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Bear Creek + AURA + Boat = Jam Cruise
Jam Cruise docked back in Miami early Monday morning, and almost immediately many, many of those of board either prebooked for Jam Cruise 17 or were making plans to do exactly that. We survived more than 76 sets of awesome music, greeted old friends, made new ones, and put the real world on the shelf for five glorious days.
I was thinking that Jam Cruise is the perfect festival, but that’s not true. It was, however, perfect for me. Perfect also for my friends, old and new. Perfect for all those who still pine for the glory days of Bear Creek Music & Arts Festival, AURA Music & Arts Festival, and their precursor, Down on the Farm. And perfect for those who weren’t fortunate enough to attend any of those back in the day but hear us whining about them endlessly.
This was Bear Creek and AURA — on a boat!
It’s not a folk fest or a bluegrass fest or an EDM fest or a reggae fest, although we certainly got a taste of each of those. To paraphrase Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, “All we wanna do is F.U.-N.K.” And jazz. The jazz side of this year’s cruise was simply stunning.
This was my sophomore cruise, and it was even more amazing than last year’s event. We were on a new ship, the Norwegian Jade, almost identical to the Pearl from 2017. Because I am insane, I caught all or part of 55 sets this year (and I am paying for that now).
This was also the year of a powerful youth movement (relatively speaking), Andy Frasco and the U.N., the aforementioned Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, and Marcus King and his band. Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe nearly capsized the ship with their rockin’ pool deck set, and Chris Wood on double bass is king. That’s my view; your mileage may vary. Let’s jump right in.
TUESDAY Pre-Party at Wynwood Yard
The pre-party at this arts destination was slammed with Cruisers and non-Cruisers alike. Roosevelt Collier had the opening set, doing what he does best: JAM. With him were Matt Lapham, bass; Jason Matthews, keyboards (Electric Kif); and Anthony AC Cole, drums. Their special guest was Eddie Roberts of The New Mastersounds.
The sound was atrocious, but everyone seemed ready to party and didn’t pay a great deal of attention to the music (which was too bad). Also, the outdoor stage in the courtyard is less than a foot off the ground, so only those directly up front could see much of anything. Nevertheless, Collier persisted. He started with two really hot funk jams before shifting into “Third Stone from the Sun;” the Collier trio had just completed a Jimi Plays Funk tour. After a fine Lapham solo, Collier slid into a brief “Auld Lang Syne.
When Roberts stepped up, they turned to the Meters songbook for “Little Old Money Maker,” Collier and Roberts both soloing. Next, the band lit into a “We Want the Funk” vamp with Cole making shit up on vocals. He should do standup. Roberts was the star of the final tune of the set.
How it was that Turkuaz managed to get all nine members plus equipment on the tiny stage is anyone’s guess; it took MacGyver-type skills for sure. They immediately slammed into “Coast” and then the title track from 2014’s Future 86, and they followed that up with Sly’s “M’Lady.” The sound was still lousy, but they too persisted. It was one big party. The vocals were difficult to distinguish with the overpowering bass and bass drum.
Taylor Shell had a great bass solo on “Chatte,” followed by Craig Brodhead on guitar. For all the sound problems, it was a great set. “Holy Ghost” always brings the house down with baritone sax player Joshua Schwartz on vocals and more great solos from everyone. And, of course, Sami Garett and Shira Elias soared on vocals and precision dance steps.
It ended early enough for people to socialize a bit and then get it together for the morning’s boarding. Also, the food at Wynwood Yard was excellent!
Boarding seemed much easier this year compared to last, with no lines waiting outside. Everyone seemed to appreciate this improvement.
The New Mastersounds had the honors playing the sail-away set at 6 on the Pool Deck Stage. They were sizzling from the word go, the quartet augmented with trumpet and tenor sax. Early in the set, Eddie Roberts introduced Miss Kim Dawson, a fine vocalist. She rendered a solid “California Soul” and “It’s My Thing.” Next, Roberts dedicated a song to his wife, one of her favorites. Seriously, none of us called “Funk #49!”
