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Northampton Arts Council jump-starts Mardi Gras season

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Jaimoe

    PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL
    Jaimoe

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>The Expandable Jazz Band

    PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL
    The Expandable Jazz Band

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Joel Martin

    PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL
    Joel Martin

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Reggie Pittman

    PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL
    Reggie Pittman

  • PHOTO COURTES OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Samirah Evans

    PHOTO COURTES OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL
    Samirah Evans

  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Jaimoe
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>The Expandable Jazz Band
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Joel Martin
  • PHOTO COURTESY OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Reggie Pittman
  • PHOTO COURTES OF NORTHAMPTON ARTS COUNCIL<br/>Samirah Evans

What do you get when you cross New Orleans’ Mardi Gras with Brazil’s Carnival?

“Mardival,” of course.

That’s what the Northampton Arts Council is calling a concert that takes place this weekend at Northampton’s Academy of Music. It’s the second installment of the annual art council-sponsored Four Sundays in February series.

The show will feature Jai Johanny Johanson, a legendary drummer whose music has long covered the broad span of blues, southern rock and jazz. Also known as Jaimoe, he’s been hitting the skins for the Allman Brothers Band, along with fellow drummer Butch Trucks, for over 40 years.

Johanson will lead his other band, Jaimoe’s Jasssz band, to the Academy Sunday, where he’ll be joined by other players offering a potpourri of blues, jazz, soul and rock — from guitar slinger Duke Robillard to saxophonist and flutist Paul Lieberman, a former Northampton resident whose Samba SA band blends the worlds of Brazilian music and American jazz.

Bob Cilman, the arts council director, says he’s long been interested in putting on a New Orleans-flavored show during the Four Sundays series, given that Mardi Gras, or Fat Tuesday, takes place then, as does Carnival, the seasonal celebration staged in many Catholic countries; Brazil’s Carnival festivities, especially in Rio de Janeiro, are particularly renowned.

“I was trying to think about how we could do that this year, so I called Paul Lieberman to ask him for some suggestions,” Cilman said. “Paul’s really the guy who put this together. He’s the curator of the show.”

Lieberman, who has performed with scores of musicians in Brazil and other countries, has deep connections to the Valley; he lived in Northampton for 19 years, until moving to Boston about five years ago. He was formerly president of the Northampton Arts Council and also played in the backing band for the Northampton-based Young@Heart Chorus. As well, he taught jazz at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, and still teaches at Deerfield Academy.

Lieberman plays saxophone in Jaimoe’s Jasssz band, and he’s also performed with the Allman Brothers Band. When Cilman called him about Four Sundays in February, Lieberman said, “I thought Jaimoe would be a great fit for the show. He’s got such a great feel for this music and so much experience playing it, plus he’s played with so many different people himself.”

Lieberman also notes that, aside from being inducted into the Rock and Rock Hall of Fame and receiving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award, Johanson served as an ambassador of sorts for improved race relations when the Allman Brothers Band toured the South in the late 1960s and early 1970s — the first integrated rock band to do so, he says.

“As might be expected, this put them in numerous explosive situations, and I believe that it is because of Jaimoe’s extraordinary personality and beautiful spirit that they were able to see that through,” Lieberman said.

No plans to stop

In a recent phone call from his Hartford, Conn., home — he joked that he’d “chased his wife” up to Connecticut about 22 years ago from old his home in the Deep South — Johanson said he was looking forward to playing in Northampton. At 68, he says, he has no plans to stop playing any time soon.

“Every time I pick up my drumsticks, I feel like it’s the first time I’m doing it,” said Johanson. Before forming the Allman Brothers Band with original guitarist Duane Allman, he was a drummer for soul legend Otis Redding. “It still feels that fresh, that good.”

Jaimoe’s Jasssz band, he said, is a variation of sorts of the Allman Brothers Band, playing a jazz-flavored brand of southern blues.

“All music in America is jazz, or it comes out of jazz,” he said. “We just take songs we like, wherever they’re from, and we do our thing with them.”

The band’s recent studio album, “Renaissance Man,” has a mix of originals and covers, including the Allman Brothers’ “Melissa,” although Johanson’s band imbued that country-rock ballad with something of a bossa nova feel. The Wall Street Journal calls the CD “simultaneously urgent and laid-back, moving with verve and ease through jazz, blues, rock and even bossa nova.”

The seven-piece band boasts numerous acclaimed musicians, like keyboardist Bruce Katz, who also plays with the Allman Brothers Band and several other groups; he specializes in honky-tonk and New Orleans-style piano blues.

“He can play all that and more,” Johanson said. “He’s the man you want for a Mardi Gras party.”

It was Katz, in turn, who got guitarist Robillard connected with Sunday’s show, asking him if he’d fill in for the Jasssz Band’s regular guitarist, Junior Mack; Mack will be attending the Grammy Awards this weekend with his other band, the Heritage Blues Orchestra, whose most recent album has been nominated for best blues record.

Johanson said he’s never gigged before with Robillard, one of the founders of Roomful of Blues, but is looking forward to having him sit in with his band.

“I’ve heard Duke,” he said. “The cat can play.”

Separated at birth

Critics have said Lieberman can play pretty well, too: The website “All About Jazz” calls him a “formidable composer” and a “soulful player on any instrument, conveying deep emotional content.”

His most recent record, 2011’s “Ibeji,” explores links between Brazilian music and American jazz — or, as Lieberman puts it, “I look at them as the twin children of African music, who were separated at birth and grew up apart. They evolved differently, but they have a number of things in common.”

The album, and Lieberman’s six-member Samba SA band, feature a number of top Brazilian musicians, some of whom Lieberman got to know when he lived in Rio de Janeiro for several years, working as a session musician.

Mardival offers other Valley connections. Singer Samirah Evans, who moved to Brattleboro, Vt., from New Orleans several years ago, will add her smoky vocals to Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band. Evans, who has been a regular performer in the area since her move North, has shared stages with B.B. King, James Brown and Charles Neville, among others.

Also, the Expandable Brass Band, a loose collection of area musicians who enjoy mixing music and social activism while playing in the street and at public gatherings, will be on hand to add a touch of “wildness ... and fun,” as the show’s promotional material puts it.

“That’s the bottom line,” Lieberman said. “This show is all about having a lot of fun.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

Tickets for Sunday’s 2 p.m. Mardival show at the Academy of Music cost $15 in advance; $18 at the door. Tickets are available at State Street Fruit Store in Northampton, Cooper’s Corner in Florence and Food for Thought in Amherst, by calling 800-838-3006 or online at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/299463.

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