The Week That Was: Laws of cultural averages dictate that even in an urban locale, much of the steady flow of live music will be mediocre, with occasional bursts of glory. It’s the way of the world. Santa Barbara - which gets a grander parade of culture than its size might seem to warrant - also follows that law.
But suddenly, in the space of five days recently, we heard three hypnotically fine shows in this poor little rich town. Bright Eyes’ Conor Oberst cast his weird, literate spell over the Arlington Theatre in a wicked Saturday night soiree, bathed in the strange flickering glow of a gonzo light show, and joined at the end by the hugely lovable art-folky opener Gillian Welch. The final tune descended into the sweetest chaotic squall of feedback and dissonance. From Brooklyn - and your post-‘60s dreamscape - came the other opening act, the neo-psychedelicized Oakley Hall. This was likely the rock show of the year here. (Time and future Bowl bookings will tell.)
Speaking of appealing “chicks with banjos” (to quote Welch), a Friday night at SOhO brought singer-banjoist extraordinaire Abigail Washburn and the Sparrow Quartet, a stellar confab of players from Nashville, including an unplugged and fiery Bela Fleck. They stopped by and blew the roof off the place. Figurative roof repairs had barely been completed by the following Wednesday, when the venue hosted The Bad Plus, one of the best reasons to believe in new jazz again.
Even though bassist Reid Anderson’s arm injury meant the fabled trio was reduced to a duo - the ultra-dynamic tag team of pianist Ethan Iverson and drummer Dave King - the show kicked, mused, and sent the piano out of tune. There’s nothing like The Bad Plus, who wowed the Lobero and will hopefully make Santa Barbara a regular stop. Who else is gonna give you a whacked-out version of “Blue Moon,” tunes by Ornette Coleman, and Thelonious Monk, plus deconstructionist rethinks of David Bowie’s “Life on Mars,” and Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”? Moreover, where can you get all that madness delivered by musicians of instrumental prowess and good-natured postmodern humor? The jazz world needs more of their forward-leaning and tradition-respecting ilk.
Chanteuses in the ‘Hood: Serendipity calls, and two fine local jazz singers - Santa Barbaran Kimberly Ford and Solvang’s Mellonie Irvine - have gone on record recently, with impressive results. Both were crisply recorded by Emmet Sargeant at his local Beagle Studios. Ford’s Songs in the Key of Sea is a collection of sea and water-related tunes, framed by “How Deep is the Ocean” and “Beyond the Sea.” In between comes “My Ship,” Chick Corea’s “Sea Journey,” and a hip waltz-time original, “Sea Change.” Fluid Brazilian touches fit into the mix, too: she kicks up the rhythmic ante with a fast waltzing “Wave,” an easy-does-it “Little Boat,” and Ivan Lins’s “Island.”
Ford’s instrumental setting - with guitarist Mark Waggoner, bassist Ryan McGillicuddy, and drummer Jason Harnell - is nice and spare; the better to showcase Ford’s clean, clear sonorities. Waggoner is a dazzling player, nimble and not afraid to stretch, without departing from his song-supportive duties. Ford - backed by McGillicuddy, Harnell, and others - will perform at a CD release party tonight at the Santa Barbara Maritime Museum at 6:30. The event is also a premiere for Mike deGruy’s video for the Ford-Waggoner original, “Water Mark.”
For her debut CD, You’ve Changed, Mellonie Irvine assembled a dream team of a rhythm section, with pianist Christian Jacob - certainly one of L.A.’s finest - and bassist Kevin Axt, both known for their work with Tierney Sutton. They are joined by Santa Barbara-bred Kevin Winard on drums, whose habit is to play the right thing at the right time. On standout standards like “The Man I Love,” the seductively rumbling title cut, a N’Awlins-spiced “Our Love is Here to Stay,” and a closing, bittersweet piano-vocal duet on “The Shadow of Your Smile,” Irvine delivers the goods with a calm confidence. She shines in a lovely, low-key way, and is in no hurry to impress. The upshot: She impresses.
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