Pete Shand had a great bass solo, and there was Mike Dillon on stage on percussion. That’s notable, because he didn’t make it last year; he was supposed to join us at Grand Cayman, but inclement weather kept us away. Dillon more than made up for last year’s absence this year! We heard a new tune (“Tatalous?”), and Shand dug deep while Joe Tatton was all over his piano.
Roberts’ beautiful guitar work was a highlight all set. Dillon soloed, then Simon Allen joined him on drums. WOW! The horns came back, as did Miss Dawson, and they closed with a magnificent straight-ahead jazz romp.
The drawback to this set? It was too loud. Look, I get it. You like to have your chest rumble and ears blown out. However, at some point we need to address ear health and loudness. A set that sounds great at level 7 doesn’t sound better at level 9; it just sounds… louder. This is a serious discussion. When the bass and bass drum are so overpowering that you cannot hear the vocals clearly, there is a problem. Sound over the course of five days ranged from excellent to ear-piercing — fortunately, most were the former.
The Jade was almost identical to the Pearl, home of JC 15. One difference was in the configuration of the piano lounge on Deck 6. The piano on the Jade was set back in a small alcove. That may or may not have been why all of those intimate performances were moved to the Deck 7 Atrium, which allowed for more people but which also allowed for a lot more talking. Last year, most patrons who made their way to the Piano Lounge were there to hear the music. There was talking, of course, but it was at a tolerable level.
The problem with the Atrium is that it was a common area and a thoroughfare for those traveling fore and aft, and the music suffered for it. John Medeski had the first set at the grand piano, but the speakers set up were simply inadequate for the room, absolutely wall to wall. When we could inch near enough to the speakers, it was obvious Medeski was in the midst of his piano concerto; it really was magnificent. But the volume in the room overpowered his playing.
The first set in the Starlight Theater was by the Marcus King Band. It too suffered from overpowering bass and bass drum, often drowning out keyboards, trumpet, tenor sax and King’s vocals. Despite all that, this performance was one of the best of the cruise. King’s vocals, guitar work and knowledge of the history of rock indicate that he should be about 50 years old, which doesn’t jibe with the fact that he will turn 22 in March. 22!
The opener began with one of King’s tunes, and with that a real roller coaster ride began, surging through a number of rock classics and gems including “25 or 6 to 4” and Funkadelic’s “I’ll Stay.” That romp lasted 20 minutes! Next King’s voice was prefect for another King’s tune, B.B’s “Sweet Little Angel.” Deshawn Alexander sounded great on Hammond B3, and Justin Johnson had a nice trombone solo. And King did King, so sweetly.
After an awesome funk romp with Alexander on clavinet, the unmistakable intro to CSN&Y’s “Ohio” emerged. The jam kept shape-shifting seamlessly through so many genres and tempos, turning red-hot with two solos from tenor player Dean Mitchell, then into “Jungle Boogie,” so really nasty funk and then swing jazz! Stephen Campbell’s walking bass was amazing! It was clear that, at the age of 21 King is both capable and knowledgeable to go anywhere he damn well pleases.
King introduced a new tune, and we were off through another ride involving Mitchell on baritone sax, a fine drum solo by Jack Ryan, some variation on “Sexy Thing,” “Papa Was a Rolling Stone” and some slam blues. By the time Jam Cruise was over, everybody understood that the torch had been passed — to King — and he grabbed it like a champion.
Holly Bowling was next at the grand piano in the Atrium. It was slightly less crowded and slightly less noisy, but most people didn’t seem to be listening to some spectacular playing from her — until she played a Phish song they recognized, at which point they all erupted. The atmosphere just wasn’t working for me.
I only caught the last 15 minutes or so of the set on the pool deck, a brilliant homage to the late Fela Kuti by Antibalas. It was Afrobeat at its finest, singer/vibes player Amayo a riveting front man. I had enjoyed several of their sets in the past, but none of those hit me like this one did. I made sure I would not miss their next performance as I jetted to the Spinnaker Room for the first time to catch the last half hour of Con Brio.
