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Ny Times Stomp Review 2: Jazzfest: More from The Stomp - Jon Pareles

May 1, 2008, 4:34 pm
Jazzfest: More from The Stomp

James “Sugar Boy” Crawford, left, performs with his grandson Davell Crawford at the 7th Annual Ponderosa Stomp in New Orleans. (Lee Celano for The New York Times)
But there was another nine hours of music at Wednesday’s Ponderosa Stomp. One remarkable set was by the gospel pianist and singer Davell Crawford–celebrated in New Orleans for his untrammeled virtuosity–backing up his grandfather, James (Sugar Boy) Crawford, who had a career singing secular music decades ago. Not now: James Crawford was singing gospel. He was giving thanks for his recovery from a police beating years ago that fractured his skull and initially left him paralyzed and blind, in long lines that rose from humility to joyful affirmation. All around his steadfast melodies, Davell Crawford was a tsunami of improvisation: surging ostinatos and florid filigree, tremolo chords and keyboard-spanning glissandos, excess as exaltation.

Another strong set was by Syl Johnson, a Chicago bluesman who made soul hits in Memphis with the Hi Rhythm Section. (Among his recordings is the first version of “Take Me to the River,” a hit for Al Green and later Talking Heads.) His Chicago-Memphis amalgam is durable. He topped the calm, unswerving beat of the Memphis band with the barbed guitar lines and aching, desperate phrases of the blues in songs like the pointed “Is It Because I’m Black.”

There was also cranked-up Louisiana blues from New Orleans regulars King Lloyd and Guitar Lightnin’. There were soul shouters with dramatic vocal buildups (Roscoe Robinson), raunchy stage antics (Ralph Soul Jackson) and even politics: the Mighty Hannibal segued from bawdy comedy to a song endorsing Barack Obama.

Ronnie Spector belted girl-group songs full of yearning for the right guy. Roky Erickson, the Texan rocker who has grappled with mental illness, led the Explosives in a set of taut, supercharged rockers–laced with Texas blues, folk-rock and proto-punk psychedelia–as he sang about visions of demons.

In the long night’s finale, Rudy Martinez, better known as Question Mark of Question Mark and the Mysterians, bounded onstage in a frilly-sleeved cropped top fit for a Las Vegas showgirl, along with his cowboy hat and shades. Defying age, he was in constant motion around the stage, singing about lust and hormonal overload over the band’s merrily pumping organ riffs–as frenetic and well-preserved as a record collector’s most prized vinyl artifacts.
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