Live from Aspen: the year in concerts
December 28, 2007
Jazz Aspen Snowmass biggest problem in 2007 was an overdose of popularity. The appearance by the Allman Brothers Band during Jazz Aspens Labor Day Festival drew a monster crowd, and subsequent cries of overcrowding and insufficient facilities. (The organization has issued a statement that it will lower its ceiling on ticket sales, and increase bathroom and vending capacities at future festivals.)I know how Jazz Aspen feels. (Well, sort of; I dont have to apologize to a parent whose kid peed his pants waiting for a Port-a Potty, or explain to some beer-swilling concertgoer that maybe his half-hour would be better spent listening to the music than standing in line for another beer.) Looking back over the year in local concerts, there was all I could want and more. Trying to recall the standout nights, there is an overflow, rather than a struggle to scrape the memory for that show, back in January, that left me smiling for a day afterward.The beyond-capacity crowd for the Allman Brothers was barely a blip on what had to be Jazz Aspens strongest summer of music, beginning to end. Belly Up only solidified its status as a miracle of a place a sublime setting with a generous offering of acts who dont typically appear in such small confines. Snowmass Village continues its ascent as a summer concert destination. The Wheeler Opera House not only had its share of exquisite music, but proved that it could be fan-friendly without risking the integrity of the 120-year-old history.And if I was searching for the icing on this cake of bounty, I didnt have to look far. The Aspen Music Festival, which always does an unmatchable job of putting on classical concerts, chipped in with a pair of shows good enough to make this list, which is limited, for reasons too cloudy for even me to understand, to pop and jazz.Here it is, a chronology of a dozen of the best of a stellar crop of 2007 concerts in the Roaring Fork Valley. I get a tickle just thinking back on it all and a hopeful but nervous pang, wondering if 2008 can measure up.Bla Fleck & the FlecktonesFeb. 8, Belly UpLast year, banjo god Bla Fleck reportedly turned his nose up at the prospect of playing at Belly Up, which would have marked a rare club date for his bluegrass-jazz fusion quartet, the Flecktones. And then Fleck actually witnessed a few shows at Belly Up, and apparently changed his mind. Probably, it was the sound. The Flecktones shows were bound to be stunning, but what struck me was the perfection of the sound at Belly Up, each note from Flecks banjo ringing clear, even when he did a solo take on Bach. Capping the night was attending the early show, staying for the whole thing, walking home, looking at the clock and seeing it was 9:15 p.m. A few more early shows in 2008? (For my wifes sake more than mine, honest.)Pat Metheny & Brad MehldauMarch 16, Wheeler Opera HouseBesides coming from different generations of jazz, guitarist Pat Metheny and pianist Brad Mehldau dont seem to share an artistic sensibility. Metheny leans toward a smooth, outgoing, electric fusion; Mehldau, 15 years his junior, is rooted in jazzs quieter, introspective side. But, wow, do they have a lot to converse about. Backed by Mehldaus top-drawer rhythm section of drummer Jeff Ballard and bassist Larry Grenadier, Metheny floored the crowd with sheets of textured guitar sounds, while Mehldau, his back mostly to the audience, flavored the music with uncanny phrasings and subtle emotions.Stephen MarleyApril 8, Belly UpAmong the many second-generation Marleys, Stephen has hung in the background, producing CDs by his family members and taking a sideman slot in older brother Ziggy Marleys Melody Makers. With his 2007 album, Mind Control, he finally launched his career, and his show at Belly Up showed that he can match his siblings in onstage intensity and spiritual dimension. True, the highlight of the show was when he was joined by brother Damian for a powerful medley that included Damians own mega-hit, Welcome to Jamrock. But this wasnt a case of being upstaged, merely complemented.Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra and Odadaa! June 26, Benedict Music TentThe Aspen Music Festival kicked off its Blue Notes season, a summer dedicated to the intertwining of classical and jazz, and the results were incomparable, brilliant and funky. The Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, conducted by Wynton Marsalis, hooked up with the Ghanaian ensemble Odadaa! to perform Congo Square, a long-form piece by Marsalis and Odadaa! leader Yacub Addy that examined the intersection of Africa and New Orleans, and the birth of jazz. The two orchestras engaged in a dialogue that took them through gospel, New Orleans, West African percussion and traditional jazz. This was a music that only could have come out of the broad, visionary mind of Marsalis. The only thing missing was a dance floor, so I improvised one.