Singer Ziek McCarter is surely some sort of hybrid, a cross between human and pogo stick. Nobody can bounce like that, can they? The funk was so stupid when I entered, Patrick Glynn’s B3 prominent in the mix. McCarter and band bounced through a number of themes including “Black Hole Sun.” (Not sure which set had “Heart-Shaped Box”) There was a great modified tenor sax solo by Marcus Stephens, and McCarter has a supremely sweet falsetto.
I’ve had the opportunity to see the legendary Maceo Parker perform as an artist at large at Bear Creek, but the opportunity to see him play two sets with his band was almost overwhelming. The band paraded out first to “1999.” The trombone player then introduced Parker. He and the band were dressed in suits and vests, honoring the tradition. This was a set true to the jazz funk tradition of which Parker is an important part.
The set shimmered with style, grace and funk. The bass was a bit too loud during “Make My Funk;” the music totally blew up into even more incredible funk with a great bass solo. That led into “Just Give Me Some Mo’” and “Somebody Been Sleepin’ with My [?],” with an excellent trombone solo, great electric piano and Parker on alto blowing “Resolution” from A Love Supreme! They shut down the great set with the guitarist singing “Let’s Get It On;” he too was a great player.
We returned to the pool deck to witness the power of Medeski, Scofield, Martin and Wood. We only caught the end of this set. MMW had turned in a stellar performance the previous Saturday at the Sunshine Music Festival in St. Petersburg, and with their guitar cohort they continued. The overall sound was much better, highlighting once again the brilliance of Chris Wood, especially on his double bass. We promised ourselves to catch all of their next set.
On our first cruise last year, we had struck up an immediate friendship with Vera Ann and Mindy Dillon and later lamented that Mike Dillon was unable to get on board. So it was with great joy that I made it to the Bliss Lounge for the jazz jam with host — Mike Dillon! Upon arrival, I was delighted to see Karl Denson and Chris Littlefield, among others, on stage as Dillon introduced a Lionel Hampton tune. Vera Ann and Mindy were there, of course. Dillon led off on vibes, then Littlefield on muted trumpet, Denson’s tenor and piano.
Next up was Monk’s “Rhythm-A-Ning,” with Denson blowing a world of tenor. Then, in tribute to the late Col. Bruce Hampton, Ret., and Sun Ra, of course, out spilled a glorious “Space is the Place,” really uptempo. Everybody was cooking, and there was a second gent on vibes. And “Freedom Jazz Dance” was incredible, Skerik on tenor, fabulous walking bass, great flugelhorn, then Dillon declaring, “I’VE GOT A JAM BAND MOM!” to thunderous applause, Vera Ann beaming. John Morgan Kimock was a kit, and Dillon must have known I wanted to hear him since a snippet of “Great Lakes Tuna!”
Lotus. Lotus! they must have done a Vulcan mind meld to determine all the songs I wanted to hear, because that’s exactly what they played. It was the best set I’ve ever heard from them. Mike Greenfield was brilliant on drums, in perfect sync with Jesse Miller’s bass.
I was so excited for the next set but left… disappointed, and I was not alone. Naughty Professor is a fabulous jazz band from New Orleans. They have worked occasionally with Chali 2na, and this was one of those collaborations. The problem was that the Naughty Professor horn-playing front line — Nick Ellman, John Culbreth, and Ian Bowman — were all relegated to the back of the pool deck stage, almost as an afterthought. The band was fronted by 2na and by Hammond B3 player and singer.
It just didn’t feel right. Naughty Professor has every right to proceed in any musical direction they want, but for me and some other fans this was a step too far. (I am delighted to say that their next performance was much closer to where we hoped they’d be.)
Finally, a stop in the Jam Room with George Porter, Jr., and a stacked bunch of friends including John Medeski and Ian Neville. They worked through great renditions of “Turn On Your Lovelight” and “Chameleon” before I shut down.
If you asked everybody on Jam Cruise who they’d pick if they could only choose one fun band, I predict the winner would be Andy Frasco and the U.N. How the heck nobody told me about these guys before I’ll never know. We had slept through Horseshoes and Handgrenades, the day’s first show and made it out mid-Frasco, only to discover our Snakes Up! buddy on stage raging with the band!
