Blue Skies Airwaves

by Josef Woodard

PROUDLY LEFT OF THE DIAL: What was this, Kenny G being played on KCSB last week? It was an oxymoronic “what’s wrong with this picture?” moment on the airwaves, hearing the king of anti-jazz cheese being spun on one of the West Coast’s most proudly independent — and alternative-minded — non-commercial stations. No worries: DJ Sarvatma was playing G as a ploy to hector listeners into calling and pledging $$ during the station’s annual pledge drive. Soon, real music returned, such as the mind-altering Gonzalo Rubalcaba version (or remake) of “Besame Mucho.” This kind of great music is exactly what alternative radio is made for.

Pledge-drive time for non-commercial stations can instill fear and avoidance for many listeners, but it is also a time when a station like KCSB can rightfully toot its horn and tout its virtues. KCSB is an especially strong and free-range alternative station in Southern California, with a delightful blur of diverse programming compared to many more patternized left-end stations.

This listener’s long fave list is still topped by the long-standing India Show. Jazz-wise, the programming includes adventurous riffs on Thursday afternoon’s double-header of Impressions and Pedal Point and an enticing new addition: The Friday Riff. For more old-school goods, proceed to Stanley Naftaly’s venerable mainstreaming Jazz Straight Ahead and trad jazz grooves (plus speechifying) of Doc Jass’s Jassdom Hall (jazz’s original spelling).

Officially, the pledge drive is over, but stragglers (like this columnist) can still donate to the station, and it’s one of the worthiest causes in town, especially now that webcasting is expanding the range exponentially. We need the KCSBs of the world more than ever in this age of corporate-choked, clear(cut), channeled control of the airwaves. Tune in, turn on, drop in.

GUITAR WIZARD DEPT.: At year’s end, when all the votes and emotional responses are tallied among the local guitar nerd contingent, the prize for the hottest electric guitar night of the year will undoubtedly go to Jeff Beck, who blew rafters and synapses at his recent Arlington show. But the second place may well go to Sonny Landreth, the Louisianan guitar virtuoso deserving of wider recognition, who makes his Santa Barbara debut at Saturday’s Sings Like Hell show at the Lobero — or at least his debut as himself. Landreth, who has been a coveted sideman while also developing an exciting solo artist career throughout the years, has already been on local stages lending his licks to his old boss/comrade John Hiatt, and just recently to another employer, Jimmy Buffett, at the Bowl.

Neither of those gigs, however, prepares the listener for what’s in store with Landreth’s own music, as hotly demonstrated on last year’s sizzling live album Grant Street (Sugar Hill). It’s an hour’s worth of scorching hybrid-style music by Landreth and his longtime trio (also Hiatt’s group), with blues, rock, Bayou spice (as on “U.S.S. Zyedoldsmobile”), and rock-jazz fusion, bound to make you a fan if you’re not one already.

Actually, like Beck, and even more like his friend Eric Johnson — from neighboring Texas — Landreth has an uncanny way with touch and tone, and he makes his thick-toned, distortion-laden guitar sing with sweetness and heat. Landreth has devoted himself to the cause of the slide guitar, and come up with one of the more exciting and inventive variations on that challenging, special guitaristic art form. Few slide guitarists have pushed the practice to new places, but Duane Allman, Dave Tronzo, and Landreth earn their seats at the top of the heap. All guitar fans, and music fans, period, are encouraged to check out this highly musical cat.

SOUL MAN ALERT: We don’t get enough high-profile soul music in this town, apart from occasional R&B action at the Chumash Casino. That lack gets some righteous rectification with the arrival of supple and seductive vocalist John Legend at the Arlington on Friday. (Got e?

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