Review: Jazz escapes the club in Telluride | AspenTimes.com

Review: Jazz escapes the club in Telluride

Stewart OksenhornThe Aspen TimesAspen, CO Colorado

Stewart Oksenhorn/The Aspen TimesEric Krasno of Soulive performs at the Telluride Jazz Festival.

TELLURIDE, Colo. – Any purist will tell you – the best place to hear jazz is in a small dark club, maybe a downstairs space tucked at the end of a back alley, definitely with a bustling, cosmopolitan city just outside the doors. I myself have likely subscribed to this idea, probably after seeing straightahead jazz played on a huge stage for a massive audience on the side of a Colorado mountain, the sound having gotten lost in the wide open air.The main stage of the Telluride Jazz Festival is in Telluride’s Town Park. This is no one’s idea of intimate; it is a stage and venue the Jazz Festival shares with the hugely popular Telluride Bluegrass Festival and the heavily amplified Blues & Brews Festival. Instead of cocktail tables and dark corners, there are magnificent mountain views and loads of fold-up chairs on a big grass field.Having witnessed the 39th annual Telluride Jazz last weekend, I’d take the sprawling open-air park over the cozy club. Telluride is an ideal place for a festival – for me, having attended six Telluride Bluegrass outings, make that the ideal place for a festival – and this magic extends to the jazz realm. Credit it in part to the audience. As each act took the stage, fans assembled on the lawn in front of the stage; they were there to hear the music, not to be part of a scene. It gave at least part of the feel of the nightclub experience – people were listening – in combination with the dancing, grooving vibe of the standard outdoor music festival. Look around the park and what you saw were musicians, jazz heads, music lovers.And credit it in part to the music itself. Telluride Jazz doesn’t have a purist’s take on the music, and this year it stretched out far while maintaining a solid jazz core.Friday evening leaned toward the groove. Marco Benevento, playing joyously on electric keyboards, led a trio that injected rock ‘n’ roll fun into instrumental music; a highlight was a riff on Mott the Hoople’s “All the Way from Memphis” (a song that pokes fun at rock stardom). The New York trio Soulive closed the mainstage activity with a hard-hitting shot of groove, led by guitarist Eric Krasno, a bad-ass of jazz guitar if there ever was one.At night, the music moves indoors, but the venues are hardly typical jazz clubs. At a sold-out Sheridan Opera House – a classic Western opera house that is a funky marvel in itself – trumpeter Roy Hargrove led an acoustic quintet in a set of straightahead jazz. A few blocks away, at the Elks Club, Boulder funk band SuperCollider had the dance floor swaying.Saturday leaned toward traditional jazz, with sets by Denver sextet Convergence, Italian-born singer Roberta Gambarini and another appearance by Hargrove, who was the festival’s guest of honor this year, his name painted across the front of the mainstage. Musically, the day was a come-down, but not because of the style of music. Convergence is solid but far from spectacular; same for Gambarini. And Hargrove, a distinguished talent who has often swung toward a danceable style, was in so-so form. Hargrove is said to have joined the club of jazzmen with substance addictions, and if he isn’t an addict, he sure played the part well. Through two performances, including the one indoors at the Sheridan, he never removed his dark shades. The two sets were near duplicates. Hargrove resolutely kept his trumpet in downbeat mode. The soft, slow approach was effective, and would have been great if there were some contrast to it, but Hargrove never let the music soar. Still, his quintet was first-rate, with pianist Sullivan Fortner the standout player. The evening ended in fireworks as Victor Wooten – well-known in Telluride from frequent Bluegrass Festival appearances as the bassist in Bla Fleck & the Flecktones – led his band through a smooth but dynamic set focused on Wooten’s remarkable bass guitar skills.The weekend’s musical highlight came late on Saturday when the DVS Trio – vibraphonist Mike Dillon, drummer Johnny Vidacovich and acoustic bassist James Singleton – played the Elks. The threesome are all New Orleans residents (and all mind-blowing instrumentalists), but the distinctive New Orleans rhythm and sound were ignored in favor of aggressive avant-jazz that pushed the boundaries in a manner similar to another trio, Medeski, Martin & Wood. It’s probably the coolest music that has ever been played in an Elks Club anywhere, and the crowd responded with intent listening and shaking. Over at the Sheridan Opera House, Gambarini was making an argument that, for her music at least, a small venue was preferable.Sunday had been dubbed New Orleans Day, and the festivating began with a street parade down Colorado Avenue. The parade was small in length but big on spirit, as the masses happily lined up behind two brass bands to join the march toward Town Park. On the main stage, New Orleans’ contributions to music were spotlighted from a variety of angles. Soul Rebels gave an expansive view on the brass band tradition. Jon Cleary, a British native who has lived in Louisiana for decades, proved that an old style – the rollicking piano music of New Orleans icons James Booker and Professor Longhair – deserved to be dug up and re-examined. The festival closed with the Funky Meters who, despite the frailty of keyboardist Art Neville, remain a force of New Orleans R&B, largely on the drive of bassist George Porter Jr.Not once in the weekend did I find myself craving a dark, smoky club.stewart@aspentimes.com

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