Jam Cruise Day 2: Sax Syntax, Superheroes and OHMphrey

January 5, 2010

Karl Denson, Cruising in 2004Jam Cruise has always offered both the collaborative spirit of a traditional jamband festival and the once in a lifetime artist interaction of rock and roll fantasy camp – and never was that dual identity more apparent than on the ship’s first full day at sea. Throughout the day artists collaborated onstage, fans and musicians mingled throughout the cruise ship and everyone participated in such activities as Ivan Neville’s Texas Hold ‘em tournament.

A number of performers also took part in informal workshop discussions, which morphed into eye-opening jam-sessions. At 1 PM, Steve Kimock, Robert Randolph and North Mississippi Allstars guitarist Luther Dickinson led a Slide Workshop in the ship’s black and white striped Zebra Bar. Randolph, in particular, offered some colorful commentary on how ten years ago he jumped from playing New Jersey churches to high-profile New York stages in a matter of months. He also joked that when he first met Dickinson the two musicians argued like a Sanford and Son routine about who was more soulful: Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughn (Dickinson stands by Hendrix, while Randolph opted for Vaughn). Randolph – who admitted to having eaten his first space cake Sunday – also revealed that Jam Cruise was his first cruise, but promised to return in the future.

Likewise, Jam Cruise veterans Jeff Coffin and Karl Denson led a insightful discussion with longtime James Brown saxophonist Maceo Parker in the ship’s main Teatro Carlo Felice. The aptly named Sax Syntax focused primarily on Parker’s unique playing technique and time in Brown’s band – including a humorous story about how the alto and tenor saxophonist originally scored a job playing baritone in the Godfather of Soul’s group. The discussion came to a close with a funk jam-session that featured the three saxophonists, as well as bassist George Porter Jr., keyboardist Robert Walter, drummer Stanton Moore and guitarist Will Bernard. Later in the day, Denson, Moore and Walter were also spotted playing an stripped down trio set around the glass piano located in the ship’s grand atrium.

A number of other performers clocked in notable sets throughout the day. The Ryan Montbleau Band, which won a spot on the cruise through a fan-driven Vote the Boat campaign, kicked off the day’s festivities on the pool deck. During the New England group’s set, a couple also got engaged onstage. Soon after, Toubab Krewe performed by the pool, previewing material from its forthcoming studio album and even adding organ and elements of southern guitar rock to its blend of traditional African sounds. In addition, the group’s set featured cameos from the likes of Ivan Neville and Skerik. The members of Toubab Krewe also faced off against the members of Lotus in the official Jam Cruise Game Show.

Though scattered rain put a damper on some of the ship’s pool side festivities, Railroad Earth, Perpetual Groove guitarist Brock Butler and rising looping guitarist Zach Deputy played on to strong crowds. Butler – who was spotted playing in the Jam Room until dawn the night before – offered material from his new solo album, as well as covers like Neil Young’s “Helpless.” The afternoon and early evening’s unquestionably largest draw was The Motet Plays The Talking Heads super group. The all-star Talking Heads tribute act first came together for a series for a series of Colorado Halloween shows over a year ago, featuring members of The Motet, String Cheese Incident’s Kyle Hollingsworth and Caravan of Thieves’ Carrie & Fuzz Sangiovanni, among others. The band ran through a number of classic Talking Heads songs, including a Hollingsworth-led “This Must Be the Place (Naive Melody),” “Life During Wartime” and the Heads’ arrangement of Al Green’s “Take Me to the River.” The inclusion of Fuzz – who plays guitar in the Talking Heads offshoot Tom Tom Club – and Carrie – who recreated many of Tina Weymouth’s vocals – made the tribute act feel particularly authentic.

Jam Cruise dubbed Monday “Superheroes and Villains” night and a colorful array of costumes illuminated the ship throughout the evening. STS9 and The Word swapped spots from a night earlier, with the former band performing outside on the pool deck and the latter group headlining the Teatro Carlo Felice . Elsewhere, Hot Buttered Rum offered a choice cover of the Grateful Dead’s “Tennessee Jed,” while Steve Kimock Crazy Engine boasted sit-ins with George Porter Jr. and Ivan Neville. Over in Jam Room, Porter, Adam Deitch, Karl Denson, Jeff Coffin and others joined host Will Bernard.

Meanwhile, Umphrey’s McGee members Jake Cinninger, Kris Myers and Joel Cummins played a rare show with OHM metal titans Chris Poland and Robertino Pagliari. Poland, who is best known as a guitarist in Megadeth, was a childhood hero of Cinninger. The two musicians first crossed paths when OHM opened for Umphrey’s a few years ago and Poland later invited Cinninger, Myers and Cummins to jam with his band at Marty’s in Chicago. That jam session led to the new supergroup OHMphrey, a self-proclaimed meeting of Miles Davis and Megadeth that recently released a studio album and played a few West Coast shows (the musicians also revealed to Relix/Jambands.com that they plan to record a second album this spring). The quintet’s set on Jam Cruise’s pool deck featured most of the bands studio album, a number of jazz, note-heavy jams and covers of Cream’s “Spoonful” and Stevie Ray Vaughn’s “Lenny” (the latter of which Umphrey’s covers on occasion).

As of press time, Galactic was still playing Teatro Carlo Felice as the ship heads toward Ocho Rios, Jamaica. Skerik, Trombone Shorty and live painter LEBO were among the performers who had already joined the band onstage.