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Dispatches from the Jazz Blog, pt. 2

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Steve Martin and the Steep Canyon Rangers put on a simply amazing show full of humor and instrumental dexterity. And both the laughs and musical prowess helped to give the sold-out Kodak Hall crowd at the band's matinee on Wednesday, June 27, a crash course in bluegrass.

Purists may balk — and I'm inclined to agree somewhat — but Martin and the band ("They're not my band, I'm their celebrity," Martin explained) played music beyond bluegrass. I credit Martin's compositions, as he interjected a little more melody than the genre typically offers. That was tied together with the smoothly (and sometimes savagely) bowed strokes of fiddle player Nicky Sanders sawing away amidst the rest of the band's percussive plunk and twang. In addition, the band's use of minor keys gave it all a melancholy luster and appeal. Martin's between-song banter was hilarious and, frankly, I didn't want the show to end. (FD)

You have certain expectations when a band has the word "hellraisers" in its title. Dwayne Dopsie & The Zydeco Hellraisers came out jamming on the Big Tent stage Thursday night, but with accordionist and front man Dopsie nowhere to be seen. His saxophonist jumped right into the crowd, getting the partying and dancing started as the rest of the band worked to pump things up. Electric guitar blaring, washboard rocking up and down, metal clicking and clanking.

And then Dopsie walked — no, pranced — out on stage, picked up the accordion, and started blowing the crowd's faces off, one at a time. He didn't raise Hell, he strode into it, kicked out Beelzebub, tore the place down, and rebuilt it as an altar to sweaty, zydeco-fueled rock parties made from the underworld's ashes. Dopsie's solos were more like something out of heaven, surrounded by the loud, raucous band behind him. There's a reason he refers to himself as the King of Accordion, a title he earned making all the crowd members vassals in his new kingdom.

And he did it all while chewing gum.

Friday night at Christ Church the Orlando LeFleming Trio put on the most subtle show I saw at the festival. The sad thing is, by day eight, a lot of people were jaded by too much impressive music and the attitude seemed to be "show me something new." So, during this beautiful set, three quarters of the audience left.

LeFleming is an excellent up-and-coming bassist. He's also a fine bandleader in terms of arrangements and his choice of band mates. On guitar was Lage Lund, whose sound is absolutely wondrous. And on saxophone was Will Vinson, another great young player. On tunes like "Dear Lord," one of John Coltrane's most beautiful ballads, Lund's gorgeous playing, Vinson's sinuous sound, and LeFleming's sturdy anchoring made for a dream-like sound in a perfect setting (even for an atheist). Too bad people didn't have the patience for it.

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