Jam Cruise Report: Day One (Medeski Scofield Martin and Wood, Kimock and Friends, Big Gigantic, Let

Mike Greenhaus on January 8, 2013

Relix Executive Editor Mike Greenhaus is currently making the rounds on Jam Cruise 11. Here is his first report_.

_Photo from Jam Cruise Facebook page

Jam Cruise 11 set sail from Ft. Lauderdale, FL toward Grand Turk, Turks and Caicos early Monday evening. Since Jam Cruise hosted two voyages its first year, 2013 marks the destination event’s 10th year. Fans started to board the MSC Poesia around noon, just as Jam Cruise’s sister festival Holy Ship! returned to shore on the same boat. This year the EDM-themed festival’s surprise guest was current dance king Skrillex, who performed on both the ship’s pool deck and in one of the MSC Poesia’s theaters.

Jam Cruise traditionally opens with a New Orleans brass band on the ship’s 13th floor pool deck and this year rising Big Easy group The Soul Rebels officially kicked off the five-day cruise during the 6:15 PM Sail Away Party. By the time Jam Cruise left its port, String Cheese Incident keyboardist Kyle Hollingsworth had started his pre-dinner solo piano set. As fans lined the balconies in the ship’s three-story atrium, Hollingsworth fan through originals and covers like “Way That It Goes,” “Ordinary,” Talking Heads’ “Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place),” the new String Cheese number “Can’t Wait Another Day,” “Too Young,” “Boo,” “Bridge” and Steve Wonder’s “Boogie On Reggae Woman” on the ship’s glass grand piano. Kyle Hollingsworth Band guitarist Dan Schwindt and vocalist Kim Dawson, both of whom were onboard as members of The Motet, joined Hollingsworth for the second half of his set. His solo selections had a decidedly boogie feel which fit in well with Jam Cruise’s emphasis on New Orleans funk.

For many, the evening’s highlight was the always welcome pairing of Jam Cruise veterans Medeski Martin & Wood with first-time Jam Cruise performer John Scofield. Their late ‘90s collaboration A Go-Go did as much as any album to reintroduce the jazz/funk sound which serves as Jam Cruise’s bedrock to the modern jamband scene (with a new album featuring his Uberjam band and special guest John Medeski in the can, Scofield is set to revisit his groove-oriented material for the first time in several years in 2013). Last night, most of the ship’s performers made their way to the Poesia’s pool deck for their evening set. Despite a late start due to some rain, his set with MMW was filled with loose pockets of improvisational based around songs from A Go-Go and its follow-up Out Louder. Their set climaxed with a breathtaking version of “Hey Joe.”

Elsewhere, Jam Cruise’s trademark collaborations started kicking into gear. Steve Kimock opened the ship’s grand Teatro Carlo Felice with a 90-minute performance. Though he was slated to only play with his current all-star band – P-Funk/Talking Heads keyboardist Bernie Worrell, Stockholm Syndrome drummer Wally Ingram and former Gov’t Mule/Black Crowes bassist Andy Hess – Kimock invited his son John Morgan to play on a second drum kit throughout the night. The musicians riffed on Dave Brubeck’s “Take 5,” Worrell led the band through Talking Heads’ “Naïve Melody (This Must Be the Place)” (the song’s second appearance of the day) and the evening closed with a cover of Jimmy Cliff’s “Many Rivers to Cross.”

Island music staples Steel Pulse packed into the Teatro Carlo Felice after Kimock’s set. Though many thought their performance would be one of the week’s few without any special guests, the reggae group invited out Ivan Neville to play keyboards during their set. Neville – a Jam Cruise staple – sat in on reworked versions of Van Morrison’s “Brown-Eyed Girl” and The Beatles’ “Ticket to Ride.”

One of Jam Cruise’s main performance spaces is the club-like Zebra Bar. This year many fans rallied around the room by dressing in zebra costumes, striped cloths and animal ears on Monday night. The costume theme turned the Zebra Bar into a magnet for passengers as funk groups The Pimps of Joytime and The Motet took the stage. The latter set drew one of the Zebra Bar’s biggest crowds in recent memory. Former Motet saxophonist and current Big Gigantic frontman Dominic Lalli rejoined the ensemble for a portion of their set before taking the elevator upstairs for Big Gigantic’s late night set. The Motet also revisited their recent Halloween tribute to P-Funk with a medley of George Clinton covers which culminated in “Give Up The Funk (Tear the Roof Off the Sucker).” Lettuce/Warren Haynes Band vocalist Nigel Hall fronted The Motet throughout the energetic sequence.

More than almost any other act, Big Gigantic has grown along with Jam Cruise. The duo first performed together in the ship’s freeform Jam Room on an early cruise, and Big Gigantic has gradually been rewarded with increasingly high-profile spots each time they have performed on Jam Cruise. After selling out Morrison, CO’s Red Rocks this fall, Big Gigantic were awarded a marquee outdoor late night slot on the ship’s pool deck (they were also the only band to play both Jam Cruise and Holy Ship! this winter). Lalli celebrated by repeatedly chanting Jam Cruise and reminding of the audience of his long history with the festival.

As Monday night segued into Tuesday morning, Lettuce performed in the Teatro Carlo Felice and Tea Leaf Green closed the Zebra Bar. Lettuce’s set featured a mix of guests, including Lalli, Trey Anastasio Band trombonist Natalie Cressman, who is onboard for a set with Wyllys, and Worrell (Lettuce tenor saxophonist James Casey is the latest addition to the Trey Anastasio Band and since Jennifer Hartswick also is on Jam Cruise for a set with Wyllys, this means that Anastasio’s entire horn section is currently onboard). Past 3 AM in the morning, Hall took the stage to front the band for a few numbers like Curtis Mayfield’s “Move on Up.”

The ship’s signature Jam Room also started to take shape. Hosted by ALO guitarist Dan Lebowitz, the evening’s house band featured Lebo and his sideband Magic Gravy (The Motet’s Dave Watts and Garrett Sayers round-out the trio). Two performers with ties to String Cheese Incident – Hollingsworth and String Cheese collaborator Scott Law – also took the stage for the evening’s first early morning, freeform improvisation.