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Subtitled “I Don’t Want No Bald-Headed Woman Telling Me What to Do,” this first night of the Mystic Knights of the Mau-Mau’s 2nd Annual Ponderosa Stomp promises an embarrassment of musical riches that pretty much surpasses anything cooked up by the Jazz & Heritage Festival proper. As with previous Mau-Mau sponsored concerts, there’s an endearingly crackpot mix of forgotten blues legends, obscure rockabilly figures, and seemingly impossible all-star jam combos that almost teeter into disaster. Almost. The usual result of these crazed, overstuffed bills is a night of wild and unpredictable fun, hearkening back to the glory days when promoters actually took chances and booked great artists of different styles on the same night.

It is nothing short of staggering that this year’s Ponderosa Stomp features the Marshall Allen-led Sun Ra Arkestra for all three nights. Marshall took over the leadership duties following the departure of fellow saxophonist John Gilmore, who was the immediate heir after Ra left the planet in 1993. He’s held the fort admirably, keeping Ra’s cosmic music alive and treating the listeners of the world to what is still one of the best big bands in this or any other galaxy. Marshall Allen is also a scorching alto saxophonist, and he keeps the Arkestra populated with many other authentic Ra veterans, so hearing them blow it out three nights in a row will be a rare and dazzling treat.

Just as staggering is the second Ponderosa appearance by harmolodic guitarist James “Blood” Ulmer, this time in the company of one of his classic trios, reformed especially for this New Orleans concert. Blood’s fantastically clangorous guitar and blurry vocals will be heard with the downright wicked rhythm section of electric bassist Jaamaladeen Tacuma and drum wizard Grant Calvin Weston. Blood waxed some intensely rockin’ sides with Weston and Tacuma back in the ‘80s, when it seemed that his brand of Ornette-influenced punk/funk/jazz was on the verge of mainstream success. It didn’t happen quite on the level we’d hoped, but thankfully Ulmer and his compatriots remain steadfastly active and are still capable of delivering smoking gigs. Add Howlin’ Wolf’s brilliantly nasty guitarist Hubert Sumlin and Meters drum innovator Zigaboo Modeliste to the bill (along with 15 other intriguing names) and you’ve got an unbeatable night of musical delights, wipeouts, and surprises in store. And who knows what spontaneous combos will form out of that roster? (Rob Cambre)
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