Then there was a great song about dope followed by “Blame It On the Pussy” (with appropriate hand gestures). This was straight out of a Hollywood fraternity movie! Frasco next explained that this was the 17th anniversary of his bar mitzvah (making him 30), where the honoree is hoisted in a chair and carried around the room. So of course a chair appeared on the pool deck as he climbed over the barrier, sat in the chair and was carried around to a tortured version of “Hava Nagilah.”
The crowd surf was next. He swam — freestyle — out to the hot tub on the arms of the crowd, where he drank part of several dude’s beers, then backstroked back. “You mind if we play something by Rage Against the Machine’?” Huge roar. And with that the funky band went full metal punk for “Killing In the Name Of.” That’s how you make an entrance, ladies and gentlemen.
Steel Pulse had the next slot on the pool deck. Reggae simply isn’t my thing, but the deck was packed with bouncing fans as the red, black, and green-dressed sextet worked their island magic.
Between a nap and dinner, we missed Tom Hamilton in the Atrium and Nathan Moore in the Bliss Lounge, but we we sure to catch Turkuaz on the deck. No one on last year’s cruise can forget their remarkable opening set to start the cruise. They proceeded to demonstrate that 2017 was no fluke.
Jeff Chimenti and Steve Kimock were in the Atrium. I confess I never returned to the Atrium until the day we departed.
Dumpstaphunk was “Gettin’ It” on the deck with a powerful performance, Ivan Neville on keyboards on stage left (our right). After “Do It,” they tore up some metal fusion on “All I Ever Needed,” Tony Hall switching from bass to guitar. Next was a long spacey jam; the vocals were almost nonexistent in the mix. Ivan Neville was working over his synths and clavinet. The harmonies were finally working an audible — Nick Daniels, Hall, and Ivan Neville — on “Shine It On,” then into “You Can Make It If You Try.”
John Scofield’s career flourished after his introduction with the Cobham-Duke Band in 1976. Medeski, Martin and Wood had been making great music since 1992. But it was the 1998 collaboration A Go Go that really set the jazz world — and well beyond — on fire. It became obvious during MSMW’s set in the Starlight Theater that the quartet were going to have a glorious romp through the ten tracks of that album.
Beginning with the title track and “Chank,” this quickly settled into a master class. Billy Martin’s unique time propelled the entire set along with — once again — Chris Wood on bass. This performance was even greasier than the original recording, so damn good. Wood had switched to upright for “Southern Pacific,” providing an surreal backbone as Scofield, Medeski (B3), Wood and then Martin all stepped out. Somewhere in the midst of “Jeep on 35” and “Kubrick,” things got really spacey, synthesizers all over, Wood on arco bass, and Martin using tympani sticks. And “Hottentot” was scorching, Martin soloing first, then Medeski on B3, and Scofield with his most gorgeous solo.
The deck stage was locked and loaded for Voodoo Dead, with Steve Kimock, George Porter, Jr., Lebo, Tom Hamilton and others on stage. They danced us through “Promised Land” and a version of “That’s What Love Will Make You Do.” Jen Hartswick stepped up on trumpet for “Hey Pocky-A-Way” before another long journey through “Deal.”
If you were prone to schizophrenia, it was certainly manifesting now, with three or four fabulous sets simultaneously. I had Skerik in the Jazz Room and Karl D to check out, but first I had to give Aqueous a listen in the Spinnaker. I only got to hear one song, but what a song! These guys are excellent groove rockers, but this was ridiculous: a massive 24-minute funk romp. This was a whole new level for them (in my experience). I was able to poke my head back in later briefly — still killing it!
Next, giving it up the master Skerik. The setup was just a trio initially, with Medeski (that man gets around!) and a guitar player to be named later. And it was a Skerik event, truly amazing. Medeski seemed to be handling the bass and percussion! Guitarist had an amazing tone, Medeski on electric piano and B3. The third tune was a wonderful old soul blues invention. Skerik is a genius (who may or may not be stable).
Upon a return (bouncing among sets), the stage had filled up considerably, including Nick Daniels on bass, a number of other players, and Miss Erica Falls of Galactic, who was bringing the house down. WOW!
Speaking of Space is the Place, there were some truly awesome aliens and various spacemen strolling the decks all night long!