Lucinda WilliamsJuly 12, Belly UpAt one point in her Belly Up show, Lucinda Williams told the crowd how she had found her true love, then assured them that romantic contentment would not spell the end of her writing the most wrenching alt-country songs possible. Williams was still able to make songs like Unsuffer Me, Those Three Days and Joy (You took my joy, now I want it back) drip with pain and fury. And once the songs were over, she gave an aw-shucks look, and told the audience how much she genuinely loved them. If music is about the transcendence over sorrow, Williams really may be as good as they come.Christian McBride & Edgar MeyerJuly 19, Harris HallTwo titans of the bass McBride from the jazz and fusion worlds, Meyer from the classical and bluegrass realms squared off in another of the Aspen Music Festivals jazz-themed concerts. But instead of dazzling each other with technique, the pair focused intently on seeing how musical they could make the unlikely pairing of two basses. The answer: extraordinarily musical, indeed. And to paraphrase the review of my colleague Harvey Steiman: If Edgar Meyer tells you he cant play jazz, it is OK to laugh in his face.The Allman Brothers BandSept. 2, Jazz Aspen Labor Day FestivalAll those fans who showed up for the Allman Brothers at least werent disappointed by how things sounded. The long-running Southern boogie band has had its ups and downs, but these are some of the good days. With guitarists Warren Haynes and youngster Derek Trucks leading the way, the band jammed through signature instrumental numbers Les Brers in A Minor and a monumental Mountain Jam. Founder and singer Gregg Allman may no longer be the focal point Haynes had the vocal highlight with a cover of Van Morrisons And It Stoned Me but he doesnt need to be. All he has to do is keep up, which he did.The next dozen: Big Head Todd & the Monsters (Jan. 19, Belly Up); E=Mc3 John McEuen, Jonathan McEuen and Nathan McEuen (Jan. 20, Wheeler Opera House); Ben Kweller (Feb. 12, Belly Up); John Prine (April 16, Wheeler Opera House); Dickey Betts & Great Southern (July 28, Belly Up); Martin Sexton (July 7, Belly Up); John Hiatt (Aug. 4, Fanny Hill, Snowmass Village); Garage a Trois (Sept. 1, Belly Up); Leftover Salmon (Sept. 2, Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival); Derek Trucks & Susan Tedeschis Soul Stew Revival (Sept. 3, Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival); Warren Haynes solo acoustic (Sept. 3, Belly Up); Youssou NDour & the Super Etoile de Dakar (Dec. 3, Belly Up).And, oy vey iz mir, the ones I missed! Govt Mule, Little Feat, Sierra Leone Refugee Allstars, the Avett Brothers, Tea Leaf Green, Gomez, Robert Earl Keen, the GZA/Genius, North Mississippi Allstars, Particle, Cracker, Greyboy Allstars, Army of Anyone, Chris Cornell, Richie Havens, Slightly Stoopid, Brazilian Girls, Joe Bonamassa, Gogol Bordello, Richard Thompson, Xavier Rudd, Yerba Buena, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings, Israel Vibrations, Soulive, Bob Schneider, Dinosaur Jr., Tony Furtado, the Ditty Bops, Suzanne Vega. Its enough to make you think Im not doing my job. I vow to do better in 2008 (assuming local concert promoters do as well as they did in 2007).Finally, the front-runner to make the best of 2008 list: Drive-by Truckers, Feb. 21 at Belly Up.firstname.lastname@example.org