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‘Jazzfest by Nite’ featuring Erykah Badu, Mos Def, Robert Glasper, Donald Harrsion, Hot 8

Written by  Nick Garrison
We all know that time of year when Jazz Fest brings two weeks of incredible music to New Orleans. The festival itself is always a good time, but after trudging around in mud all day and toasting in the sun, you're probably ready to clean up, throw on a pair of sick kicks, and see what the night has in store. Jazzfest by Nite: Erykah Badu, presented by Ampersand events, Disco Donnie and Soul'd Out went down at the Sugar Mill on Saturday, May 4. But Badu was not alone. Rounding out a colossal lineup, she brought rapper Mos Def, pianist Robert Glasper, saxophonist Donald Harrison, and the Hot 8 Brass Band.

Kicking off the night was Hot 8. Their local New Orleans flair brought variety to the other genres of the event. In honor of the headliner, the band performed an arrangement of Badu's Back in the Day while marching through the audience. Donald Harrison gave a set that also featured classic New Orleans rooted music. He combined the smooth side of jazz with traditional songs like Iko Iko, where he invited members of a Mardi Gras Indian tribe, decked out in full headdress attire of course, to the stage. Harrison even grabbed the mic to dish out some old school rap, an unexpected finish, and relevant segue to the rest of the show.
The Robert Glasper Experiment picked up the torch and jumped ahead some 20 years in music history to bring us a jazz hip-hop revelation. It was a trip that combined the talents of Casey Benjamin on saxophone and vocoder, Derrick Hodge on electric bass, and Mark Colenburg on drum set.
Jazzfest by Nite Featuring Erykah Badu | IntheNOLA.com
The group played with textures of sound and the role of the piano in Glasper's quartet. Sometimes the dynamics would wildly change; the chords would get out or rhythmic contributions from each member would play with the listeners' expectations. All the while, the group kept its ideas simple enough for people to move to the hip hop beat. There was an organic, improvised presentation of their music, leading one to presume that each of their songs could sound tastefully new every night. Glasper switched between a synthsized Roland keyboard to the clear piano sound of his Yamaha ES8. Casey Benjamin's performance truly made the group more approachable to the public. His voice, filtered through the vocoder, gave a new electronic edge to the highly developed musicianship he displayed. He used a variety of effects to build up the energy, then dropped it down suddenly, creating tension and release. Time was stretched far out in the melodies and improvised solos, and the awareness among members in the group was astounding. The sax solos were similar to the ones on their recent album, Black Radio, showing the creative control Benjamin has over his musical vocabulary.

After a break, Mos Def hit the stage hard. His vintage 1950's style microphone matched the red stage lights, and the white jacket he walked out in looked like he took it straight off Donald Harrison's back. "I am Dante Terrell Yasiin Bey Smith, otherwise known as Mos Def," he announced. Mos occupied the audience completely. Aside from his DJ in the background, he was the only one on the stage. He used his space well and took control of his set. He kept the intensity unwavering and rocked some crowd favorites, quoting greats like Biggie Smalls, Slick Rick, Tupac, and Mannie Fresh.

Any fan of the music would pay the $60.00 ticket price just for that first lineup. But adding Erykah Badu to top it off...well, opportunities like that just don't happen everyday. After much anticipation, the crowd roared as she took the stage. Badu's set had a flow from song to song. She was almost too comfortable with the audience. To engage the crowd, she used welcoming arm gestures, floating them up over her head as she swayed her hips, then reaching out to both sides with her palms open. As a mother herself, Badu knows how to take care of those people important to her. It was clear that she loved the attendees for supporting her music.
Jazzfest by Nite Featuring Erykah Badu | IntheNOLA.com
Her sound is characterized by a slow oscillating vibrato and a sustain to each of her pitches. Her voice is compact with a strong direction and wide range of dynamics and colors which she lets loose, especially in the high range. Her great ear allows her to pick notes out of thin air, in tune and in character. Badu also worked a digital percussion pad, utilizing claps, snaps, and thick drum and cymbal sounds.

She included favorite popular songs such as On and On, Bump It, Window Seat, Didn't Cha Know, and Tyrone. Her band is one of the best in the business, boasting a nasty flutist, bass, guitar, drum set, auxiliary percussion, keys, and back-up singers. Badu had total freedom to direct the music where she wanted and they followed her instinctively. They were well rehearsed and the cutoffs were clean. They knew her songs cold and her tendencies even better to catch sudden changes she made on the spot. The added vocalists were perfectly balanced; they could rise up to support Badu in equal harmony, or back down to just fit with the rest of the band like an instrument.
Jazzfest by Nite Featuring Erykah Badu | IntheNOLA.com
Nearing the end of her set, she invited Robert Glasper back up on stage to perform their collaboration of Afro Blue, a jazz standard with a new beat, and relaxed, floating quality. Durand Bernarr, guest vocalist on Afro Blue, made a brief cameo to contribute some soulful melismatic breaks as well as an incredible whistle tone high range. Badu closed her eyes and bathed in the sound each musician was giving. "Beautiful," she whispered, ending the piece.

As the night came to a close, the featured performer was reluctantly kicked off stage at 3:45 AM, due to city regulations. The house couldn't have been more packed and people still wanted more. This was one show Jazz Fest might never see again, and an important one for the future of music. From brass bands, to jazz, to classic New Orleans, to hip-hop and R&B, some closely related genres were brought together under one roof. We can only hope that next year's Jazzfest by Nite will attempt to put on a show as inspiring as this one.
Last modified on Tuesday, 14 May 2013
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