Jam Cruise is the Gift That Keeps On Giving!
A thousands thanks to Jam Cruise and Cloud 9 for permission
to include photographs by their outstanding crew:
Christopher Baldwin, Jason Charme, Roger Gupta, Jason Koerner,
John-Ryan Lockman, Josh Timmermans, and Dave Vann!
Feature image by Roger Gupta/Jam Cruise
“Six days on the road and I’m a gonna make it home tonight…”
“Roads? Where we’re going, we don’t need roads!”
Jam Cruise 17 is back in port after six glorious days from the Straits of Florida to the Gulf of Honduras and the Gulf of Mexico, with stops in Belize City, Cozumel, and Progreso, Mexico. Superb weather, great food, wonderful family and friends made this a spectacular trip.
Oh, and there was music. A shipload of music, more precisely. Once again, Jam Cruise, Cloud 9 Productions, the Norwegian Jade, and our very own Statue of Liberty, Annabel Lukins Stelling, made this magnificent trip perfect in almost every way.
I say almost only because we were missing one very important person: Mama D. The woman who could write all of these reviews better than anyone else was not on board this year, and that would be Vera Ann Dillon. We are delighted to say that respectful son Mike Dillon assures us she WILL be on board for Jam Cruise 18.
WE ALL MISSED YOU, MAMA D!
Also, almost perfect to my ears, because I am fussy about sound, and once again some of the music was simply too loud. I’ll wait while you tell that funny joke about if the music’s too loud…
OK? Here’s the deal, and I am hoping someone will explain it to me at some point. Why is it necessary for the bass to vibrate the floor and the furniture? Why is it necessary for bass and drums to drown out the music being played by the rest of the band? Why is it necessary to be so loud that your ears hurts when the vocals — or electric piano — or other instrument — make you cringe? Before you get too huffy, understand that I have written countless times about my love of the bass and rhythm sections.
Never, I suspect, the twain shall meet between what I hear and what sound engineers hear. C’est la vie; c’est la guerre.
In addition to many Jam Cruise favorites and some newbies, there were several righteous new collaborations/bands on board that made this year extra special, and Jam Cruise always seems to have more incredible sit-ins and guest slots than you’d find at a “regular” festival, given proximity and the family atmosphere which enveloped the boat.
Last year’s Sailaway set on the Pool Deck was by The New Mastersounds. Guitarist Eddie Roberts got that honor again, this time with the new project he put together with drummer Alan Evans (Soulive). Matador! Soul Sounds is an outstanding musical quartet fronted by two electrifying vocalists, Kim Dawson (Pimps of Joytime), who sang last year with NMS, and Adryon de León, singer extraordinaire for Orgōne. The ladies and Evans were decked out in white, a fabulous visual.
Although the sound was muddy, it was a fabulous set of soulful funk music. Sometimes de León sang lead, other times Dawson, and best of all was when they sang in glorious unison or in harmony. Karl Denson made his first of a lot of sit-ins, and the band played the most recent single and lots of other material from their album. Each member of the band got plenty of space to strut his stuff, Chris Spies primarily on Hammond B3 organ.
We missed Rob Marscher, keyboard player with Star Kitchen, who had the first Atrium set of the cruise. Leftover Salmon opened the Stardust Theater with an eclectic set. Some horns sat in, as did Andy Frasco, now a Vince Herman running buddy. They were rockin’ bluegrass and zydeco and lots more.
For whatever reason, I found that Sailaway Day was certainly enjoyable but not riveting, musically. Perhaps it was that we were only on day one of a six-day extravaganza, but I confess was expecting a bit more. The set from Sister Sparrow & the Dirty Birds was like that, very nice, when I was looking for electrifying.
I had the same experience with Toubab Krewe up in the Spinnaker Lounge. I love this band, having seen them two dozen times. This set seemed pedestrian. Worse, the sound was hideous. The bass and bass drum drown out practically everything else. Earplugs barely put a dent in the aural onslaught. We ducked out. We also missed Daniel Rodriguez in the Atrium.
Even The Motet took a while to get in gear, but once they did they really rocked the Starlight. After a great instrumental warmup, Lyle Divinsky lifted it off the ground, Garrett Sayers killing on bass and Joey Porter rocking his bank of keyboards, even hitting some of his Juno What? vibrations. Just as they hit their stride, Ivan Neville came out to join them, singing The Gap Band’s “Outstanding” with Divinsky. Magic! When they jumped into the newest single from brand new album Death or Devotion (which just dropped), I wrote: THAT’S THE SHIT. Garrett Sayers and Dave Watts (drums) were blazing hot.
At this point, there were four fabulous musical options available, and, as usual, my clone patrol let me down. I ended up passing on The (George) Porter Trio and only caught the end of Umphrey’s McGee on the Pool Deck. Blame Alan Evans. After that great opening Matador! Soul Sounds set, he was the host of the Jazz Room in the Bliss Lounge. He dragged bandmates Chris Spies and Eddie Roberts along for support, with Chris Stillwell (KDTU) on bass. It was generally unnecessarily loud in that room all cruise, but the sound was well balanced. Evans continued to bump up the cruise control, first as Karl Denson joined in, then Mike Dillon. Roberts had a superb solo, they romped through a “Billie Jean” vamp, and Denson threw in a “Dance Lesson No. 1” quote. It was really fine.
I know I heard the end of the Umphrey’s McGee set, but my notes — and brain — are blank. Likewise Turkuaz, deservedly JC darlings for any number of reasons given their past two years on the boat, put on a fine if not extraordinary set in the Stardust. I was really looking for something. What was it?
SunSquabi. That was the answer. Their “Electronic Hydro Funk” from Denver was my personal prescription. Chris Anderson (drums), Josh Fairman (bass, synth), and Kevin Donohue (guitar, keyboards, production) delivered for me. They even invited fellow Coloradoan Joey Porter up for even more fun.
Chris Littlefield (KDTU) ruled the Jam Room; I didn’t make it there or to the Subset finale. Or to The Spot (although I would, finally, get there a couple nights later).
WEDNESDAY At Sea
This was an overfull day, with 17 sets of music and lots of other side events as well. There were talks and discussions and game shows and lots of similar events each day on the cruise, but I stuck with music. Seriously, unless you and your team of clones are on board, you simply cannot do everything. And I missed a lot. A LOT.
The Sweet Lillies had a wonderful noon set on the Pool Deck to kick the day off with a bang. This Boulder trio (with an electric guitarist in tow) delighted the early risers with a dynamic set. Julie Gussaroff played upright bass, Becca Bisque played viola, and Melly Frances played washboard and guitar. Frances was lead vocalist, but they all sang, often in glorious harmony, best showcased on set closer “Seven Bridges Road,” and somewhere in there was a kazoo, too!
Southern Avenue were up next on the deck, with Tierinii Jackson doing the best Tina Turner routine you’ll ever see, including her awesome dress. (Our great writer Dalia Jakubauskas has a series of interviews coming with lots of the ladies on board — please look forward to reading all of them!) The sound was vastly improved today, and they tore through a way-uptempo “I Believe That Peace Will Come” before a great slowed-down “Use Me.” Tikyra Jackson propelled the set from her drum kit, and Ori Naftaly was superb on guitar. a real set highlight came with “Slipped, Tripped and Fell in Love.”
We missed Lyle Divinsky’s Atrium set. Nothing but nothing was going to keep me from Monophonics on the Pool Deck (most of the other venues didn’t start up until 8 PM or later). It had been several years since the San Francisco Sextet had ventured east (well, to Florida, anyway). While there was never a question about pre-booking for Jam Cruise, Monophonics were at the top of my list of bands I was determined to see.
And they crushed. I suspect quite a few Cruisers did no know about them before; they know now. The band is lead by Kelly Finnigan, the electrifying vocalist and Hammond B3 player (electric piano, too) who altered the band’s profile from great funk outfit to superb soul band. Their approach is straight out of the late ’60s and early ’70s. Finnigan’s emotive style, pleading and begging in the context of their songs, is powerful. By the second song, “I Don’t Believe Her,” they had everyone’s attention. They delivered a great cover of Funkadelic’s “I Got a Thing, You Got a Thing.”
The set closed with a long version of a brand new song, “Last One Standing,” but the heart of the set was a three-song segment. The first two were, admittedly, my two favorites of their repertoire: “Say You Love Me” and “Foolish Love.” Previously, “Say You Love Me” always included the horn vamp from Al Green’s “Love and Happiness.” This time, they actually segued into “Love and Happiness”! The set totally blew up when they invited fellow Californian Miss Adryon de León to sing another Funkadelic song, “Good to Your Earhole.” My two favorite singers on the boat — together! Sheer bliss!
One name I’d heard about but was totally unfamiliar with was Khruangbin. I caught the last 15 minutes or so of their Pool Deck set (and about the same several days later). I need to see them at some point where there aren’t lots of other distractions. They are most definitely a conundrum wrapped up in an enigma for us jamsters. Absolutely minimalist bass and drums support the spectacularly psychedelic guitar of Mark Speer. The brief segment I heard went brilliantly thus: “Nuthin’ But a G Thang > Wicked Game (intro) > Summer Magic (Kool) > surf guitar > ?? > Steal Away.” Fascinating.
We paused briefly to hear the sweet sounds of Melvin Seals & JGB lovingly rendering “How Sweet It Is” before returning to the Pool Deck for Kamasi Washington, one of my prime focuses this trip. Their two sets on JC15 were remarkable. This first one was as well. They lit it up with “Change of the Guard,” the first song on The Epic, Washington’s three-CD debut as a solo artist, and the first song they played on JC15 on the deck.
It was stunning. Once again, Patrice Quinn’s remarkable vocalise added such a wonderful layer on top of the melody. Bassist Miles Mosely was a revelation, great sound and dynamic arco playing (bowed bass). Dual drummers powered the set. Kamasi brought out “Pops” — father Ricky Washington — for the second song, and there he remained for the rest of the set, a great player on soprano sax and flute.
After “The Rhythm Changes,” Kamasi turned Mosely loose on “Abraham,” where he played and sang. There was a gorgeous segment with “Truth,” the single from his EP Harmony of Difference, and they delivered the final blow with “Fists of Glory.” WOW
We attempted to go check out The Cleaners up in the much-too-small Spinnaker Lounge. This was probably the only scheduling problem of the cruise, because a whole lot of people wanted to check out Eric Krasno, Marcus King, Duane Trucks, Kevin Scott, and Deshawn Alexander. Sardines aren’t packed that tightly. You couldn’t move, couldn’t see. On top of that, you actually could barely hear (how’s that for something completely different?). The only reason I was positive The Cleaners were on stage was because I could see the top of Marcus King’s hat moving back and forth on stage.
The Nth Power with an augmented band did Bob Marley proud with their Rebel Music set.
Tuesday’s set by Umphrey’s McGee was really good but not, you know, riveting. Fast forward to Wednesday’s set in the Stardust: best set I’ve ever heard from them (OK, that Wanee mashup set was pretty tight). The moment they dove into “Day Nurse,” I was totally sold. For the next hour, I was blissfully enveloped in the UM canon.
One of the most diverse “bluegrass/Americana” bands ever, Jon Stickley Trio, were in the Spinnaker. And they were amazing, except for one thing. Hunter Deacon’s bass drum (they don’t have a bass player) was SO loud that it practically drowned out Stickley’s guitar and Lyndsay Pruett’s fiddle. (And that was their sound engineer!) They offered a tremendous cover of “Sinister Minister” and some other great tunes.
Keyboard player Erik Deutsch had the Jazz Room locked down tight, with tenor sax, drums, and tuba on stage when I arrived. Eddie Roberts rolled in on guitar, and a 25-minute romp through “Birk’s Works” ensued. And then I had my first Taz sighting. He’d already made guest appearances as an artist at large, but I hadn’t seen him until now. And I hadn’t seen him since Bear Creek 2014, so this was great. There would be lots more appearances by Brandon ‘Taz’ Niederauer coming up!
Another of my main focuses was Star Kitchen, the new project put together by Marc Brownstein (The Disco Biscuits, Conspirator). He had told me on last year’s cruise he planned to put this together, so it was great to see it come to fruition. This was the band’s sixth or seventh time on stage as a band. They introduced themselves with a blistering 13-minute opener that served to say: “NOW you know who Star Kitchen is!” This was the day I anticipated after the relatively slow start Tuesday. Deanna and I confirmed we were in fact in the right place!
After that, they invited Krasno up for “After Midnight.” It moved along predictably — for a little while. Then it just seemed to explode. It morphed into a spot-on Allman Brothers jam that was almost “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed,” Kraz and Star Kitchen’s Danny Mayer magnificent on that twin lead guitar. Somehow, that worked its way into Herbie Hancock’s “Ostinato,” simply incredible. Karl Denson jumped into the fray, naturally. Rob Marscher had help from somebody on keyboards, and then it was Big Sam’s turn to keep the jam alive with his trombone. 43 minutes plus it rolled, totally mind-blowing. After a lovely “People Make the World Go ’Round” (Philadelphia song for the Philadelphia-based band), Shira Elias (Turkuaz) guested on “Livin’ for the City,” and the band knocked us out with “Poison” (yep, that one).
The Jam Room was jammin’ indeed, anchored by Dave Watts (The Motet) on drums and Joel Cummins (Umphrey’s McGee) on keyboards. Big Sam was in the house, as were TAUK boys Alric ‘AC’ Carter and Matt Jalbert. There were lots of others either on stage or writing their turn. After a tremendous fusion tune, I intended to leave to check out Fruition. Of course it was at that moment that Shira Elias and Lyle Divinsky showed up, and “Give It to Me” overwhelmed the entire lounge.
That left a brief visit to Fruition with the late Stardust set before I ran completely out of gas. No Khruangbin DJ set for me, either.
THURSDAY Belize City
Our first port was Belize city. There was no dock or pier, so tenders (double-decker ferries) were required to shuttle cruisers who wished to explore to get to shore. We went as part of a group of 150 participating in Positive Legacy. This outstanding program, with 13 events listed on their website, searches out places at music cruise stops and destination festivals that could use a helping hand — lots of helping hands — to provide some free labor for various projects.
Our destination was the Community Baboon Sanctuary about half an hour outside of Belize City. And they’re not baboons, incorrectly identified long ago by European explorers. They’re howler monkeys, and, boy, do they howl! Our projects involved painting one of the buildings there, planting some shrubs, and helping to pour a concrete walkway. It was rewarding and enjoyable work.
After we were finished, we walked across the street to a tent where we ate lunch and enjoyed sharing some music with the local school children. First, a local troupe called Drums Not Guns performed, followed by Daniel Rodriguez and Louie Longmeyer playing several songs. And the musical highlight featured all nine members of Turkuaz doing some improv with the help of Everyone Orchestra director Matt Butler. After their first piece, Butler led them into some deep Afrobeat with help from at least one of the Drums Not Guns drummers. And Dave Brandwein explained that, given the location, they would close with a Turkuaz tune, appropriately, “Monkey Fingers.”
ALO got the music started on the Pool Deck at 5:30, once everyone was back on board. (Speaking of that, it took almost 50 minutes for us to debark from the tender when we returned to the ship. It was interminable.) ALO picked up everyone’s spirits with a lively set, demonstrably with “I Want to Make You Dance.” The three vocalists from Fruition — Jay Cobb Anderson, Kellen Asebroek, and Mimi Naja — joined to sing a spectacular “Woodstock.” And ALO’s “Got to Try a Little Bit Harder” included a “Franklin’s Tower” tease and a melodica solo from Zach Gill before Lebo led them into “Ship of Fools,” which we will assume was NOT an editorial comment, however accurate!
For whatever reason, and very fortunately, the sets in the Atrium seemed much less noisy than last year’s. We went to check out Chris Spies, keyboard player for Matador! Soul Sounds. He sounded great playing “Isn’t She Lovely?” before inviting Jennifer Hartswick up to sing. (Hartswick had just joined the cruise that afternoon.) They went straight after some barrelhouse piano blues with “.” Next, Kim Dawson (Matador! Soul Sounds) came up to sing another great blues song, “Sister, I’m Keeping My Eyes On You.”
Then he invited Matador! Soul Sounds’ other vocalist, Adryan de León, to sing “’Til You Come Back to Me (That’s All I’m Going to Do)” with Dawson. Of course Hartswick jumped up to great smiles all around. Dawson and de León traded the stanzas, with great harmony background throughout. Alan Evans (more Matador!) came up to honor Frank Zappa by singing a great version of “Uncle Remus,” with de León and Dawson backing him. (“Uncle Remus” is actually a George Duke composition that first appeared on Zappa’s Apostrophe. Nonetheless, the tribute was righteous.)
We went off in search of more music. It’s the usual festival/cruise dilemma: how do you see/hear everything? You can’t, of course, so you miss some things, or split time between sets. We headed to see Hot Tuna Electric with Steve Kimock. Jorma Kaukonen and Jack Cassidy were on stage playing several songs before they called Kimock out. Cassidy’s bass (that we’ve been hearing for 54 glorious years) was loud enough to wash over Jorma’s vocals. They played a fascinating version of “Talkin’ ’Bout You.”
Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe were holding forth in the Stardust. Denson never brings anything but his A game, and it was in full force here. Big Sam and trombone sat in on a rockin’ “Freedom,” Denson on flute. “The Bridge” hit a tremendous groove jam. They also played the title track from KDTU’s forthcoming album Gnomes and Badgers. Seth Freeman’s lap steel crushed us like a steamroller during “I Wonder If You Knew I Let You Down.”
A great cover of “Under My Thumb” featured trumpeter Chris Littlefield, David Veith on Hammond B3, and guest Roosevelt Collier on Freeman’s lap steel. In a long list of highlights, “Dance Lesson #1” was superb, Denson on tenor, DJ Williams with a killer guitar solo, Littlefield on flugelhorn, Denson closing on flute, and Freeman scratching on guitar!
Things were simply on fire on the Pool Deck with Dragon Smoke. Ivan Neville was in command from the keyboard console, Eric Lindell on guitar. And Robert Mercurio (bass) and Stanton Moore (drums) pushed the pace throughout. Much as I wanted to stay, there was no chance I was going to miss Matador! Soul Sounds in the Spinnaker.
They were fabulous once again, Misses Dawson and de León again magnificent on vocals supported by that amazing funk band Roberts and Evans put together. The intimate setting was perfect for their second set on the boat. After “Higher,” they played a new tune titled “Juice Ain’t Worth the Squeeze.” The gentlemen offered a great instrumental with a real Hammond B3 workout from Spies. Big Sam joined in on “I Am Somebody,” Dawson sang “Lyin’, Cheatin’,” and de León sang “Stingy Love.” They closed out their Jam Cruise with “Covfefe.”
I passed through the Starlight to give Khruangbin a second shot. Again, I need to see them without distractions all around. Mimi Naja of Fruition was the Pickin’ host in the Bliss Lounge. It seemed like a cacophonous madhouse, and I kept going.
One of the most anticipated sets was The Cleaners, this time on the Pool Deck where most everybody could see and hear them. At some point, horns (Dirty Birds? Turkuaz?) joined them as Marcus King sang “How Long ’til I Find You?” Then sparks really began to fly as they steered directly into “In Memory of Elizabeth Reed.” Duane Trucks played for two drummers, a true feat. King and Krasno locked guitars and were off to the races, DeShawn Alexander up to the task on Hammond B3. The sound was superb, Kevin Scott’s bass perfect at the heart of the song. Kraz next sang “They Love Each Other” with Sister Sparrow (Arleigh Kincheloe), and the jam went through another song or two, eventually beginning to tease “Mountain Jam.”
George Porter, Jr., was the Jam Room host, and it was awesome seeing Joe Marcinek playing guitar with him.
They were jamming away, including Meters stuff, before I opted for Andy Frasco & the U.N. Because I have already written about that set, I will leave the link here (the title should give you an indication): THERE IS NOTHING EVEN REMOTELY LIKE AN ANDY FRASCO AND THE U.N. CONCERT.
This was Cozumel day. We got off the boat just to eat lunch and wander around a bit. And to stare at our Norwegian Jade dwarfed by Harmony of the Seas “next door;” it apparently is the world’s second-largest floating hotel. YIKES!
After a nap, we made it for the last part of the Toubab Krewe set on the pool deck, with much better sound. There was a keyboard player sitting in, then Skerik on tenor sax. Like-minded guitarist Raja Kassis joined them for a song of his. Finally, Justin Perkins (kora, kamelngoni) moved back to play percussion with Luke Quaranta, Terrence Houston on drums, as they finished with a percussive flurry.
Jam Cruise legends Galactic took over the Pool Deck and put on a stunning performance, joined by Mike Dillon on percussion. Miss Erica Falls was hard to hear at first over the volume of the band, but that got straightened out pretty quickly. The next instrumental gave Big Sam another chance to blow, then the first of numerous fabulous outings from pocket trumpeter Shamar Allen. And Stanton Moore and Dillon really put on a show.
Miss Erica Falls (Ben Ellman always addresses her that way) came back for a couple more songs, followed by a huge Afrobeat tune featuring Richard Vogel on Hammond B3. The Turkuaz horns came out to join Ellman’s tenor sax and Allen for even more Afrobeat with a space bass intro from Robert Mercurio that sounded like Curtis Mayfield’s “If There’s Hell Below (We’re All Gonna Go).” Miss Falls then crooned to an entirely different arrangement of “For What It’s Worth.”
She also sang a nice arrangement of “Use Me,” and here’s betting you would not have imagined them covering “Like a Rolling Stone.” The Fruition kids came out to crush “No Diggity” on vocals, Vogel stunning on piano. Roosevelt Collier added his lap steel nastiness to the proceedings, and Miss Falls took us waaaay back with — “I Want You Back.”
I cruised through the Spinnaker to catch a bit of The Sweet Lillies, once again making Americana/bluegrass fresh and exciting, mixing their own great originals with covers such as “This is How We Do It.” Julie Gussaroff sounded incredible on her upright bass.
Then it was off to check in on Sister Sparrow and the Dirty Birds again. They had a nice set going as Arleigh Kincheloe poured herself into “Dr. Feelgood,” Taz guesting on guitar. Sammi Garett and Lyle Divinsky backed Kincheloe on “Bridge Over Troubled Waters,” and the group also offered up “The Weight.”
Nathan Moore, who always gives us unusual projects, was appearing in Bliss Lounge as The Whole Other, a very psychedelic trio. The place was rocking, and then a series of sit-ins began.
The Pool Deck had turned “Colorado Bound” as Leftover Salmon was in charge. Their mix of Americana, bluegrass, zydeco, and rock once again had the fans moving to the groove. At one point, they shoved a great bluegrass tune into double-time, really amazing.
It was Spafford time in the Stardust, and the quartet from Arizona slammed immediately into “Take Home,” guitarist Brian Moss on vocals. That great jam was followed by an even better one 15 minutes in the making, Jordan Fairless on bass singing. They really lit the place up with a spot-on cover of Smashmouth’s “Walking On the Sun,” Farfisa-sounding organ and all. Their harmonies were great.
