Jazz Aspen June Festival journeys near and far
June 23, 2011
ASPEN – Jazz Aspen does its best impersonation of a traveling road show with this year’s 21st annual June Festival. The festival, staged mostly at the Benedict Music Tent, touches the Caribbean and West Africa, Detroit and Memphis, Hollywood and Manhattan.
The June Festival gets to its musical wanderings right off the bat. Friday’s opening act is the duo of Richard Bona, a bassist-vocalist from Cameroon who has had musical associations with Pat Metheny and Harry Belafonte, and Raul Midon, a singer-guitarist of South American ancestry who was raised in New Mexico.
Friday’s headliner, Monty Alexander, was born in Jamaica before heading to New York City in the ’60s and turning into a jazz pianist. In recent decades, Alexander has returned, in part, to his roots, putting together the Harlem-Kingston Express, a show that features two combos side by side – an acoustic jazz rhythm section, and an electric reggae band.
Sheryl Crow may hail from the musically undistinguished town of Kennett, in southeastern Missouri. But her Saturday night show, 100 Miles From Memphis, pays tribute to the music capital located a two-hour drive from her birthplace. The show is an extension of Crow’s 2010 album of the same name, which moved in the direction of a classic Memphis soul sound. The album featured guests Keith Richards and Justin Timberlake, and a cover of the Jackson 5’s “I Want You Back.”
The opening weekend of the June Festival concludes with the local debut of Jennifer Hudson, who earned an Academy Award for her portrayal of Motown singer Effie White in 2006’s “Dreamgirls.” Hudson, a former “American Idol” finalist, released her second album, “I Remember Me,” in March.
The June Festival does some actual traveling next week, moving to The Little Nell for a series of JAS Downstairs at the Nell club-type performances. The series opens Wednesday, June 29, with vocalists Kellylee Evans and Sara Gazarek, both former students at Jazz Aspen’s JAS Academy. Thursday, June 30, brings Maraca, a 12-piece Cuban band led by flutist Orlando Valle, and Friday, July 1 has the Hot Club of Detroit, a Michigan quintet modeled after the 1940s gypsy jazz group, the Hot Club of France.
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The festival journeys back to the Music Tent for the finale – a July 2 concert by the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, led by trumpeter and composer Wynton Marsalis.