The Soul Rebels with Big Freedia. Butcher Brown, Digable Planets, Ledisi and the West Coast Get Down featuring Leon Bridges and Raphael Saadiq. Shoutouts to Father’s Day, Juneteenth, hip-hop’s 50thanniversary, Black Music Month and Pride Month. There was something for everyone during the second day of the annual Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival (June 18).
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“You love music like I do; you want every dribbling drop of it,” said festival host Arsenio Hall in his welcome remarks. “I will be the ringmaster of the circle of jazz artists today … And there’s just one rule. Leave all of your troubles behind and have a musical picnic like no other.”
And the Bowl’s full house did just that, beginning with youth act the LAUSD (Los Angeles Unified School District) Beyond the Bell All District Jazz Big Band with special guest Charlie Young. Then giving inspirational music a different twist was Andrew Gouché and Prayze Connection. Nicknamed “the godfather of gospel bass,” Grammy winner Gouché — who has played for Mary Mary, Michael Jackson and Aretha Franklin — first led the band in a mellow, moving take on “The Lord’s Prayer.” Then the group, which included Gouché’s nephew Davion Farris, segued into several other songs, including the Clark Sisters’ classic “You Brought the Sunshine” and covers of two songs recorded by gospel star Fred Hammond, “Let the Praise Begin” and “Blessed,” featuring special guests Eric Dawkins (with a dance assist from the Cardinal Divas of the SC Drum Line) and another Gouché nephew, D Smoke, respectively.
During the late afternoon phase of the festival, jazz and world music aficionados were treated to invigorating sets by Richmond, Virginia, quintet Butcher Brown and Boukman Eksperyans. The latter held court with their fresh, percolating fusion of jazz, hip-hop, soul, funk and R&B on songs like “Frontline” and “It Was Me.” Among the eight selections performed by Grammy-nominated Haitian group Boukman Eksperyans during its crowd-pleasing set were “Jou Nou Revolte Granbwa Ile,” “Kalfou O!” and “Tan Bou.”
New Orleans brass band The Soul Rebels then took the crowd to the next level with its unique brand of soul, funk, R&B, rock, pop and jazz. Raising the high-energy bar with the raucous “Turn It Up” and “Rebel Rock,” the ensemble turned the volume all the way up when bounce music master Big Freedia hit the stage — and got her twerk on — for a noteworthy three-song set: “I Heard,” “N. O. Bounce” and “Gin in My System.”
Thirty years have elapsed since Digable Planets released its gold-certified debut album Reachin’ (A New Refutation of Time and Space). But the warm Bowl reception given to the rap trio made it seem like it was only yesterday when the album’s first single, “Rebirth of Slick (Cool Like Dat)” became a Billboard Hot 100 top 15 hit and won the group a Grammy for best rap performance. Before closing their appearance with that song and a standing ovation, Digable Planets worked their way through other first-album tracks “Where I’m From,” “Escapism (Getting’ Free)” and “Nickel Bags,” plus “It’s Good to Be Here,” “Cool Breezes” and “Graffiti” — and proved it has lost none of its enduring magic.
Ledisi and her versatile four-octave soprano kept the captivated audience in constant cheer-and-applaud mode during her 45-minute appearance. Performance standouts included “Add to Me,” the colorful scat-accented “Alright” (“It’s a jazz fest so you’ve got to have some scatting”), the autobiographical “Pieces of Me,” latest single “I Need to Know” and the searing ballad “Anything for You,” which won the singer-songwriter a Grammy for best traditional R&B performance in 2021.
The collective West Coast Get Down, with founder and jazz saxophonist Kamasi Washington, closed the festival along with Grammy-winning special guests Leon Bridges and Raphael Saadiq. Bridges’ set with the band featured a well-received three-song medley: “Born Again,” “Bad Bad News” and “Kings and Queens.” An effervescent Saadiq rocked the stage with his bass guitar on “You’re the One That I Like,” “The Sun” and “Skyy, Can You Feel Me.”
The 2023 Hollywood Bowl Jazz Festival was curated by Washington and jazz icon Herbie Hancock. On opening day (June 17), host Hall welcomed performers St. Paul and The Broken Bones, Poncho Sanchez, Bell Biv DeVoe, Herbie Hancock Institute of Jazz Performance Ensemble at UCLA, Washington and Samara Joy, a double Grammy winner this year for best jazz vocal album and best new artist.
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