This was one of those time periods where there were three events occurring essentially at the same time. I passed on the Tribute to The Band, which everyone tells me was a mistake. I know it was a mistake if only because I missed Adryon de León sing “The Weight.” But here are two facts: I’ve never been a big fan of The Band, AND I saw them in 1970. Because I am, like, really old.
I went to hear magicgravy, a band led by those Motet boys Dave Watts (drums) and Garrett Sayers (bass). For me, correct decision. Also, I have enjoyed Lebo on guitar before, solo, with ALO, in other settings, but this was special. He was pure dynamite. They were playing a nice cover of “Can’t Believe We’re Not in Love Any More.”
And then they simply exploded, because “Jan Jan.” Look, if you dig funk jazz, get yourself a copy of Grant Green’s Live at the Lighthouse, the one with “Flood in Franklin Park” and “Jan Jan.” You can thank me later. They took that tune straight through the roof. As they jammed, they touched briefly on “Softly, As in a Morning Sunrise” before taking “Jan Jan” all the way up.
I had not seen TAUK in a couple years and was really looking forward to that wonderful ’70s fusion they deliver so well, and I was NOT disappointed. From the opening strains of “In the Basement of the Alamo,” it was ON. Charlie Dolan sent some space bass skyward on the second song, filled with great synth strings courtesy of Alric ‘AC’ Carter. The sound mix was perfect! Dolan and drummer Isaac Teel, in his signature totally cool hat, were brilliant together.
Then great fun ensued as guitarist Matt Jalbert was joined on stage by Motet guitarist Ryan Jalbert and Lyle Divinsky singing a Prince song. Ernie Chang (The U.N.) on tenor sax and Parris Fleming (The Motet) on trumpet added great punch to “Battle Without Honor or Humanity” (that Kill Bill hit song). The set just continued to smoke. Divinsky reappeared to sing “Power of Soul,” the great Hendrix anthem.
No Big Sam Jam Room, no Nth Power late-night, no Drew Sayers with the late-late Bliss show.
Unlike other ports, Progreso is relatively new to the game. They only get one or two cruise ships a week. And, because of the extremely shallow waters, the pier is five miles long! Those who wished just to get off, stretch legs, buy trinkets, and drink cervesa and tequila could do so at the series of shops at our end of the pier. All others needed transportation into town.
We opted for a trip to the Dzilbilchaltun Mayan ruins, which made for an excellent and informative trip, followed by lunch and beverages at the beach near the pier (a swim in the Gulf for me).
As we sailed away, The Porter Trio was holding forth on the Pool Deck. Joe Marcinek was playing guitar. By the time I got there, Roosevelt Collier was involved in “Turn On Your Lovelight.” Mike Dillon was there. George Porter, Jr., then gave us a song from his last album, featuring superb solos from Taz and from Karl Denson.
I missed Nathan Moore’s set in the Atrium but was fortunate to catch Melvin Seals there shortly thereafter. This set was a revelation first because we are accustomed to hearing Seals play the B3, and here he was at the grand piano. And he had a band: Porter, Dillon, Lebo, Steve Kimock, and Jennifer Hartswick for starts. Kimock sounded amazing on “Cissy Strut,” and Lebo also took a turn, and of course Porter showed us how to play his song! Hartswick sang a lot. The whole set was a pure delight.
Andy Frasco and the U.N. were back at it on the Pool Deck. It was pandemonium, as usual. Big Sam, Dillon, Taz, Skerik, and some horns were there at one time or another. “My Loneliness Is Killing Me” paired with “…Baby One More Time.” There was a reggae take on “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” and we heard the title track from the band’s new album Change of Pace. As much as I raved about the set from the other night, there were now three things happening at the same time. As a result, we missed where the medical team came out to re-bandage his head plus the bar mitzvah conga line up to the 13th deck and back down and an hora like no other.
Hot Tuna + Kimock were in the Stardust, but I was damned if I was going to miss Star Kitchen after that spectacular showing Wednesday night. I was rewarded, immediately, with a killer take on “Jan Jan” (yep, that one again). And clearly I did not rave enough about what a superb guitarist Danny Mayer is, because he crushed this with some fine space guitar. That rolled for 14 minutes. Then Marc Brownstein shoved the funk into overdrive on another long romp, this one a feature for keyboard player Rob Marscher.
