SNOWMASS VILLAGE — So how do you make music fans forget that Jazz Aspen Snowmass cut a day from its Labor Day Festival? How about cracking the whip and telling the acts who fill the now three-day festival that they're all going to have to pitch in extra, and raise their onstage game a notch?
Perhaps the literal whip wasn't necessary. But it was hard not to notice the A-level effort turned in by several of the Labor Day acts.
Elvis Costello, in a Saturday set, seemed to arrive with some extra oomph as well. Backed by his three-piece band, the Imposters — which featured two thirds of his best-known band, the Attractions, drummer Pete Thomas and keyboardist Steve Nieve — Costello seemed to rise as an instrumentalist, playing surprisingly aggressive, expansive and frequent solos. The show concentrated heavily on Costello's '70s hits, and while it's hard to complain with a setlist that included "Alison," "(The Angels Wanna Wear My) Red Shoes," "Watching the Detectives," "(I Don't Want to Go to) Chelsea" and "(What's So Funny 'bout) Peace, Love and Understanding?" Costello has written plenty of solid songs of more recent vintage, and it would have been nice to hear some surprises.
In any event, it was superior to Costello's last Jazz Aspen appearance, at the 2006 June Festival, when he was joined by New Orleans pianist Allen Toussaint. That performance was marred somewhat by an awkward sound.
The festival-closing set by the Allman Brothers Band neatly paralleled Costello's performance. It was better than the Allmans' last appearance, at the 2007 Labor Day Festival; in particular, singer-keyboardist Gregg Allman was in noticeably better shape this time through. It was a guitar extravaganza, as Derek Trucks continues to make a case for being one of rock's elite players (a status that fellow Allman guitarist Warren Haynes has achieved, and maintains). The trading of solos in a long version of "Black Hearted Woman" was breath-taking, a demonstration that Trucks and Haynes are two distinct, and wonderfully complementary players.