New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival producer Quint Davis introduces some bands at the festival, as he did Sunday for Bonnie Raitt, noting that she first appeared at the event in the late 1970s and is its “Queen of the Blues.” But he also helped fans at the Blues Tent get a little more out of an electrifying performance by guitarist Mdou Moctar. When Davis asks a performer to do an encore, it’s a hard offer to turn down.
Sunday was full of memorable performances, including by the Marsalis family in tribute to patriarch Ellis Marsalis, Moctar, Indigo Girls, Davell Crawford and others.
The Marsalis family tribute to Ellis Marsalis was anything but a solo affair, but there were plenty of solos — by brothers Wynton, Branford, Delfeayo and Jason as well as Ellis on piano. The set focused on songs written by Ellis, such as “Orchid Blue” and “After,” and it also celebrated the city’s musical traditions. The set opened with “Crescent City Strut,” and trombonist Delfeayo launched into the first solo almost as soon as it began.
Last week, Ellis Marsalis Jr. was honored in New York at the gala for Jazz at Lincoln Center, which was founded three decades ago by his son W…
On the whole, the soloing was poised and elegant in tone and rarely showy. In the middle of the set, Branford spoke of his father’s reputation as a music educator and his support for the Musicians Village, which has a center named after Ellis. A trio of young musicians who study at the center joined the family onstage to play “When the Saints Go Marching In” and a young vocalist sang “When You’re Smiling.”
At the end of the set, Delfeayo, Branford, Wynton and Jason with a tambourine launched into a short second-line parade in the aisles, which by then was no easy feat as the packed tent crowded the area in front of the stage.
Pianist Davell Crawford is a very familiar face at the festival this year, performing in tributes to New Orleans pianists and the salute to New Orleans' Gospel Soul Children. In his set in the Blues Tent, he delved into a range of styles, and some of the most fun songs featured Diunna Greenleaf of Houston, Texas, belting out old-school blues tunes. But Crawford also worked in plenty of R&B hits.
Crawford sang a beautiful version of Irma Thomas’ “Ruler of My Heart” and gave a shoutout to Allen Toussaint. He sang “You Gave Me Love,” written by his grandfather, R&B hit-maker James “Sugar Boy” Crawford. And he delivered an oddly haunting version of Lee Dorsey’s “Working in the Coal Mine.”
Earlier in the Blues Tent, guitarist Mdou Moctar led his band through a set of what sounds like distorted, psychedelic-tinged blues. Moctar describes it as his adaptation of the acoustic music of his Taureg community in his native Niger (and it’s not unlike the music of fellow Taureg guitarist Bombino, who also has performed in Jazz Fest’s Blues Tent).
Moctar was backed by a bass player who supplied a continually driving, hypnotic rhythm. Moctar’s fast fingerwork built on the trancelike effect of the music, and by the final song of the set, he had the audience on its feet, cheering as he worked both hands from on top of the guitar, as if he were sitting at a pedal steel guitar. To everyone’s delight, Quint Davis asked the band to play another song, and Moctar again brought them to their feet.
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Trumpeter Maurice “Mobetta” Brown spent a decade in New Orleans. He’s been on tour with Anderson .Paak but took a short break to perform with his band at Jazz Fest.
In the WWOZ Jazz Tent, he led the group through a set full of songs from his 2017 album “The Mood,” highlighting his own solos on tracks like “On My Way Home.” The band played “Moroccan Dancehall” with its sometimes eerie guitar work and Brown and saxophonist Chelsea Baratz racing through barrages of short sharp notes.
On the album, he’s joined by rapper Talib Kweli on the track “Stand Up,” a socially conscious call to action. In the Jazz Tent, Brown smoothly handled all the song's vocals, and he also rapped on other songs, including “Come Away,” which was sung by Baratz.
The field in front of the Fais Do-Do Stage didn’t seem sufficient to accommodate the crowd gathered to hear the Indigo Girls. Acoustic guitar duo Amy Ray and Emily Sailers, joined by a violinist, played songs from throughout their career, spanning their namesake 1989 album to a song off their forthcoming album.
One fan got the duo to honor a request for “Hammer and a Nail.” They also worked through sometimes wordy songs “Ozilline,” “Become You,” “Get Out the Map” and the gentle protests “It’s Alright,” which challenges homophobia, and “Shame on You,” which rejects bigotry. “Land of Canaan” showed the duo at their best, harmonizing and contrasting their voices.
One song the duo doesn’t play often, but did Sunday because Sailers attended Tulane University for a couple of years, is “Elizabeth.” Its lyrics are a bit clumsy, but it’s not easy to squeeze in references to singer Little Queenie and the 1788 fire that destroyed much of the French Quarter in a reminiscence about a college girlfriend (“…the last I heard, you’re in Savannah / You got married after art school…”).
While introducing the song, Sailers mentioned her fondness for Molly’s at the Market, the Neville Brothers and the Radiators, and the crowd appreciated that.
Bonnie Raitt played some of her most popular songs, including her versions of “Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About” and a slow, mostly solo, acoustic rendition of “Angel from Montgomery.”
Most of Raitt’s set was low-key and even keeled. She sang her reworked version of INXS’ “Need You Tonight,” but slowed-down, it didn't gain much in sentiment and lacked appeal. More compelling covers included John Hiatt’s “No Business” and Mississippi bluesman Skip James’ “Devil Got My Woman.” Raitt’s band featured Ivan Neville on a Hammond B3 organ and keyboardist Jon Cleary, who toured with her for years. Raitt and Cleary sang their cowritten tune “Unintended Consequences of Love.”
Raitt has performed often at Jazz Fest, and she professes to love spending time in New Orleans. She also told the Acura crowd that not sharing details is what allows her to have a good time when she’s in town.