Josh Schwartz (Turkuaz) sang “Will it Go ’Round In Circles?” and played alto sax. The next song was bluesy jazz matching Roosevelt Collier’s lap steel with Marscher’s synthesizer. Taz rocked a tune that had possibly the nastiest baseline ever, and I mean ever. Brownie ripped this one up. Finally, Hartswick joined the fray to sing “You’ve Got the Love,” which featured Marlon B. Lewis on drums, and they finished with Hartswick belting “Rock Steady,” Marscher on backing vocals. DAMN
I knew we’d miss the Thorn-Stickley Duo in the Atrium, but Karl Denson’s Tiny Universe was about to rock on the Pool Deck, blasting out with “Baby Likes to Boogaloo.” This band is always on fire. There was a huge jam during “Family Tree,” incredibly powerful, with a great outing from Chris Littlefield on trumpet. They played songs from upcoming album Gnomes and Badgers. Chris Stillwell rocked some badass bass on “What If You Knew I’d Let You Down.” “Trouble No More,” one of the tunes featured in KDTU’s Eat a Bunch of Peaches set, turned guitarists Seth Freeman and DJ Williams loose.
SunSquabi had the Spinnaker swaying with another powerful set, including a great Taz sit-in.
Then it was down to the Stardust to check out ALO again. They were pouring out a hot groove with Zach Gill on clavinet and Steve Kimock guesting on guitar. The sign interpreter had an ear-to-ear grin as she danced and signed through the set. The Turkuaz horns, Big Sam, and Hartswick gave us real “Rapture” (the Blondie song). There were lots of solos, Gill rapped, and Lebo played some wicked guitar.
It was Erica Falls’ turn to run the Jazz Room, which I found an hour in. Skerik was blowing tenor and Shamar Allen (Galactic) killing on his pocket trumpet as Arleigh Kincheloe (Sister Sparrow) sounded wonderful on Tom Browne’s “Funkin’ for Jamaica.” The groove just kept rolling.
Even more impressive, the collection of musicians waiting offstage was simply stunning. And these are just the ones I could identify: Big Sam, Tierinii Jackson, Tikyra Jackson, George Porter, Jr., Ernie Chang, Danny Mayer, Sammi Garett, Kim Dawson, Shira Elias, and Adryan de León.
Meanwhile, The Motet were funkin’ ship up on the rain-dampened Pool Deck. “Like We Own It” was an honest statement, because they did. Watts reminded us why he is the heart of the band, and the horns (Parris Fleming and Drew Sayers) were excellent. A tune from new album Death or Devotion featured Joey Porter on B3. Ryan Jalbert killed on guitar on “Damn!” And we could all support the sentiment expressed in “Keep On Don’t Stoppin’.”
The schedule listed Kelly Finnigan as the Jam Room host. Imagine my delight when I walked in to discover that the entire Monophonics band was on stage. And jam they did! Eventually, DJ Williams joined them as Max Ramey pumped out relentless bass. Williams even teased “Stash” during one of his solos. When Big Sam came up, they knocked a great version of “Check Out Your Mind,” and they also jammed a delicious “Slippin’ Into Darkness.”
TAUK round two was in the Stardust late night, and of course they were crushing it again. There was even a Rush tune. Who else but the ubiquitous Turkuaz horns would show up for a jam that rolled into “Voodoo Child (Slight Return),” drummer Isaac Teel on vocals.
And I finally found The Spot! Only took three years. Lots of guitars, vocals, upright bass, trumpet, and lots of vocals. And a lot of fun. Subset was spinning in Bliss.
SUNDAY At Sea
We made it! Day six! We were out in virgin JC territory. How would we hold up on the extra day of amazing music? Were we still capable of being impressed after five brilliant days?
Jon Stickley Trio were the perfect opener for the day with their wide-ranging set (and far better sound than at their Spinnaker outing). Arriving late, we heard them romp through a variation of “Ghost Riders in the Sky,” then a spectacular freighttrain-ish vamp and one that sounded like “I Heard It Through the Grapevine.” Last song? “Come As You Are”!
We missed the Melvin Seals & JGB Gospel set, eating before heading to the Stardust for Everyone Orchestra under the direction of Matt Butler. He had once again assembled a fabulous collection of musicians to celebrate the Positive Legacy program, anchored by Josh Fairman (SunSquabi) on bass and Tikyra Jackson (Southern Avenue) on drums. ‘AC’ Carter (TAUK) played keyboards, and Lebo and Steve Kimock were there on guitars. The vocal chorus included de León, Garett, Elias, Schwartz, and a young lady with flute. Also involved were trumpet, tenor sax, and percussion.
Each song was an improvisation directed by Butler, who selected a band member to begin each “song.” Shira Elias opened “Riding Away,” which featured great work from Kimock. Josh Schwartz helped invent “Let’s All Count Our Blessings,” a lovely ballad. Zach Gill join Carter on keyboards and gave us “Six Days Gone,” Kimock on slide, Butler singing (!), Carter on clavinet, and de León with a couple stanzas.
