Perpetually overshadowed by the Chicago Jazz Festival every Labor Day weekend, the African Festival of the Arts continues to program an eclectic assortment of soul, jazz, hip-hop, African music, and Latino music over four sprawling days in Washington Park. It’s always a mixed bag, and this year’s schedule is no exception, but there are plenty of highlights. I wrote about Randy Weston’s performance in the paper this week, but there are others worth catching.
Among the best jazz offerings are the great alto saxophonist Jimmy Heath, who leads a big band of Chicago instrumentalists tonight, and the irrepressible multi-instrumentalist Phil Cohran, who plays on Monday. A load of old-school hip-hop acts, including Yo-Yo, Monie Love, EPMD, Kurtis Blow, Naughty by Nature, and MC Lyte perform throughout the long weekend, in addition to locals like the Molemen, Juice, and Kid Sister. The Dazz Band, Con Funk Shun, the Bar-Kays, and the Stylistics represent classic funk and R & B, while the great Leela James delivers contemporary soul on Saturday. Sunday, Cuban bassist Yunior Terry Cabrera leads a promising new project featuring his talented brother Yosvany Terry on saxophone, David Oquendo on vocals, Osmany Paredes on keyboards, and special guest Alfredo de la Fe, a veteran of the great Charanga 80.
Also on Saturday, New Orleans legends Bo Dollis & the Wild Magnolias will deliver the usual set of earthy Mardi Gras Indian funk. The group has long ceased to be a genuine creative force, but a recent reissue from Sunnyside Records is here to remind us of the killer sound the band was churning out more than three decades ago. They Call Us Wild collects both albums they cut for the French label Barclay back in 1973 and 1975, The Wild Magnolias and They Call Us Wild. Few funk singers could ever match the declamatory style of Dollis—a loud, full-bodied, and sensual shout that complimented the overtly sexual throb of the band’s syncopated grooves. The Wild Magnolias featured the brilliant guitarist Fird “Snooks” Eaglin and saxophonist Earl Turbinton, who died a few weeks ago at 65. Mardi Gras warhorses like “Oh! When the Saints,” “Iko, Iko,” and “Meet the Boys (on the Battlefront)” were given a sublimely heavy backbeat, and supporting the outsize singing and call-and-response chants was a richly textured mesh of cross-cutting rhythms, propulsive guitar licks, and the rollicking keyboards of Willie Tee, the band’s musical director.
They Call Us Wild isn’t as inspired as the debut—Eaglin is sorely missed—but it’s still pretty burning. The double CD also includes a PDF file of the lavish and informative 68-page booklet that accompanied the French version of the reissue.
Perhaps, like me, you initially missed the short item in Wednesday’s Tribune, but the Jazz Showcase has found a new home, in Dearborn Station. The club, far and away the most important presenter of national mainstream jazz heavies, has been closed since January, after losing the lease on its Grand Avenue location. It’s supposed to reopen early next year.
Bonde do Role, With Lasers (Domino)
Keiji Haino & Tatsuya Yoshida, Until Water Grasps Flame (Noise Asia)
Orchestra Baobab, A Night at Club Baobab (Oriki Music)