Two beautiful days kick off annual Labor Day Jazz Fest
Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers, after a stage blessing offered by one of their crew, kicked off their Jazz Aspen Labor Day Festival set on Saturday with their current hit, “Beautiful Day.” And it was a beautiful day Saturday, with hot music, and cool – but gloriously dry – weather.And if Marley and his siblings in the Melody Makers cared to comment on the first half of the fifth annual Labor Day Festival, they might have changed the lyrics to “beautiful days.” Friday night’s concert featured a solid set by New Orleans’ Radiators, preceded by a blistering Jazz Aspen debut by Chicago’s Liquid Soul.The Radiators, with 20 years of touring duty behind them, turned in their usual well-played, energetic set to headline Friday’s two-band bill. The New Orleans quintet, a longtime Aspen favorite making its first Jazz Aspen appearance, seemed to focus on some of their better-known original songs – “Like Dreamers Do,” “Doctor Doctor,” “River Run” – all three of which included impressive jams led by guitarist Camile Baudoin. The Rads, known for their extensive repertoire, held back on playing cover tunes until the end. And when they did pull out a cover tune, it was the excellent choice of Little Feat’s anthem “Willin'” for an encore.Liquid Soul, however, was the talk of Friday’s bill. The eight-piece band mixed funk rhythms and jazz improvisation skills with the modern sounds of a rapper and a DJ to create something special – powerfully up-tempo music that appeals to the feet and the mind. Saxophonist and bandleader Mars Williams led the way, but DJ “The Dirty M.F.” was an appealing presence and trumpeter Ron Haynes pulled off some enormous solos of his own.The evening was marred somewhat by the announcement that Seal, scheduled to headline Sunday’s show, would not be performing, due to a management screw-up. The bad news went down easier with the announcement that Taj Mahal would fill in for Seal.Saturday’s lineup opened with the amorphous Boulder-based combo, the Dave Watts Motet, a rhythm-oriented outfit that changes personnel with each gig. For its Jazz Aspen main stage debut, drummers Watts and Scott Messersmith assembled a group well-versed in Afro-Cuban beats and sounds, with three vocalists singing primarily in Spanish. For its last tune, the Motet changed gears and showed its versatility by playing a jazz-funk tune.The Latin-oriented ensemble was a perfect choice, as Cuba’s Los Van Van followed the Motet. From the first notes, Los Van Van announced its huge sound, generated by a 15-piece band that included three horns, three keyboardists, three percussionists – and just two electric violinists. The three lead singers were a visual and sonic presence at center stage, and the band’s bassist, playing a stand-up electric bass, was brilliant.Ziggy Marley & the Melody Makers followed with the kind of impassioned, spiritual and thoroughly rocking set that shows they are much more than a band with impeccable bloodlines. The group pulled from its long list of albums, playing such conscience-raising tunes as “Tomorrow People,” “Rainbow Country” and a cover of the Curtis Mayfield classic, “People Get Ready.”The threesome of female singers, including Melody Makers Sharon and Cedella Marley, got to work out their dance licks during “Look Who’s Dancing” and “Born to Be Lively.” The band paid respects to their late father, Bob, singing “Jamming” and “Could You Be Loved?” and to the sacred herb with the Stephen Marley-penned “One Good Spliff,” from the recent album “Spirit of Music.” When the band brought out four of the youngest Marleys, none older than 10, to dance and sing and rap during the encore, the audience went wild.Joe Walsh and his seven-piece band followed with a solid set, clearly aimed at those who grew up with his hits – “Walk Away” from the James Gang days, “In the City,” from his time with the Eagles, and his more recent solo hit, the very funny and appealing “Ordinary Average Guy.”The late-night JAS After Dark program proved nearly as rocking as the daytime events. A big crowd turned out for a Cuban-style descargo jam, featuring the combined forces of the Dave Watts Motet and Los Van Van, at L’Hostaria restaurant. Squatweiler pulled in a big crowd at the Howling Wolf with its raw punk sound. The small crowd that greeted zydeco singer Terrance Simien at the Double Diamond didn’t seem to affect the music a bit, as Simien and his band, the Mallet Playboys, poured themselves into songs like “All My Love” and a cover of the Band’s “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down,” dedicated to the late Richard Manuel.The gig at Club Chelsea, which paired part-time locals Little Blue with Woody Creek singer John Oates, was, fortunately for them and unfortunately for me, sold out.Jazz Aspen’s Labor Day continued Sunday with a lineup that included Taj Mahal, Sonia Dada, Gilberto Gil and Lil’ Ed & the Blues Imperials. The festival concludes today with a bill featuring headliner Steve Winwood, the Funky Meters, John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers and Nina Storey.
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