Review: Jazz Aspen festival showcases musicians’ versatility
ASPEN – Pianist Monty Alexander’s band didn’t make it to Aspen for Friday’s opening-night, headlining performance of Jazz Aspen Snowmass’ June Festival: Airplane malfunction, it was announced. Utter disaster, right?Actually, no, not even a small-scale disaster, for three reasons.First, the absence of one band didn’t leave Alexander entirely band-less. Fortuitously, Alexander, a Jamaican-born jazz player who has increasingly embraced his Caribbean heritage over the decades, was scheduled to perform with two separate groups, simultaneously – a jazz combo on one side, a reggae band on the other. It was the reggae players, go figure. (Hey, if you had to bet, who would you have picked to miss the gig: the reggae guys or the jazzmen?) who were absent, leaving Alexander with a hot three-piece jazz group to play with.Two, amazingly enough, scheduled to perform Friday night at Belly Up Aspen was another high-level Jamaican reggae band: Toots & the Maytals. Alexander borrowed three of the Maytals for his own gig, and on virtually no notice, they did an admirable job creating the island rhythms (although one wonders just how smoking things might have gotten had the regular players been onstage).Three, Alexander is a dazzling musician and personality, apparently unfazed by the circumstances. It sure didn’t seem to affect his playing which, even without his usual contingent of countrymen, struck a natural balance between American jazz and Jamaican reggae. No problem, mon.Friday night opened with the duo of African-born bassist Richard Bona and American singer-guitarist Raul Midn. The twosome played smooth, romantic music – no sharp edges here at all – but the musicianship was superb, highlighted by a segment that had Midn playing one-handed guitar, bongos with the other hand, and alternating between scat singing and mouth trumpet.Saturday night’s performance by Sheryl Crow seemed foreordained to be a hit. From the top of the Ute Trail to the Jazz Aspen box office, the chatter was about how people were going to score tickets for the sold-out show. So despite marginal sound and an audience that in no way would be described as a core Crow crowd, the show got by fine on a “place to be” vibe. Crow, emphasizing the soul sound on “100 Miles to Memphis,” her 2010 album, was surrounded by horns and backing singers. Crow herself was in good voice – and even better legs, shown to nice effect in short shorts.The first weekend of the June Festival was set to end Sunday night with the local debut of singer Jennifer Hudson. The festival continues with club shows at The Little Nell, Wednesday through Friday, June 29 through July 1, and concludes Saturday, July 2, when Wynton Marsalis leads the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra in a concert at the Benedict Music Tent.firstname.lastname@example.org
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