Fairman’s bass introduced “Your Love Is Lifting Me Higher” (not that one), Gill on vocals, then flute and Carter on synths. After Garett sang, the tune morphed into “Na Na Hey Hey (Kiss Him Goodbye)” — not sure if that was Kimock’s fault or Lebo’s! Everybody had a chance to sing lead. Carter began another song on electric piano, Lebo on vocals first before Elias made it “I Saw the Sunrise.” Getting back to the pool deck did not come to Fruition.
Jennifer Hartswick’s Super Jam was everything it promised to be and more!
Monophonics had one more turn, and they again made the most of it. The set featured “There’s a Riot Going On” and “Sure is Funky” from In Your Brain, and Adryon de León once again sat in on an entirely different arrangement of “Southern Man.” “Say You Love Me > Love and Happiness” was again a set highlight, and they closed it down with a version of “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” that honored both The Supremes and Vanilla Fudge.
Up in the Spinnaker, Southern Avenue was also throwing down a second fine set. As we arrived, George Porter, Jr., was sitting in on “Superstitious,” that featured a great trumpet solo before Porter led them into “Give Up the Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker),” Jeremy Powell on clavinet and then pure Porter. “Come Together” also smoked, Powell on B3 and Arno Bakker (The U.N.) on trombone.
Turkuaz time on a very breezy, very cool pool deck with another superb set, including a fabulous “Slippery People” cover and their great tune “On the Run.”
If there was any question that the sixth day would be worthwhile, Kamasi Washington dismissed that notion with a set so stunning, so riveting that even not-so-much jazz aficionados were totally blown out. Absolutely fabulous. Miles Mosely delivered another amazing set on the double bass, including lots of arco work. Patrice Quinn was stunning on “Malcolm’s Theme” as Washington’s father, Ricky Washington, added soprano saxophone. Keyboard player Brandon Coleman gave us his composition “Giant Things.”
Next up was “Truth,” the beautiful music from Washington’s EP Harmony of Difference. Mostly had a great intro, and Quinn was magnificent with her wordless vocalise. Kamasi then blew a spectacular understated tenor solo, and drummers Tony Austin and Ronald Bruner, Jr., played a great duet. They blew us all away with the closing “Fists of Fury,” the single most stunning performance on the boat, to my mind. Quinn’s performance was heaven-sent, I’m certain. Jaws were on the floor. I looked left and right and saw friends I just wasn’t expecting to see, just as amazed as I (I’m talking about you, Samuel, and you, Dalia).
Up in the Spinnaker, Natural Selectah were pumping out their psychedelic reggae. NS is a rotating cast of musicians, this time with Josh Fairman (SunSquabi) on bass in the band. Lyle Divinsky took the band through the most unusual take on Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon” that you will ever hear.
The food on board was superb, and the late-night Chefs at Sea program killed it!
I poked my head into the Pickin’ Lounge led by Vince Herman. It was loud and crowded, so I left — before Herman crowd-surfed! That’s what hanging around Andy Frasco will do to you! Question: if it’s a pickin’ lounge, why were there drums and horns? The Spot was the real pickin’ lounge.
Spafford had the last word on the Pool Deck. They were again doing what they do best, jamming from start to finish. This set included a nifty cover of the Tears for Fears song “Mad World,” and Taz came up to rip another of his incredible solos.
Haters, get ready. Set phasers to immolate. Question: Will Taz use that head-back, grimacing face EVERY TIME he solos? He is so damn good, but now that looks like a gimmick, and he certainly doesn’t need it. You had us with the very first chord.
Appropriately, Galactic had the closing set in the Stardust. Mike Dillon played percussion alongside Stanton Moore on drums; those two have numerous projects together, not to mention Les Claypool’s Bastard Jazz during Jazz Fest! Miss Erica Falls sang a song, then Taz came out to thrill us one more time (every time, actually). Miss Falls came back, then Denson guested on a song from Coolin’ Off. They played a new ballad, and finally Miss Falls sang the closing “I Can’t Stand the Rain.”
And then Miss America came out to talk to us! That would be our camp counselor deluxe, Annabel Lukins Stelling, the queen of Jam Cruise. She reminded us that Galactic is the only band to have been on ALL 17 Jam Cruises. She told us that with her costume she represented freedom, the freedom for us to be able to escape the mundane and the ugly and live together for six glorious days.
More music? Well, of course. Isaac Teel, with his hip hat, was in command in the Jam Room along with TAUK bandmate Matt Jalbert and Nate Edgar (The Nth Power) on bass. There were two trumpets and a young lady on alto who had a really nice solo, as did one of the trumpet players. And Teel likes singing!
DJ Soul Sister was spinning in the Bliss Lounge, but I went out to The Spot one last time (OK, for me, only the second time ever, but who’s counting?).
There’s really only one other question you need to ask:
DID YOU PRE-BOOK YET?
Only 350 days (+/-) until Jam Cruise 19!