WHAT I DID ON THE FOURTH DEPT.: Is has been enticing to catch Van Dyke Parks, a genuine “great American musician in semi-hiding,” in town recently, in an opening “Sings Like Hell” slot and as a tagalong at a special event at UCSB last year. But hearing the real thing, getting a glimpse inside Parks’s iridescent brain, is a more complicated issue. Solo, duo or in combo form, Parks’s songs are what they are—strong and charming, but also skeletal and sketchy. In the ideal situation, Parks’s sweeping sonic palette and arranger’s genius requires massed, orchestra-plus-rhythm-section forces to fill out the canvas.
That’s precisely what a large throng heard on the Fourth of July in the famed Roskilde Festival in Denmark. Parks was a special attraction at this major, 40+-year-old international festival. It’s the Coachella of Europe, from long before there was a Coachella, with Prince headlining that night. Parks brought along a Californian posse, including ear- and heart-warming vocalist Gaby Moreno (heard at SOhO with David Piltch) singing Parks’s “pan-Americana” arrangements, guitarist Grant Geissman, and Julie Christensen summoning harmony vocals. But the important secret weapon/ingredient was the orchestral fleshing-out by the gifted Danish Radio Youth Ensemble, gamely tackling Parks’s deceptively bright and simple-sounding but also invitingly complex scores.
From his critical role aiding Brian Wilson on Pet Sounds (one of the five great pop albums in history) through his own fascinating discography and hired hand work load, Parks’s charm has involved the creation of twist-laden musical innocence. He’s also a kindly brainiac, whose wit don’t quit. “Kindness is contagious,” he told the crowd at one point, like a wry Southern-gentleman sage. ‘Get sick quick. Get kind.” Hear, hear.
Backstage after the show, Parks seemed ebullient, and was entertaining the idea of pursuing more similar performance opportunities, all while his wife, Sally, finished a watercolor painting.
PLAYING HOOKY: This scribe was, in fact, playing hooky at Roskilde, taking a moment out of the almost dizzyingly dense Copenhagen Jazz Festival, now 32 years into it and clearly one of the great jazz gatherings in the world. Venue-wise, the re-opening of the celebrated old haunt Jazzhus Montmartre was cause for toasting this year, with packed houses soaked up sets by Kenny Barron with guest tenor sax titan-in-training David Sanchez in the historic jazz house reborn. For fans of important cultural architecture, potent jazz goods linked symbiotically with some of the bolder new music halls of the past decade, as Herbie Hancock played in the remarkable, canal-front 2005 Opereen, designed with Danish focus and flourish by Danish architect Henning Larsen. The next night, Joe Lovano joined the spitfire and polish Danish Radio big band in the French architect Jean Nouvel’s must-see Koncerthuset, unveiled last year.
From the formidable Danish jazz front, the fare ranged from ear-challenging material by guitar maverick Marc Ducret’s riveting new brass-dominated band (featuring great Danish trumpeter Kasper Tranberg) to glowingly fine singer Sinne Eeg, with the Tivoli Big Band, in that 19th century-born downtown wonderland. Then there was Kreston Osgood—a vibrant free-spirited drummer and kingpin of a bold new young jazz scene—and friends at JazzClub Loco, spilling blissfully over midnight.
Given the embarrassment of musical riches in early July in this area, between the jazz festival and Roskilde, it’s reasonable to recommend a Danish sojourn with musical antennae up, for the whole family (or an internalized, self-contained family of personalities and tastes).
TO-DOINGS: New West, at SOhO on Sunday, is a casual, idyllic name for a group of young guitarists with chops and musicality in teeming supply. Expect instrumental guitar music informed by folk, jazz, classical and pop, and a sound both easy on the ears and satisfying to the thinking listener’s brain. John Storie, Perry Smith and Brady Cohan are former students at USC, and have been touring, recording and honing their sound, on both acoustic and electric, since 2007. The new album, Sleeping Lady, is an unplugged dazzler, with cameos by rising jazz star vocalist Gretchen Parlato, and it gives steel-string guitar culture something new to chew on.
Meanwhile, back at the Music Academy of the West ranch, summer enticements keep flowing. Next week, the Show to Catch is acclaimed pianist Christopher Taylor’s recital, Wednesday at Hahn Hall. Two years ago, Taylor visited Hahn Hall and gave a reportedly stunning reading of Olivier Messiaen’s masterpiece Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jésus. This time, he moves between the contemporary piano adventure of Fredric Rzewski’s The People United Will Never Be Defeated! to that unparalleled piano repertoire pinnacle, J. S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations.