Event Reviews

Gainesville Jazz And Pop Fest

Various Locations, Gainesville • 3.26-28.98

Love is in the air. The birds are chirping, the flowers blooming, and the weeds are strengthening from the dead. A fresh light is bringing new life, new warmth, and new sound. Spring arrives in Gainesville and with it comes the Gainesville Jazz and Pop Fest.

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Night One: Covered Dish

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Longineu Parsons (and posse)

Longineu was way more interesting than last year’s Michael Ray show, but there is still a problem with ex-Sun Ra players. They just don’t move people. What we got this year was a wild man, with a wild trumpet, wearing some wild pants, and a combo of technically proficient and “out there” players who came together to make a sound. The groove wasn’t as crazy as people expect from Sun Ra vets, but it was unsettling nonetheless. They had a melodic jive happening that consisted of layers of sound and movements. Weird rhythms from the nutty percussionist jamming with odd chords and phrases. Funky, baby. Then they slammed out some greasy-assed blues from New Orleans to finish it off as Longineu waved his sweaty long jheri curls around the stage and his horn. I swear that these guys hung out at that pawn shop I used to go to in high school.

Rebirth Brass Band

We all know what the jovial New Orleans brass band sound is like, but it is so much richer, fuller, and fun when you’re grooving to it live. And there is probably no one better to do it with. Rebirth rocked the Covered Dish with their powerful sound, but let us down performance-wise. I hear that these guys play out constantly, and it shows. They all looked like they’d crawled out of bed and were tired, shabby, and bored. However, their sound was right on. Their sets were loaded with covers, some awesome like “Caravan” (with some ass pullin’ chords), and others that bit, like Stevie Wonder’s “Part Time Lover.” However, after two long sets, they left the Gainesville people thirsty and worn out from sound, but not the siesta fiesta.

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Night Two: Covered Dish

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Gold Sparkle Band

Good shit here from Atlanta. I’ve heard rumors about these guys and their out jazz vibe, but I was very surprised to hear such a melodic and rockin’ groove. Amazing percussion work, bass vibes, and horns. Reminded me of some of the tamer things put out by Ornette Coleman in the sixties (“Happy Fool” maybe?); also, they had a very John Zorn’s MASADA sounding groove, if another comparison is necessary. Very original and enjoyable. Everyone was very pleased to hear these badasses who will undoubtedly go somewhere with their fresh cut sound. The most unusual and best live (free) jazz combo in the South. Thumbs up beeyotch!

Sam Rivers and the Rivbea Orchestra

If you haven’t seen the Rivbea Orchestra, then you are missing out my friend. This is definitely the hottest thing in Florida right now. The seventeen (?) members took the stage and ripped and roared with their powerfunk sound. They are a traditionally arranged Big Band that plays by the book (arrangement and solo wise), but they will confuse the hell out of you with a very funky global sound that is really fun, really loud, really powerful, and fully loaded. When Sam solos, the ambience of the club will change dramatically. You realize that you are hearing THE WHOLE MUSICIAN and not just the instrumentalist (the same is true for Anthony and Doug on the rhythms). Vibrant, man. The uplifting nature of the puzzle that Sam presents to you as “music” is probably what attracts all of the hippies to his shows. They’ve always dug it, and there’s no way of getting around them or their silly jelly roll dance. I prefer to listen and swear out loud. Awesome.

Steve Bernstein and the Sex Mob

AHHHHHH YEEEEAAAAAAHHHHHHH!!!! The highpoint of the fest this year was definitely the return of Steven Bernstein and the Sex Mob. They are the smoothest of the smooth. The baddest of the bad. No one can front their swanky sound and show. Bernstein leads the group with his slide trumpet (like a regular trumpet, but played with a trombone-styled slide instead of keys and valves). Perhaps it is the sleazy piece of hot metal in his hands, or the man himself, that makes this band swing and sway so hard. They rule the new jazz scene of today, with their vivacious, lounging live sound. It’s like “spy music” from the background of detective movies in the ’50s, or like the go-go lounge dancers’ groove of the Sixties. They do all this with a tricky New York modern jazz attitude and sound that will befuddle you while allowing you to have so much fun that you won’t believe it. The drummer is the shit. The bass player is on top. Waldo, Boy Alligator Wrestler is a sick puke. And Bernstein is the evilest and sickest bastard holding a (slide) trumpet today!

The SEX MOB’s show was chock full of covers, like Rebirth, only these were all cool (even if “Ruby Tuesday” was played out a bit… ). They bent the shit out of the songs they did – you would be listening to Prince’s “Sign of the Times” one minute and then “Goldfinger” the next. You would forget that they were covers and think they were originals, and then realize that you were listening to an original after all (this is drunken-styled jazz at its best). Bernstein and crew know how to have fun with all the material they lay down and dish out. This helps the audience groove by feeding off their energetic music and show. It is all numero uno and will blow you away. The shit! I mean it. Look out for their new record on Knitting Factory Records this summer, and if you ever get the opportunity, CHECK THEM OUT!

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Night Three: Florida Theater

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Super Sugar

OK, there was a contract problem and the NY Ska Jazz Ensemble couldn’t make it to the show. Luckily,Gainesville-based groove enthusiasts Super Sugar filled the slot. They rocked. I was really surprised to hear such good music. In fact they were the best group to play on day three of the fest. Seriously. These guys are just incredibly passionate about the music they’re playing, and they have a rich well defined strong sound. Very charismatic playing for everyone in the group. Their sound went from a funky rare groove take to a more guitar-based Seventies soul rock sound (I could do with a break from the Seventies… ) that was fronted by one suave bass player who likes to jump. Look for their upcoming shows and music.


Whoa. I’d heard nothing but good stuff about KOW, and that is probably why I was so surprised when I saw them and thought they sucked. I can’t lie, even though bandmember Anthony Cole is one of my friends, but their performance at the Jazz Fest was just burnt. If there was a color to describe the band and their sound, it would be loud burnt orange. They have a super seventies sound with way too much guitar in the lead (that might have been the soundman’s fault, but they really needed to cut that guitar in half), a cool electric piano, and a jamming combo. Although the audience did seem to be enjoying and reacting to the show well, I was really not impressed with the rough-cut fusion sound. Cole leads the group with ferocious saxophone work, long, drawn-out, trippy solos on the ‘lectric piano, and really out-of-tune vocals. I dig you man, but that voice has got to go. The sound of the band was a Seventies sounding experimental funk jazz fusion, but it is just something that I don’t connect with. Just not my thing, although a good dose of people were severely getting down with the sound, so I’m probably in the minority here. Still, I think I’ll pass on the next KOW show.

Groove Collective

What I thought was going to be the best show of the fest turned out to be the biggest disappointment. Groove Collective let me down in a big bad way. The sound that I was expecting wasn’t there, the energy and excitement that I craved was missing. Again, a portion of the audience dug it, but only about half were up and dancing while the rest were sitting down and looking bored. Since then, someone explained to me that what made Groove Collective was the work done by the producers and DJs who did their remixes, not the band themselves. This is a distressing thought, but it is totally true. The grinding, urban acid jazz groove with the Latin flare, was only about half as potent as it can be on their records. The musicians played together very well and cleanly, but there was a lack of energy at the heart. The sound that they displayed was a heavily Caribbean influenced urban jazz thing that was lacking in deep soul and energy all around. They have a new album coming out this summer, but after hearing them live, I think they should fold it up and give the “groove” thing a rest.

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I have to say that everyone should thank Brian Carpenter for busting his ass to put this show on year after year. It seems like every year the festival winds up costing him financially after paying off the cost of the bands and the facilities and whatnot. This year would’ve been a little bit smoother if the bands started later (a lot of people were missing the first act each night) and if there was less brass (the Rebirth and Rivbea was just SO brassy) and less Seventies-styled fusion. However, I’m just a bad critic, and not the paying audience. I’m also kind of sick of concert packages that feature a “New Orleans” party to start things off. Doesn’t the Alachua Music Harvest do that too?

All in all, I’d have to say that the Gainesville Jazz and Pop Fest is a really nice treat. Rather than seeing a heap of local bands with one big headliner, we’re getting a chance to dig several medium-sized headliners and a broad scope of some really good music. I cannot guarantee what bands will play at the fest in the future, or which shows will be great sellers, but I can guarantee that if you go to the Gainesville Jazz and Pop Fest, you will see and hear some great music and a have a most smooth time. I hope more people feel this way too and show up in the future to keep this party happening. ◼

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