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Moving Forward by Bowing Backward


by Josef Woodard

SURREAL ESTATE MOMENT: Turns out that Santa Barbara’s standing in the USA Today poll of “overvalued” real estate markets in America has a good- news/bad-news component. Yes, our real estate market is now officially 73 percent overvalued, but that pales in comparison to the 104 percent in Naples, Florida. Meanwhile, “growth” is the buzz word/dirty word in town: We have the pro-growth faction, the no-growth bunch, and now a group of quasi-anarchists, the anti-growth folks, who are advocating knockin’ stuff down and restoring our precious vacant lots. Stay tuned for more (anti-) developments. Meanwhile, back to the music …

FRINGE PRODUCT: The best jazz, from any point in its rich and diverse and ever-evolving history, is necessarily both progressive and traditional, balancing courageously on the axis between the two. By its nature, this music must look forward and be investigative and curious, like any improvisation-based form, while building upon its rich, 100-year-old foundation. Such an operative paradox doesn’t always seem to be central to the work of some current artists, such as some in Wynton Marsalis-inspired camps, however assured their musical work. To each his own.

The paradox, however, is very much present — and in a fresh way — in one of this year’s most exciting jazz albums, the recently released Saudades, by Trio Beyond (ECM). A scorching and searching power trio, featuring Jack DeJohnette, guitarist John Scofield, and organist Larry Goldings — great players, all — have released a live recording from late 2004 in London’s Queen Elizabeth Hall. The project, which has hit the European festival circuit this summer, was originally formed as a tribute to the late, great Tony Williams. Specifically, the project honors Williams’s visionary “Lifetime” trio of the late ’60s/early ’70s, with organist Larry Young and a young guitar wizard then fresh from the UK, John McLaughlin. That music represents early seedlings of the “fusion” movement and remains an underrated jazz landmark, full of muscle and mystery.

Saudades leans back 35-plus years to pay tribute to Williams, but in so doing, it also brings us very much up to date, especially with the newfound, rock-tinged ferocity of DeJohnette’s drumming. The subtler, left-of-mainstream drummer in the great Keith Jarrett trio, DeJohnette hasn’t played with this kind of wild magnetism since his Live/Evil period with Miles Davis in the early ’70s. Scofield, as usual, is everything you want from a guitarist, including someone chaotic and melodic, by turns. And Goldings proves again why he’s an amazingly versatile ace, especially behind the big rig of a genuine B-3.

There is a unique kind of electricity on this recording that makes us believe again in the poetic potential of “electric jazz.” It’s not just about AC current. Old gems from the Miles book, “Seven Steps to Heaven” and “I Fall in Love Too Easily,” are gently torn apart and re-assembled. Groove moments easily succumb to the urge to liberate, and free zones abound along the way. Williams’s own tunes, “Pee Wee” and the unhinged closer, “Emergency,” glide from the graceful to the raucous.

Trio Beyond knows how this music goes, and yet, at the same time, they have no idea. They won’t really know until they get there. That’s jazz, whatever the instrument or the epoch.

MARCH OF THE NEW: The ongoing Iridian Arts concert series has been ushering in provocative new musical sounds at Center Stage this year, from New Yorker bass clarinetist Michael Lowenstern to plugged-in vox experimentalist, San Franciscan Pamela Z and, this Sunday, to Santa Barbara’s own new music man, Jim Connolly and his idiomatically game Gove County String Quartet. (By the way, for a good, commercial-free taste of Iridian-esque fare, in the comfort of your cubicle, set your browser to iridianradio.com.)

STAGE QUOTE OF THE MONTH DEPT.: From the mouth of prophet/poet, man-in-a-cool-suit, T-Bone Burnett, at the Lobero: “I always thought Santa Barbara sounded like a good idea.” (Got e? Email fringebeat@aol.com.)



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