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Jam Cruise 17 Highlights: Is It Jam Cruise 18 Yet? – Days 5 & 6
The transition from Jam Cruise to the real world is a painful one. However, I left the NCL Jade with my joy tank full and am now counting down the days until Jam Cruise 18. Saturday and Sunday were the last days of the trip and contained one memorable moment after another. Saying goodbye to all the wonderful people I met or reunited with over the course of six days was emotional, but I’ve taken the happiness I felt all week with me on land. Unfortunately, New Yorkers aren’t as willing to give high fives as those aboard the boat.
Much love and thanks go out to all of those who made Jam Cruise 17 so special and one of the best ones yet. Thanks to Cloud 9 for putting together a masterful lineup, the musicians who delivered one unbelievable collaboration after another, my porter Simone whose smile was infectious and everyone else who had a part in the best week I’ve had since … well, Jam Cruise 16. Once again, picking highlights is extremely tough and I haven’t even got into the Jam Room, where musicians from various bands and genres come together in the spirit of improvisation. With that in mind, here’s 10 standout moments from the last two days of Jam Cruise 17.
Jam Cruise 17 MVPs Andy Frasco and the UN enlisted a different group of musicians to join them in performing on the Pool Deck on Saturday as opposed to the cast of characters that made their theater set so unforgettable. George Porter Jr. showed off a fun side of his personality during a wild portion of the performance that also included guest spots from Brandon “Taz” Niederauer, Leftover Salmon, Skerik, Mike Dillon, Sweet Lillies, trombonist Big Sam Williams, Roosevelt Collier, members of Turkuaz, Deshawn Alexander and more. Frasco is a great entertainer who had the crowd cracking up throughout. Plus, Andy & Co. pulled off a conga line and a keg stand for good measure.
Marc Brownstein‘s Star Kitchen are the real deal when it comes to improvisation. Brownie had Jam Cruise in mind when he put together the band and lived out a dream by bringing out Karl Denson for a guest spot during the quartet’s Pool Deck set. I caught most of the set in the intimate Spinnaker Lounge and was wowed by the synergy between the Disco Biscuits bassist, guitarist Danny Mayer, keyboardist Rob Marscher and drummer Marlon Lewis. The opening segment of “Jan Jan,” a song popularized by Grant Green, and John Scofield’s “Chank” was filled with twists and turns as Star Kitchen painted outside the lines of each tune. Then there was an inspired cover of Billy Preston’s “Will It Go Round In Circles” featuring the Turkuaz Horns with Josh Schwartz on vocals. Star Kitchen closed their set by bringing out Jennifer Hartswick for the one-two punch of Chaka Khan & Rufus’ “You’ve Got The Love” and “Rock Steady” by Aretha Franklin. Kudos also go out to Niederauer for his work during Eddie Hazel’s “What About It.”
Colorado-based livetronica trio SunSquabi made the most of their Jam Cruise debut. Members of the band were seemingly everywhere from the Jam Room to providing an all-improv set during a yoga session to multiple guest spots to their own performances. I lost count at the number of guests that came through during SunSquabi’s set in the Spinnaker Lounge, but they included Zebulon Bowles, A.C. Carter of TAUK, percussionist Jeff Franca, bassist Marc Brownstein and guitarist Taz.
ALO are Jam Cruise veterans and showed why over the course of two JC17 performances containing one magical moment after another. Their second set took place in the theater on day five and featured Hartswick leading the quartet through Blondie’s “Rapture” with Big Sam and the Turkuaz Horns, all of TAUK and Leslie Mendelson among the guests for Rick James’ “I Love You Mary Jane” and Steve Kimock adding to a version of “Cowboys & Chorus Girls” featuring Blondie’s “Call Me” within. Also, props to Spafford keyboardist Andrew “Red” Johnson for calling “Maria.” I was sitting next to him in the crowd and he absolutely nailed that call. It was a delight to see his reaction.
Jerry Garcia Band keyboardist Melvin Seals was an inspired choice to lead a set at the ship’s atrium. Seals put together a fantastic band for the set that included Hartswick, Sunshine Becker, George Porter Jr., Steve Kimock, Mike Dillon and members of JGB. The group made their way through stellar versions of “Cissy Strut,” “Sitting In Limbo,” “Bird Song,” “Deal,” “Expressway To Your Heart,” “The Harder They Come” and more.
A little preparation goes a long way when it comes to Super Jams. Jennifer Hartswick led this year’s affair and kept the music tight and focused from the “Shake” opener through the gorgeous “I Shall Be Released” finale. Included within were Chaka Khan’s “Ain’t Nobody,” Rick James’ “Give It To Me Baby,” Heart’s “Magic Man,” Stephen Stills’ “Love The One You’re With,” Talking Heads’ “This Must Be The Place (Naive Melody)” and more. Bassist Kevin Scott, all of The Nth Power, Skerik, members of Southern Avenue, Danny Mayer, Lyle Divinsky, Garrett Sayers and Joey Porter of The Motet, the ladies of Turkuaz, George Porter Jr., Niederauer and Mary Corso were just some of those who participated.
Memphis soul-rock outfit Southern Avenue made themselves plenty of new fans over the course of Jam Cruise 17. SA originals “Don’t Give Up” and “Survive” were highlights with Collier and Arno Bakker (The U.N.) helping out on the former and Nikki Glaspie, Bakker, Deshawn Alexander, Collier and guitarist Joe Marcinek adding to the latter. George Porter Jr. and members of Galactic were among other guests. Southern Avenue guitarist Ori Naftalywas a revelation, while the sister act of vocalist Tierinii Jackson and drummer Tikyra Jackson was on point. Glaspie was Tikyra’s inspiration to learn drums, so watching her face when Nikki came on stage nearly brought me to tears.
The Turkuaz Horns were everywhere. So much so that the band gave me a belly laugh by saying how excited they were to be joined by the Turkuaz Horns. Material from Life In The City fit perfectly into the set and Niederauer helped the band crush a cover of Joe Cocker’s “Space Captain.”
\Sunday was the night I “got it” when it came to Spafford. The quartet was in fine form throughout the night and embraced the Jam Cruise spirit by welcoming Brandon Niederauer for “America” and a horn section of Chris Sgammato, Ernie Chang (The U.N.) and Chris Littlefield (KDTU) for a cover of Van Morrison’s “Cleaning Windows” to close out the Pool Deck. Spafford’s set was taken to the next level by a lunar eclipse taking place in the sky above the boat. The group dusted off “Eyes Of The World” for the occasion after 236 shows. My favorite part of the set was the jam that emerged out of “Eyes,” which was different than any other take I’ve heard on the Grateful Dead classic. Plus, their enthusiastic fans were howling at the moon all set long.
A Jam Cruise tradition continued on Sunday, when Galactic closed out the theater. The band enlisted Shira Elias of Turkuaz and all of ALO for a spot-on rendition of Michael McDonald’s yacht rock classic “I Keep Forgettin’.” Zach Gill of ALO impressively handled vocals. Oddly and disappointingly, Galactic ended their set with a really slow song for the second year in a row. Not sure what the thinking was there. However, they had the place dancing throughout leading up to the finale.