All that jazz … from Trombone Shorty and Steve Winwood
For all of the progressive funk-meets-rock-meets-jazz-meets-blues fusion of Trombone Shorty and Orleans Avenue’s kinetic opening-night show at the Jazz Aspen Snowmass June Experience, the song that finally brought the Benedict Music Tent crowd to its feet was the most traditional of the night: “On the Sunny Side of the Street.”
Shorty (Troy Andrews) gave the 1930 jazz standard a more or less conventional arrangement — differentiating it from most of his set — and punctuated it with an altitude-defying three- to four-minute-long trumpet solo, holding a single note while circular breathing. By solo’s end, the extreme effort left Andrews gasping for air and bent at the waist, raising his horn in triumph as the crowd stood for a hard-earned, extended standing ovation.
The crowd never quite sat all the way down afterward, eventually rushing to the stage and turning the tent’s orchestra seats into a makeshift dance floor when fellow New Orleanian John Boutte joined Andrews and the band for “Treme Song.”
Andrews alternated between singing and playing trombone, bass and tambourine throughout the one-hour, 45-minute set — regularly stepping away from his mic to dance (including a crowd-pleasing moonwalk). He swerved from Meters-style New Orleans funk into soul, blues and some horn-punctuated rock, jumping from originals like “On Your Way Down” into covers like “Ooh Poo Pah Doo” and a medley that combined Ray Charles’ “I Got a Woman” with James Brown’s “Sex Machine” and Elmore James’ “Shake Your Money Maker.”
Andrews gave ample and deserved credit to his band, standing next to bassist Michael Ballard, smiling and pointing at Ballard’s finger-work on one solo.
Now 28, Andrews first performed with Jazz Aspen at 17 and over the past year also has played the Wheeler Opera House and Labor Day Festival with Orleans Avenue. He seems to perfect his stagecraft and up his level of his showmanship a few notches with every show.
June 19’s set in the tent was preceded, appropriately, by a New Orleans-style second line parade for the late Bill Getz, a longtime Jazz Aspen supporter, and a performance by Red Barat at the free pre-show lawn party.
The nightly pre-party, in its second year, is a welcome and festive addition to the June concerts and also featured a spirited Saturday set by Louisiana zydeco master Terrence Simien.
If Trombone Shorty’s show was a showcase for a still-ascendant frontman and bandleader, Saturday night’s show by Steve Winwood was a master class in longevity.
At age 66, Winwood’s high tenor sounded uncannily and fully intact, from the familiar first lines of “Rainmaker,” which opened the show, to the quick-fire chorus in his encore rendition of “Gimme Some Lovin’.”
Winwood characterized his set list at the sold-out show as “mixed vintage,” covering tracks from the full range of his 50-plus-year career, including Spencer Davis Group songs and tracks from Traffic, Blind Faith and his solo career (“Higher Love,” unsurprisingly, was a crowd favorite). Winwood played his Hammond B3 organ for most of the jam-heavy 90-minute set — his few songs on guitar were among the high points, including a faithfully rendered “Can’t Find My Way Home.”
Winwood seemed to take the “jazz” of Jazz Aspen to heart more than most pop artists who come to town under the nonprofit’s banner — nearly every song included lengthy digressions into free jazz improvisation. It worked where it worked — “Low Spark of High Heeled Boys,” for instance, kept its momentum going through impressive solos from Winwood on organ, Paul Booth on saxophone and Jose Neto on guitar — but it was a bit much at times. Winwood seemed intent to prove that anything in his catalog could be complemented by a smooth jazz jam sesh or a few rockin’ solos, often deferring to Booth, who played alto and baritone sax along with flute and some organ. How many flute solos can you handle in a Winwood song? Two? Three? How about three with drum and tabla solos between?
At one point, Winwood stepped away from his organ and sipped a glass of red wine while watching drummer Richard Bailey pound out a solo. The gesture drew applause from the amused crowd and demonstrated just how proud Winwood is to be surrounded by such accomplished musicians. Maybe that’s the key to his longevity and mint-condition vocals: sharing the load and being a team player.
We’ve all seen old rock stars do jukebox-style shows, doling out hits of decades yore in tired, predictable fashion. Admirably, Winwood refused to do so and proved himself to be creatively alive and willing to take some risks, even if it left some fans wanting.
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