Jazz Aspen Snowmass upbeat in 15th year | AspenTimes.com

Jazz Aspen Snowmass upbeat in 15th year

Stewart Oksenhorn

Jazz Aspen Snowmass celebrates its 15th anniversary with its annual June Festival, which opens today. Appropriate to the occasion, Jazz Aspen is presenting a musical lineup heavy on the celebratory element.The June Festival is where fans can generally find the headier and heavier Jazz Aspen acts, the traditional jazz and deep blues. This year, however, the emphasis is on the fun factor.”They’re all very user-friendly artists. High entertainment value,” said Jim Horowitz, Jazz Aspen’s founder and executive producer.Jazz Aspen has tinkered not only with the booking of acts but with the artists themselves to assure an upbeat, accessible festival. On the booking side, Jazz Aspen is experimenting by bringing reggae, in the form of long-running British band Steel Pulse, to the June Festival main stage for the first time. Other booking choices reflecting a tilt toward good-times sounds include such crowd-pleasers as Bobby McFerrin, David Byrne and Yerba Buena.Jazz Aspen has also arranged to get the maximum impact out of two additional mainstage performers. Boz Scaggs, whose appearance at the June Festival two years ago had the soul singer thumbing through the Great American Songbook in traditional fashion, returns with what is billed as an “all-hits” set. And soul man Isaac Hayes, who played a jazz-oriented set at last month’s inaugural Sonoma Jazz + festival in California, an event produced by Jazz Aspen, has been nudged in a different direction for his Aspen appearance.”He had tailored it, thinking it was a jazz festival,” said Horowitz of Hayes’ recent set. “But that’s not what we wanted. We told him it was too slow. We didn’t see him as a jazz artist; we wanted him to do what he does, which is soul and r&b. So he’s bringing his hot-buttered soul show.”Scaggs, too, was on the Sonoma Jazz + bill. His set, with an eight-piece band playing ’70s hits like “Lowdown” and “Lido Shuffle,” was “a really punchy show,” according to Horowitz.The June Festival opens tonight with Steel Pulse and Hayes on the main stage under a tent in Rio Grande Park. Friday features David Byrne, the former frontman of Talking Heads, and Yerba Buena. Both acts performed at Jazz Aspen events last year. Byrne’s set at the Labor Day Festival was to have included backing by the Tosca Strings, a group that had appeared on his 2004 album, “Grown Backwards.” That show had received raves at venues like the Bonnaroo Festival in Tennessee, but cold and wet weather forced Byrne to curtail his Snowmass performance, which became an abbreviated set of Talking Heads hits without the string section. Byrne will give it another try with the Tosca Strings tomorrow.Yerba Buena, a New York-based Latin band featuring musicians from South America and the Caribbean, played well-received late-night shows at last year’s June Festival.Saturday brings a pair of vocalists, Bobby McFerrin and Dianne Reeves. McFerrin’s solo vocal performances are known as much for the engagement with the audience as for the unique style. Of all the mainstage acts, Reeves is the one who hews closest to traditional jazz.The festival closes Sunday with bass virtuoso Marcus Miller, whose recent CD, “Silver Rain,” is a mix of r&b and funk, and Scaggs. Also on Sunday is the free 10:30 gospel show with the very lively Ricky Dillard & the New Generation Chorale.The JAS After Dark lineup promises to keep the party going into the night. Playing at the Belly Up are singer Maria Muldaur (tonight, 8:30); New Orleans horn band Bonerama, with Muldaur opening (tonight, 11 p.m.); guitarist John Scofield in a trio (Friday, 10:30 p.m.); groove band Robert Walter’s 20th Congress (Saturday, 10:30 p.m.) and Roger Clyne & the Peacemakers (Sunday, 10 p.m.).Also in the JAS After Dark series, the Blue Door in Snowmass has contemporary funk band Mama’s Cookin’ (tonight, 9:30 p.m.) and Bonerama (Friday, 9:30 p.m.); Syzygy features Steve Peer & All That Jazz (tonight, 10 p.m.), saxophonist Jeff Jenkins (Friday, 10 p.m.) and saxophonist Nelson Rangell (Saturday, 10 p.m.); and L’Hostaria presents Rangell (Sunday, 10 p.m.).For further information, go to http://www.jazzaspen.org.Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is stewart@aspentimes.com

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