Down to the Starlight for a brief portion of Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe with his regular (=spectacular) band. The only tune I remember was a killer version of “Tumblin Dice.” Chris Littlefield was wearing a sling on his left arm. He mentioned to me later that he’d had tendonitis and was trying to help that along as much as possible. It certainly didn’t seen to hamper is great playing!
Lettuce was funking up the pool deck, the floor packed with dancing revelers. Jesus Coomes never sounded better on bass, and Ryan Zoidis was blowing it up on tenor sax.
And then it was back to the Starlight for the much-anticipated Electron set. They were a last-minute addition due to a cancellation, but for fans this was one not to miss. I had never seen this quartet as a band but have great love for all four members. The sound check was awesome, then there was a slight delay before they jumped on “In Paradise,” followed by a Disco Biscuits song and more. My notes had turned to mush.
Mike Greenwell is a master of time playing with Lotus, and he did exactly that here as well. The Biscuit/Conspirator boys, Aaron Magner and Marc Brownstein, were simply deluxe, and Tom Hamilton was having a field day (well, night) on guitar. I stayed as long as I could before I melted into a puddle.
In the process, I missed The Lil’ Smokies, Ryan Montbleau, Jen Hartswick ruling the Jam Room, and DJ Craig Brodhead’s Bliss set.
FRIDAY stop at Roatan, Honduras
We debarked at Roatan and opted to take a roller-coaster ride to the beach with friends and had a glorious early afternoon. And then there was the matter of a nap. Longer than I’d planned.
Having “successfully” slept through The Main Squeeze and Vince Herman’s bluegrass jam in the Atrium, and lacking the courage to attempt to hear Holly Bowling’s set there later, we finally stumbled to the pool deck for Lotus and an entirely different set than they’d played on Wednesday, not just in terms of setlist but in structure and vibe. It was the proper set for this setting that included “Gilded Age” and other popular tracks of theirs.
Apparently we missed the “hurricane” storm that blew while The Main Squeeze held forth on the pool deck, including a massive “War Pigs” when it started to pour!
Up in the Spinnaker, Horseshoes and Hand Grenades were having a blast with their fresh bluegrass presentation. The first tune we heard was just plain fun, followed by a real rocker with vocals that led into a really slow take on “Morning Dew.”
We had missed Nathan Moore’s first set this year and did not want to miss the second, truly intrigued by the set “behind the curtain” last year. This was Nathan Moore’s The Whole Other featuring Holly Bowling. This was deluxe on any number of levels. Bowling handled keyboards and bass, and we could hear her — clearly! Moore took care of the drum loop.
It wasn’t apparent immediately how this would form, but form it did, song by song. A tune or so after we arrived, “The Spot” (Magnolia?) really began to move. Bowling was magnificent. After “I’ve Been Waiting on This Revolution,” and brilliant, spacey jam ensued. Moore was excellent on guitar and vocals.
Once again, the schedule was overwhelming. We had already missed Voodoo Dead’s second appearance and would end up missing the second Steel Pulse set as well. Galactic was on the pool deck, but I had just seen them at Sunshine Music Festival, and there was no way I was missing out on the Baltimore funksters Pigeons Playing Ping Pong. But Galactic first.
How were they? They were Galactic. It’s a wonder the stage didn’t burst into flames. Not only that, but Skerik joined Ben Ellman and Shamar Allen to blow things up, and Dillon was on stage performing magic with Stanton Moore.
This was the Pigeons’ first time on the boat, and it would be an understatement to say they made the most of it. Their psychedelic funk fest was packed, bouncing, greeting members of the Flock and those about to be alike. From the opening strains of “Porcupine > Cantina Band > Porcupine” to the closing “Schwanthem,” it was a full-frontal party.
More than ever, PPPP have incorporated more trance-dance-y jamtronic elements to their sound, to great effect. The new material from Pizzazz was a blast as were old classics. Scrambled Greg Ormont, like Andy Frasco, is a totally captivating frontman, and Jeremy Schon again put his massive guitar chops on display. “Whoopie > 1999 > Whoopie” was so much fun, with Mario D’Ambrosio (Yellow Dubmarine) and Chris Sgammato (Displace) adding their saxophones to the effort (and the next two songs as well).
