Joie de Vivre a la Jazz

by Josef Woodard

JAZZ FAN ALERT: Run, don’t walk or mosey, over to SOhO on Monday night, when the rightly acclaimed pianist Jean-Michel Pilc (pictured) brings his strong-yet-sensitive trio to town. Pilc is an “overnight sensation” who has enjoyed heaps of praises in the last few years, but who has been honing his wares for decades.

Born in Paris in 1960, he established his career in France and Europe, but opted to make the pilgrimage to N.Y.C. in 1995, where he stayed. His current upward ascent as a critic’s (and audience’s) darling began with albums starting only in 2000. On a good night and a good record, Pilc seems to have it all: harmonic sophistication, right hand athleticism, a subversive sense of play, melodicism, and emotional depth.

For a hint of his special qualities of virtuosity and organic pianistic magic, check out Pilc’s latest album Live at Iridium (Dreyfus Records), recorded in the Basement Club in midtown Manhattan. A steamy, thoughtful trio date, the album features Pilc alternatively stretching out and cooling out, on originals and the stuff of Monk tunes revisited.

There have been a few remarkable, under-attended jazz shows at SOhO in the past year, featuring musicians with wide recognition on the jazz scene, including the limber Cuban-in-New-York Dafnis Prieto last year. In January, the first great local jazz show of the year came courtesy of the high-flying Moutin Reunion Quartet, which left a small-ish crowd happily stunned in its fiery glow. That band features saxist Rick Margitza and monster bassist François Moutin, also in Pilc’s trio, along with drummer Ari Hoenig.

No doubt, Pilc’s trio will be another memorable jazz event at SOhO. It threatens to slip in partly through the side door, in terms of the kind of veteran, name-brand jazz act recognition found in larger venues in town. Instead, the show promises the thrill of discovery, as well as musicianship pumped up with both youthful verve and maturity of vision. Pilc is fast becoming one of the cats, and for good reason.

TO LIVE AND LOVE IN LIVE OAK: Father’s Day weekend in the greater Santa Barbara area can only mean one thing: time to pack up the kids and friends and head over the mountain, for music’s sake. The Live Oak Music Festival offers its usual wonderfully, wildly diverse bounty of acts and a chance to bask in the illusory rusticity in its encampment off of Hwy. 154, an easy drive from town. Add the fact that the festival is a fundraiser for the non-commercial radio haven of KCBX in San Luis Obispo, and you have a real music-lover magnet of a shindig.

A few of this year’s highlights: Senegalese wonder Baaba Maal (also appearing at UCSB next spring), the gilded Guthrie Family, the New Orleans-ian flavors of the Iguanas and the Wild Magnolias, and a visit from the amazing and genre-defying ex-Lone Justice singer Maria McKee, who has been doing nicely on her own terms, post-major label career. There’s plenty more where they came from, which is all over the place (

COUNTRY WITH A CAPITAL W: Though still in its baby steps, the current Santa Barbara Bowl season has been enriched with bona fide C&W music, kicking off with Tele-twangin’ wizard Brad Paisley and continuing next Thursday with the great singer Martina McBride. Both have their talons in tradition, in different ways. Paisley can’t help but lean toward the wind of genuine country music, despite his occasional show biz tricks and pop nods. McBride, meanwhile, is soaring on the natural power of her latest “classic country”-fied album, suitably titled Timeless.

Framed by Hank Williams’s “You Win Again” and Kris Kristofferson’s “Help Me Make It Through the Night,” and stopping by the songbooks of Harlan Howard, Don Gibson, Loretta Lynn, and Johnny Cash (“I Still Miss Someone”), McBride’s latest album pays respects to the real thing, and she’s just right for the job. (Got e? Email

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