Let the Chamber Begin

by Josef Woodard

NOT-SO-SECRET CHAMBER: One of the Santa Barbara classical scene’s most inviting yet semi-secret charms opens next week, when the Museum of Art opens its intimate auditorium to another round of world-class classical artists, in a room just large enough yet just small enough to achieve chamber music nirvana. With this remarkable series, the magical potential of chamber music comes fully to fruition, as stunning musicianship and a clement room join forces.

One of the finest young string quartets around, the impressive Calder String Quartet, continues its series of visits on Tuesday. They’ll no doubt lend musical polish and wisdom to a program of Shostakovich, Ravel, and — for contemporary measure — Christopher Rouse.

But the concert to go out of your way to catch is on Thursday, as guitar virtuoso Paul Galbraith returns here, with his eight-string “Brahms” guitar and bounteous musicality in tow. Scottish-born and now Sao Paulo-based, Galbraith has garnered considerable attention with his customized instrument, played upright like a cello and with a wooden sound box for added resonance. For those as yet uninitiated to the Galbraith experience, it’s an odd sight at first, but is also anything but a gimmick.

Beyond his empathetic relationship with his instrument, Galbraith distinguishes himself by transcribing and adapting music from musical corners not normally associated with the guitar. Yes, he continues to passionately play and arrange Bach (a lifelong task for any self-respecting classical guitarist). But rather than dip into the usual Spanish and Latin American guitar music to flesh out the repertoire, Galbraith bravely heads toward untapped resources of Haydn (whose music blissfully graces one of his several albums on Delos), Mozart, Ravel, and other composers who mostly didn’t write for guitar, but who wrote beautiful music suitable for adapting. Galbraith, in short, is one of the wonders of the classical world, even if not enough people know it yet. Another opportunity to hear him close-up in the SBMA auditorium is worth clamoring over and arriving early.

FRINGE PRODUCT: What’s this, yet another reissue box by one of the select few late jazz greats who are eating up the imperiled jazz charts? Yes, John Coltrane is back, a year after the unearthed live recording of Thelonious Monk’s group with Coltrane was released — indisputably 2005’s greatest jazz album. Now comes the stunning six-disc Fearless Leader on Prestige/Concord. Put simply, it’s another must-have addition to Coltrane-ana, but at a heftier price: consider it an early Christmas gift, to yourself or someone you love — and to whose stereo you have easy access.

As the years go by and jazz struggles to find its forward momentum, our ears and hearts keep going back to the masters of the idiom. Of the post-bebop crop, there are the Three Great M’s — Miles, Monk, and Mingus. There is the period- and genre-transcending Duke Ellington, a mountain unto himself, and our great free spirit Ornette Coleman, who continues to suggest the shape of jazz to come. But it is Coltrane who can now reasonably be considered the greatest, deepest soloist jazz ever produced, and the particular epiphany leading to this conclusion is contained in this compelling box set, approximately six hours of his recordings for Prestige between 1957 and 1958.

Coltrane’s famed ’60s band, with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and Jimmy Garrison, has been thoroughly explored and repeatedly reissued, yet we too rarely check in on his early days, and to hear him play standards like “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “I Love You,” “Spring is Here,” and “Time After Time,” hinting at his expansive expressive reach to come, makes for buried cultural treasure of a striking sort. Fearless Leader is the first of three boxed sets of Coltrane’s early recordings planned by Concord — which bought the Fantasy/Prestige label last year and is doing a great stewardship job, so far. If the next two have anywhere near the power of the first, we need to start saving up money and shelf space now.

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