Ben Carrey on bass is simply incredible. He led the band into a huge “Sunny Day > The Hop > F.U.” with brilliant segues and the best trance of the night. And the Flock offered up a collective HELL YEAH!
It was time for that other newcomer, Marcus King, to destroy the pool deck. He opened with gorgeous soul blues of “Down to the Soul.” The second tune was an amazing ’60s soul sound, big-band style. The tune then twisted up real jazzy, with the trumpet and tenor players offering great solos before King took a turn. Then slow blues also turned to jazz, featuring great work from b on baritone, then wrangling with Alexander’s clarinet, Campbell on bass.
In the unlikely event he hadn’t grabbed everyone’s attention, he began an original that segued into a powerful “Fire On the Mountain” and then a skyrocketing “Dreams.” Warren Haynes knew all along. There was more soul funk, then five horns on stage raising the theoretical roof.
Roosevelt Collier had command of the Jam Room, and as usual there was no empty real estate on stage — it was packed! Lots of players passed through, but it was great to see Mike Wilson (Voodoo Visionary), Vinny Svoboda (bass, Displace), Sgammato and many others get a chance.
Tucker Sody, who plays drums for Displace, an excellent Tampa jam band, will tell you with pride that he didn’t get on stage, because, just as he was about to take kit, he was bumped by Adam Deitsch. “I was bumped by Adam Deitsch!”
Finally, The New Mastersounds were in the Starlight. By the time I rolled in (and there was some rolling going on), Shira Elias of Turkuaz was singing with them. Then Kim Dawson took a turn at the mic with a beautiful straight-ahead number that also highlighted ? on trumpet and Joe Tatton on piano and Hammond B3. Next everybody got to step out on “The Clapping Song” (if it’s not called that, it should be).
The next song was synth heavy, Tatton sounding great. And the song that followed was simply — stunning. Pure New Mastersounds (with The, as Simon reminds). And the horns and Pete Stand were featured on the closer.
Not finally. Luke the Knife was spinning an excellent deep house/acid jazz set in the Bliss Lounge, for as long as I could manage.
SATURDAY stop at Grand Cayman
Napping looked more appealing than taking the little shuttle from the Jade to Grand Cayman, so we recharged batteries, at least a bit. We made it in time to see more awesome antics from Con Brio, including a second cover of “Black Hole Sun.” Not sure which said included Nirvana’s “Heart-Shaped Box.” Ivan Neville was in the Atrium.
Keller Williams was being Keller Williams in the Stardust, a great set with a Coldplay cover and a great “Insecure Guy.” And then it was back to the pool deck for a simply legendary performance from Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe, plus friends.
As we arrived, Denson, flute in hand, was walking the band through “Dance Lesson #2.” He also blew some sweet alto, DJ Williams knocked one out on guitar, followed by Seth Freeman doing same. KDTU has been doing a bunch of A Bunch of Peaches shows, so “Dreams” was not a surprise. Neither was seeing the ubiquitous Marcus King on stage, tearing it up on vocals, Freeman on slide guitar.
Freeman handled the vocals on “Ain’t Wastin’ Time No More,” Denson on tenor. Donovan’s “Sunshine Superman” received great respect, David Veith on keyboards, then King. A percussion battle broke out between Zak Najor and Mike Dillon (as best we could see). When the opening strains of “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed” resounded across the deck, there was a moment of reverence, followed by undiluted joy as KDTU + King + a bunch of friends on stage sent that one toward the heavens and Gregg and Butch, but it was “Whipping Post” that gave us, perhaps, THE moment of the cruise. Well, about 20 minutes, actually, but you get the idea. DAMN.
We heard a few tunes from the Kat Wright set up in the Spinnaker, great vocals and three horns punctuating the proceedings. Then we caught a brief portion of Dumpstaphunk again funking ship up, including a massive, massive “One Nation Under a Groove.”
