SOCIALIZE YOURSELF: Of all the culture-enriching and status-quo–bashing achievements in the strange, wonderful life of musician-producer-rootsy-gadfly Ry Cooder, one of the most profound is his semi-accidental feat of making the Buena Vista Social Club a smash international sensation. Cooder traveled to Cuba, became intrigued by the sound of the vintage, pre-Fidel “son” style of Cuban music, and corralled aging and great musicians to record the 1997 album which, also fueled by Wim Wenders’s documentary on the saga, became a “world music” success story of vast proportions, beyond anybody’s dreams.
By now, all these years later, the Buena Vista Social Club and its assorted musical offshoots and ripples have taken on a life of their own. They put out a live album recorded at Carnegie Hall two years ago and just won a Latin Grammy. The story continues. One of those tasty offshoots is the ascendancy of singer Omara Portuondo, who beguiles on her own artistic steam, as we heard at the Arlington several years ago. Portuondo returns to town on Monday, November 1, at the Lobero Theatre as part of the Jazz at the Lobero series. Calling her jazz stretches idiomatic reality a bit, although her reach does sashay over to the realm of jazz, like many open-eared Cuban musicians in the past, say, half century. Then again, the Buena Vista Social Club has been a crowd-pleasing favorite on the jazz festival circuit since the ’90s.
Portuondo was born in 1930 and was a dancer and singer of note from the 1950s on. Now, she travels the world and wins hearts with her ability to dance—literally—and to dance between genres musically. It’s going to be nice to have her back in our midst.
FRINGE PRODUCT: It’s a bit hard to believe that the grand, subversive story of The Bad Plus is now a decade long. At least that was the point when their stunning Columbia albums began to stir excitement (and controversy among some moldier jazz fans and critics) about this fresh, 21st-century variation on the jazz piano trio. They rocked, unplugged, and offered humor, progressivism, ingenious pop covers (or reinventions), and plenty of grist for listeners’ cerebral and visceral mills.
After detouring into For All I Care, an album with limber vocalist Wendy Lewis that has a song list including Nirvana, The Bad Plus is blissfully back on the instrumental trail, with a fresh, brain-bracing vengeance on their wonderful new album Never Stop (Emarcy). For the first time in their discography, all the material is original, and each of the players—pianist Ethan Iverson, bassist Reid Anderson, and drummer Dave King—brings an uncanny blend of intuitive wits and a will to tweak clichés and expectations to the writing and playing. The Bad Plus is still super bad.
RADIOPHONIC NOTES: In last week’s shamelessly left-leaning (as in left-end-of-the-dial) roundup of regional airwave offerings, we neglected to mention a profound spot on the borderline between the noncommercial and commercial zones of the radio highway. Let us now praise KDB (93.7 FM), Santa Barbara’s proudly longstanding classical music outlet, a beacon at a time when the culture of classical radio stations—especially on the commercial tip—is suffering privations along with everyone else. These days, the station is owned by the Santa Barbara Foundation, adding to the community-fueled, centralizing passion for keeping its aim true. KDB’s importance in this community hit a new high two weeks back when it did a live broadcast of the Santa Barbara Symphony’s grand season-opening performance of Beethoven’s Ninth at the Granada. This was a major media-connective event in town. Encore.
In effect, while corporate America does its level best to brainwash citizens of all ages to ignore serious or alternative music, there are great resources publicly available to anyone who cares to explore , say, from KDB on down the FM dial. Young people forming their musical tastes would do well to hang out down there, along with bored Boomers and anyone else resistant to all-American complacency.