The jazz festival takes place June 22-July 2 in Vancouver, B.C.

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Northwest jazz lovers always look forward to June, which brings British Columbia’s Vancouver International Jazz Festival to the area. This year’s festival, which started Thursday, June 22, runs through July 2.

Bookended by two weekends of free outdoor concerts, the festival has some extra benefits for tourists this year: a newly renovated pedestrian- and public-event-friendly Robson Square and Vancouver Art Gallery plaza — where the opening shows take place on three stages this Saturday and Sunday afternoon (June 24-25) — not to mention a very attractive exchange rate ($1 U.S. dollar equals $1.32 Canadian).

The opening free concerts downtown are a truly festive affair, with animated crowds, food booths, a youth stage and Vancouver’s sparkling shopping hub just steps away.

Festival preview

The Vancouver International Jazz Festival

Through July 2 at various venues in Vancouver, B.C.; single shows free-$110, discounted passes for various series but no all-festival passes available (888-438-5200 or

Sunday’s lineup includes the delightful, Bellevue-bred vocal tyro Ariel Pocock, who debuts her second album, “Living in Twilight,” this month. Pocock, 24, won piano and vocal awards at the Essentially Ellington competition back when she attended Bellevue’s Newport High School, and since then has snagged performances at the Montreal Jazz Festival and the Stanford Jazz Workshop.

Pocock is in fine form on “Living in Twilight,” which has some Canadian connections of its own: it was recorded in Montreal and released on that city’s Justin Time records (the label that launched Diana Krall) and one of its best tracks is a cover of the late Quebecois singer-songwriter Kate McGarrigle’s killer breakup song, “Go Leave.”

Like Krall, Pocock is a crisp, swinging pianist, as comfortable with jazz standards like “The Very Thought of You” and “I Love You” as she is with folk-rockish numbers like “Go Leave” or Adele’s “Someone Like You,” which she delivers with heartbreaking accuracy.

Pocock’s tangy voice and light touch may remind some listeners of Stacey Kent, though Pocock also projects a radiant intimacy that comes through mightily on the title track, a cover of The Weepies’ “Living in Twilight.” Pocock’s natural, unpretentious scat singing is an added attraction, and so is her songwriting. “Gonzalo’s Melody,” written for Cuban pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, features some marvelously interwoven piano and guitar.

Pocock will also appear as a guest with Michael Stegner on a triple bill at Barboza, in Seattle, on Monday, June 26, but the Sunday afternoon show in Vancouver offers an opportunity to hear her play her own material with her own outfit. Sunday’s Vancouver shows also include sets by ex-Prince bassist Nik West’s band and the Canadian group Star System, performing the music of Sun Ra.

Saturday’s lineup has other attractions worth crossing the border for, as well, including outrageously raucous, New Orleans-style neo-traditionalists Sammy Miller and the Congregation, whose music is built for outdoors, and Mario Rom’s Interzone, a playful, irreverent and intensely swinging trumpet-bass-drums trio from Austria.

Vancouver makes a point of being an international event, and this year is no exception. Other acts at various venues around Vancouver include U.K.-based trio Phronesis (Sunday, June 25); Infinitude, with Canadian powerhouses Ingrid and Christine Jensen, who play trumpet and saxophone, respectively (Monday, June 26); the free-improvising Japanese/French quartet KAZA, with Japanese pianist and composer Sakoto Fujii (Wednesday, June 28); and Canadian Cuban music specialist Jane Bunnett (Saturday, July 1).

The festival’s star-studded stateside cast includes vocalist Kandace Springs (Sunday, June 25), pianist Kenny Barron (Sunday, June 25), innovative vocalist Jacob Collier (Tuesday, June 27), percussionist John Hollenbeck (Tuesday, June 27, and Thursday, June 29), saxophonist Branford Marsalis (Wednesday, June 28), guitarist (and recently vocalist) Kurt Rosenwinkel (Thursday, June 29), bassist Buster Williams (Friday, June 30), swing sax man Scott Hamilton (Sunday, July 2), and BassDrumBone (Mark Helias, Gerry Hemingway, Ray Anderson, Sunday, July 2).