But it was time for Pigeons Playing Ping Pong, the rematch. On the pool deck. Dressed in pink. Did Scrambled Greg have a pink tutu, too? Of course he did! This got even more stupider, in the vernacular. There were lots of guests, and they delighted with “Julia > Under the Sea > Julia.” For pure fun, it was tough to beat this sequence: “Burning Up My Time > Kashmir > Burning Up My Time > Horizon,” with a bunch of teases, including “Slipknot,” “Moby Dick,” and “Heartbreaker.”
I’d promised myself I would get to at least part of Eddie Roberts’ turn in the Jazz Lounge, and I was not disappointed. I got lost on all the players on stage, but for sure that was Stanton Moore on drums. “4 on 6” received a beautiful treatment with trumpet and tenor solos. Donald Byrd’s “Fancy Free” also fared well.
Then Roberts’ bandmate Simon Allen was at kit, Joe Marcinek also on guitar, two keyboard players. It smoked. I loved Marcinek’s angular solo. Roberts tacked on a Grant Green tune. When we returned at the end, Skerik was blowing his brains out with a heady tenor solo.
Briefly, we darted upstairs to hear Andy Frasco madness. Good call. At one point, it was trumpets versus saxes, then Marcus King, and a tune that might have been “There Ain’t a Body in the World.” “Burning Down the House?” Frasco means it.
By this point the spirit was willing, but the flesh… Giving it the old college try, I got in part of the Turkuaz set, doing their magnificent Turkuaz thing, which this time involved a surprise punch from “Jet.” And then Aqueous with another killer set and a cover of “Josie.” And back to Turkuaz closing with brilliant ownership of Hot Chocolate’s “Every 1’s a Winner.”
SUNDAY return to Miami
The last day is always bittersweet. You’re trying to catch up with friends you haven’t spent enough time with, checking the schedule to see whom not to miss (which is everybody), and getting your stuff prepared to return to the (UGH) real world.
We had been trying to catch up with the other members of the Dillon clan — Mama D Vera Ann and Mike’s sisters Mindy and Melody — whom we met last year. Let’s face it: everybody loves Mama D. She could write these articles better than anybody. She knows all these people, and she knows stuff.
Strolling the pool deck, enjoying some delightful bluegrass fun with The Lil Smokies, we finally did reconnect and got to spend a glorious hour with them in The Haven, that magical location on Deck 14 aft whose name is entirely appropriate. And for that Donna and I say: THANK YOU!
Also, before the Everyone Orchestra performance, I had the opportunity to sit down for a warm and entertaining discussion with Marc Brownstein of Electron (and the Biscuits and more). Look for him to branch out with a new venture, a New Orleans-focused bigger band with vocals he plans to call Star Kitchen. His energy for this project was palpable, and I cannot wait to see and hear it unfold.
Owing to his experience, it was also great to hear him laud praise on the youth movement on the boat; he was especially effusive about the impact Pigeons Playing Ping Pong had on Jam Cruise 16.
Matt Butler, resplendent in tails and top hat, had again assembled an amazing cast for Everyone Orchestra, including a stunning vocal chorus with Shira Elias, Jen Hartswick, Natalie Cressman, Corey Frye and Josh Schwartz. Jake Simpson of Lil Smokies was prominently featured on fiddle. Steve Kimock, Mike Dillon, Pete Shand, and Holly Bowling were in the band, and there were more.
This was improvised, as usual with Butler, directing with hand gestures and his whiteboard. We’ll call the first one “Mighty Mighty Mighty Shout of Love,” just because. There was so much going on, including Shand on bass and Bowling on synths. We dub the second movement “I Never Meant to See the Sunrise.” Bowling’s piano provided the intro, the Schwartz on vocal, Bowling’s piano and B3, Cressman singing, Simpson soloing and then dueting with Bowling, all at Butler’s direction. Dillon and the drummer also had a feature.
Simpson started Track 3 on fiddle, then Shand found precisely the right groove for “Let the Music Fill Your Soul,” Hartswick on vocal. By this time there were 14 on stage plus Butler, and then Tom Hamilton jumped in. “You Got to Believe” found Robert Mercurio on bass, the horns and Kimock rocking, and great vocals from Elias and Cressman before the chorus went a cappella.
