Jazz Fest Diary: John Ellis at Louisiana Music Factory

Jazz Fest week doesn’t really kick in until the start of the Louisiana Music Factory’s in-store performances. It’s a tradition that goes back 18 years, to when the French Quarter CD and vinyl outlet opened its doors on North Peters, around the corner from its current digs on Decatur Street.

Tenor saxophonist John Ellis and Double-Wide kicked off the 2010 lineup Thursday in great form, with music drawn from the New York/New Orleans jazzer’s recently released Puppet Mischief and earlier recordings.

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John Ellis

Ellis was joined by irrepressible tuba man and Jazz Fest MVP Matt Perrine, playing a silver sousaphone with a mic mask-taped to its bell; pianist Brian Coogan, using a well-worn instrument, its innards exposed; and drummer Simon Lott, filling in for Jason Marsalis.

The saxophonist’s music isn’t neatly categorized. “Dubinland Carnival,” with its alternating currents of light and sadness, and breaks for waltz time, felt like lost European circus music, suitable for a Fellini circus-style music.

“Fauxfessor,” as its name suggests, was a slab of funk and vintage R&B that nodded to New Orleans piano professors. Ellis leaned into the tune’s bluesy lines, and Coogan led Perrine and Lott in some rhythmic stretching, breaking up and reassembling, his phrases hinting at Thelonious Monk.

The hourlong set, pumped up by Lott’s revved-up, interactive drumming, also included the softly swaying, somber ballad “Prom Song,” which featured Perrine’s surprisingly melodic and unsurprisingly (for the sousaphonist) fluent and beautiful solo; and the rollicking, color-shifting “Okra and Tomatoes.” Perrine, all over the place during Jazz Fest, is also celebrating a new release with his Sunflower City band, “Bayou Road Suite” on Threadhead Records.

Day One of the LMF in-store shows also included a performance by New Orleans blues man Spencer Bohren, who elicited haunting sounds from his acoustic lap slide guitar on “Ode to Billie Joe,” “People Get Ready” and “The Long Black Line,” an elegiac response to Katrina that served as the title track for his 2006 CD.

As with everything else related to New Orleans music, Jazz Fest has had a dramatic affect on the success of LMF, store owner Barry Smith said. Old favorites Tower Records, Virgin Records and Record Ron’s are long gone. A new Peaches Records is located in the old Tower store, but it’s yet to become a local favorite.

“If it weren’t for Jazz Fest, I would never have made it thus far,” said Smith, who estimates that 20 percent — or more — of his annual income derives from sales that take place during fest season. “Jazz Fest is instrumental in bringing New Orleans music to music fans all over the world. So many of our customers come back year after year.”

The in-store shows at LMF pick up again on Monday.

Photographs of John Ellis by Michael Weintrob.

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