The Lake Eden Arts Festival is well known for the alternative attractions it offers — such as spiritual/healing-arts workshops, drum circles, cooking, poetry, dancing, crafting and a kids’ adventure land — but there’s always a solid and eclectic roster of performers on hand, to make sure the music doesn’t take a back seat.
Expect the sonic traditions of a variety of world cultures at LEAF this year: the New Orleans latin-jazz of Los Hombres Calientes and the African fusion of Samba Ngo, alongside bluegrass veterans The Seldom Scene and esteemed singer/songwriter Jim Lauderdale. Audiences can also tune their ears to Solazo, The Hot Club of Cowtown, Webb Wilder, Nappy Brown and Roaring Mary, plus many more.
Lauderdale is on a roll. His 1998 release Whisper was a Country Album of the Year nominee, and he toured for six months as opening act for Grammy winner Lucinda Williams. Last year, Lauderdale recorded an album with bluegrass legend Ralph Stanley and the Clinch Mountain Boys, titled I Feel Like Singing Today (Rebel, 1999), and had his songs recorded by George Strait, Dixie Chicks, Patty Loveless and George Jones. His new release, Onward Through It All (RCA, 1999), finds him in the company of singers Buddy and Julie Miller, mandolinist David Grisman, E-Street bassist Gary Tallent and fiddler Tammy Rogers, among others.
Congolese guitarist/vocalist Samba Ngo (represented by Asheville label A-Tone) blends jazz, funk and soukous. “The music of the African tradition is therapeutic,” he recently told the Athens News. “In the Congo culture the drum is powerful. Without its rhythm, it’s impossible to live. The body works on rhythm. Some people are very surprised when they first hear the music. Their bodies feel like they want to go crazy, so they do.” Ngo’s Metamorphosis was released last year on Alison Brown’s Compass Records; it’s a jubilant work that blends solid melodies and intricately layered rhythmic forces.
Solazo, meanwhile, plays a new kind of Latin fusion, blending traditional Andean sounds with folk- and dance-music styles from North and South America. Members Pepe Aranda, Charry Garcia, Kike Rodriguez, Miquel Benitez and Vladimir Espinoza have jammed with many of biggest musical stars from Chile, Argentina and Cuba.
The Hot Club of Cowtown recently recently took Austin by storm with its western swing, hot jazz, traditional fiddle tunes and Tin Pan Alley standards. Guitarist Whit Smith, violinist Elana Fremerman and upright bassist Billy Horton sport a clever technique and much fury on their debut Hightone release Tall Tales.
Bluegrass vets Seldom Scene have been breaking ground in contemporary bluegrass for 23 years now. Dream Scene, the band’s 11th Sugar Hill Records release, features arrangements of Gamble & Huff soul classics, John Fogerty swamp riffs, and Country Gents charmers.
Stereo Review claims that Webb Wilder could pass for “Buddy Holly’s slightly nerdy older brother” — but the singer/songwriter laughingly calls himself “The last of the full-grown men.” Fans are likewise split: Some call the music of Wilder and his Nashvegans “cowboy grunge,” while The Associated Press praises their “killer grooves, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins theatrics, healthy sense of humor and great pop melodies.”
Nappy Brown, along with Armand & Bluesology, dispenses a dose of sunny blues, and Roaring Mary supplies earthy, warm traditional Irish music, done D.C.-style.
Los Hombres Calientes — the brainchild of percussionist Bill Summers and trumpeter Irvin Mayfield — features drummer Jason Marsalis (he of the unreal jazz pedigree and thirst for excellence to match), pianist Victor Atkins III, bassist Edward Livingston and percussionist/vocalist Yvette Bostic-Summers. In true New Orleans style, they serve up a captivating gumbo that fuses modern, acoustic jazz, New Orleans soul, Latin grooves and an Afro-centric world-music sensibility.
“The thing that makes the band really stand out from other bands that are doing Latin jazz is the New Orleans aspect, the traditional New Orleans music that creeps through Irvin and also through Jason,” Summers recently told Mountain Xpress. “They were born here, and they’ve had serious training and background in traditional New Orleans music and the intricacies of it. So they apply that, sometimes very subtly, within the structure of the music, and it gives it a flavor that is hard to find in the other groups.”
Summers — a member of Herbie Hancock’s groundbreaking funk/fusion combo Headhunters in the 1970s — is a lifelong student of African, Caribbean and South and North American rhythms. He’s enjoying the Hombres’ place as an important new force in the global jazz community. Their debut release was named Billboard Latin Jazz Album of the Year, and Summers likes to say that the group has “one foot in 2000 B.C. and one foot in 2000 A.D.” The Hombres’ acclaimed follow-up release draws on the power of ancient rhythms, while using modern melodies and harmonies as a springboard for improvisation. “It’s a collaboration,” notes Summers. “The way the group is presented on the record, some people think it’s a trio, but it’s [really] a sextet. Victor Atkins is a very important part of the band. Everybody contributes their own, but he assumes a great deal of responsibility in terms of chords and harmonies and how things sound.”
As the percussionist explains it, a common musical goal brought the group together. “Irvin was hanging out with Wynton Marsalis, and he went to the Lincoln Center and met [Cuban pianist/composer] Chucho Valdes. He saw him perform, and it really turned Irvin on. When he came back to New Orleans, he had the urge to put an ensemble together. I had been working on the same concept — of putting an Afro-Cuban latin-jazz band together here in New Orleans — and was searching for the right combination. Jason Marsalis started coming to a bata workshop at my arts institute on Saturdays. Then Irvin started coming by, and I met Victor Atkins and the first bass player we had, David Pulphus.
“It was just something we decided to try,” he recalls. “We had no plan. We didn’t even have a name for the band. The name came up just before we got to the gig, and we couldn’t remove the name, because the first gig was so successful. And the record deal came from the first gig. Within two weeks of doing the first gig, we were recording the first album. That’s pretty fast.”
The San Francisco Examiner calls the 22-year-old Mayfield a “brilliant, imaginative, pyrotechnic performer,” adding, “The trumpet sounds rang out as true as Buddy Bolden’s may have at the turn of the century — and Dizzy Gillespie’s certainly did, four decades later.”
“One of the greatest things about this project is that we’re reaching people who wouldn’t even step foot in a jazz club,” the trumpeter recently told Downbeat. “We’re doing this modern jazz form, with all these interesting elements, themes and motifs, solos, rhythms from all over the world … and people are coming in and they’re dancing. A lot of these people don’t even like jazz, and they’re having a great time listening to this complex stuff. By having that groove pumping constantly, it forces people to understand what’s going on. It feels pretty nice when you’ve got a whole bunch of people in there dancing to some music that has substance.”
The Lake Eden Arts Festival — featuring the best in local music, visual and healing arts, plus a lineup of world-class concerts — takes place at Black Mountain’s Camp Rockmont Friday, May 26 through Sunday, May 28. Full-weekend adult tickets are $75 (including camping). Day tickets are $15-30. Kids 10 and under are admitted free. For information or directions, call 828-686-8742, or check www.the LEAF.com.