hancock, 76, is now sanctified in the genre — as a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador, he ushered in the inaugural International Jazz Day at sunrise in Congo Square (his choice) during Jazz Fest 2012 by leading aspiring music students in his timeless epic "Watermelon Man." Recent performances have shown Hancock capable of grooving on keyboards as proficiently as on his landmark Fat Albert Rotunda (1970) album. Shorter distinguished himself with the 1966 landmark Speak No Evil (Blue Note). He's 82 and last year admitted having reduced lung capacity, but he still seeks to reinvent his music during every performance.
Taj Mahal Trio
Sheraton New Orleans Fais Do-Do Stage
Born Henry St. Clair Fredericks Jr. in Harlem in 1942 to a gospel-singing mother and jazz-composing father, Taj Mahal is among the most inventive blues/roots musicians of the 20th century. After forming counter-culture precursor the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder in California in 1964, Taj put the rock world on notice in 1968 with his breakout performance in The Rolling Stones' film Rock and Roll Circus, a psychedelic spectacle where he mesmerized with both voice and fashion in delivering "Ain't that alot of Love." Self-taught as a singer, songwriter and guitar/piano/banjo/harmonica player, he penned cult-classic tunes such as "She Caught the Katy" and "Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes." Maintaining a busy global touring schedule, he returns to Jazz Fest for a mostly acoustic set with his trio.
Red Hot Chili Peppers
The Red Hot Chili Peppers owe New Orleans a raging, red-hot, funked-up rock show for the band's first gig at Jazz Fest. Why? Because frontman Anthony Kiedis sported New Orleans Saints gear when the team was mocked as the Aints. Because matured madman bassist Flea owns a groove inspired by George Porter Jr.'s deep pocket play. Because "Sir Pyscho Sexy" was recorded on Esplanade Avenue at Kingsway Studio. Because a sold-out 2012 show in the then-named New Orleans Arena was heavy on man-ballads and not red hot.
The Kid Carsons
Calcasieu Parish-bred siblings Chad and Morgan D. Carson are gypsy folkies by expression and tradition. The duo arrived in the Crescent City in 2012 and formed avant-garde Americana quintet The Kid Carsons. Chad plays acoustic guitar and harmonica, Morgan plays bass and both write and sing. They are accompanied by lifelong co-conspirator David Hart (keys, banjo), Derek Duplessie (pedal-steel, electric guitars) and David Shirley (drums). Transcendent young troubadours in the tradition of Gram Parsons, The Kid Carsons clearly prefer life on the road in their van Evangeline to the studio.
• Colin Lake