Hamilton led off on “You Make Me Feel So Good Inside,” then Schwartz on baritone, Hamilton and Mercurio together, chorus, Bowling, huge crescendo, silence, Bowling, and finally Butler leading us all to “How Lucky Are We?” with Ivan Neville on B3. That’s just about everyone!
Keller was on the pool deck at the same time. There were great reports about his originals and his choice of covers (and some of these might have been from the previous set), including Morphine’s “Bueno Bueno” and “Pepper” by The Butthole Surfers. Yikes! We also missed Sidney Mills and Selwyn Brown of Steel Pulse in the Spinnaker (actually poked my head in briefly) before heading down to the much-anticipated Robert Randolph Super Jam.
And super it was. Among the players were Ian Neville, Nick Daniels, and Adam (Shmeeans) Smirnoff. The second song featured Chali 2na rapping, followed by Kim Dawson and Dave Brandwein churning through “Got to Give It Up.” THAT was a blast! “Jungle Boogie” got ridiculous as Lebo, Eddie Roberts, Shand, and Steel Pulse’s Selwyn Brown (I think) joined the party. And of course The King — Marcus — was there to help tear into “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time.”
Lettuce was ripping it up in the Starlight, another monster set. During the closing “Squadlive,” they segued briefly into “Gonna Have a Funky Good Time” to allow Coomes to introduce the band. When they returned for an encore, they offered a magnificent if atypical, deliberately slow ethereal funk jam. Bravo!
And crunch time really arrived, with Maceo Parker on the deck, The Main Squeeze in the Spinnaker, Antibalas in the Starlight, and bag-packing before 11 PM. Unfortunately, we ended up missing The Main Squeeze a second time.
Parker and his nattily attired crew were reminding us why he is one of the masters. After the opening funk tune, the band hit overdrive for a gorgeous double-time and all-too-brief version of “The Way You Look Tonight” (old jazz standard). Then they shifted right back as Parker appealed to “Make It Funky.” The next song featured the guitarist, who was tremendous. and all through his solo, Parker, the trombone player and the female vocalist did a really cool coordinated dance where they turned around and around.
Three tunes into the pulsing Antibalas set, the 13-member band, with four horns, called up other horn players — and a dozen of them came seemingly out of the woodwork to join in on a sonic masterpiece. Antibalas crushed — again.
Bags packed, we headed to the pool deck and were thrilled to see the three Naughty Professor horns right up front where they belong. This set was still primarily a Chali 2na feature, but the band itself were heard to much better advantage than the previous set. Drummer Sam Shahin and Noah Young on bass sounded great. 2na then rapped a number of tunes before taking us down Jurassic 5 memory lane.
The Electron set was very different from their previous performance, of necessity. It was the last set on the pool deck, and there were lots of guests, and there was a lot of fun as well. The order here — as well as my brain — might be out of whack. “They Love Each Other” was a great offering, Hamilton out front. Selwyn Brown (or was it Sidney Mills?) helped to blow “Exodus” sky-high, Brownstein’s bass relentlessly pulsing.
Jeremy Schon of Pigeons, Sami Garett, a girl with purple hair and a guitar, and more joined in on yet another song everybody on the deck but me knew (was that George Michael’s “Freedom ’90!”?). Brownstein offered kind words about all of the talent — young and “experienced” — aboard, with extra praise for the Pigeons and their Flockers. And “Glory Hallelu” was perfect.
Galactic. Last big set. Starlight. (Damn bass too loud — *sigh*) It was loud enough to all but drown out Miss Erica Falls on occasion. It was another fine set from the New Orleans crew, which ended with a beautiful slow blues featuring Ben Ellman on harp.
Incidentally, The Spot? I never found it. Everybody else did, obviously. Next year.
MONDAY Post-party at Revolution Live
NO. I had to prepare for the Work flu. There was music in the Atrium as we awaited our color calm (salmon tags). A player I should know was at the grand piano, lovingly caressing the keys, when Chris Sgammato grabbed his alto and joined him for a few moments. That was a nice way to remember waiting to debark.
Jam Cruise is singing to me in its best Grace Jones voice: “I’m not perfect, but I’m perfect for you!”