MARIACHI ON THE HILL: Old Spanish Days is upon us, for better and worse (and for this reformed Fiesta-suspicious observer, the merry melee is seeming, sounding, feeling, and tasting ever-better with the years). However ironically or symbolically, one sure charm of Old Spanish Days is the purely Mexican wonder of Mariachi music, heard both in the flatlands by roving local groups and, more importantly, in all its polished finery at the annual Santa Barbara Mariachi Festival at the Santa Barbara Bowl. Held annually on Fiesta Saturday, the festival—a scholarship fundraiser—brings some of the world’s finest Mariachi groups for several hours at the Bowl.
This year’s model citizens include Mariachi Vargas, Mariachi Monumental de America, Mariachi Mujer 2000 (part of the growing trend of all-female Mariachis), and veteran vocalist Paquita la del Barrio. Once again, the festival advocates for the idea that Mariachi is much more than a regional Mexican style, but one of the more significant, truly indigenous musical forms yet produced in these Americas.
WE STARTED LOVING HER THAT NIGHT: Speaking of indigenous music from the Americas, country music is staking a stronger claim than usual on the recent live music scene. Call me a musty old-schooler, but I like my country music more than a little on the country side. The stowaway blasts of pop and rock sullying the country radio dial just don’t feel right to some of our ears. When the wonderful singer LeAnn Rimes played at the Chumash Casino recently, the real powerhouse moments came with her old Patsy Cline-time hit “Blue” and fresh versions of old male country singer classics, part of a new album project coming soon to a brain near you. Take, for instance, Rimes’s stunning reading of George Jones’s “He Stopped Loving Her Today:” Pure, poignant, tear-coaxing gold, with twang fully intact.
For another fix of goods from a strong-piped, authentic country gal, check out Miranda Lambert at the Ventura County Fair on Monday. Texan-built Lambert, all of 26, has been on the scene for a few years, with fetching hits like “Kerosene,” “Gunpowder & Lead,” and last year’s bittersweet hit “The House That Built Me.” Like Rimes, she boasts a big, unerring voice and veers into rock terrain at times, but we get the feeling that country music is her heart of homes.
L.A. LOGBOOK: Hearing a whip-cracking fine jazz big band in the big house of the Hollywood Bowl is a special occasion, and thankfully, also a fairly regular occasion. The Bowl has been good to the big band cause on the stylistic roster, and this summer’s big band bash, last Wednesday night, was particularly strong. Hearing this great American medium in the great outdoors with thousands of friends and strangers (6,800 head count this time) almost makes it seem like the tradition is more of a general public event than it is. To the Bowl’s credit, they went down the middle and off to the sides this year, with the Count Basie Orchestra in the headlining slot, but more exciting and adventurous sounds from two famous envelope-pushers, Dave Douglas and Dave Holland.
Holland has led a big band for several years now, and Douglas is a new convert, lured into the fold by his arranger/pianist Jim McNeely. In their sets, paying homage to past jazz greats was part of the order of business—Douglas’s tribute to the great trumpeter Booker Little, “The Persistence of Memory,” and Holland’s Charles Mingus tribute, “Blues for C.M.” On a local note once removed, it’s always a treat to hear the slow-mo splendor of the Basie classic (and music world classic) “Li’l Darlin’,” penned by Neal Hefti, who lived in Santa Barbara for many years before his death. On a pleasant, moonlit night at the historic Bowl, the song sounded like a slice of big band heaven.
MAW WATCH: Don Giovanni. Granada. Friday and Sunday. Be there.