SIGHTS, MEET SOUNDS: For the next 10 days in Santa Barbara, the main event and subject at hand on the cultural front will be matters filmic. This is the annual indulgence known as the Santa Barbara International Film Festival, our city’s premier festival, issuing the usual flood of stimuli, from enticements of the foreign and art-house corner to celebrity sightings and much talk about the medium and the business and scuttlebutt around it.
Music, as it happens, doesn’t entirely take a holiday in the course of the festival, and some memorable musical materials have passed through the festival’s recent programs. Last year, Neil (Crowded House) Finn was in the spotlight in the documentary The Sun Came Out, about his benefit project, and then the man was in the house at SOhO after the screening for a tasty blast of his music, in a band including Lisa Germano. Also last year, the two famed “Charlies” who are part of the small contingent of world-class jazz musicians in SoCal — Los Angeleno Charlie Haden and Santa Barbaran Charles Lloyd — had new docs about them screened here, and they were on hand for Q&As afterward. (On a side note, the high point of the Haden film, Rambling Boy, was a duet encounter with his old ally, pianist Keith Jarrett, and that meeting, arranged for the documentary, led to them recording one of last year’s finest jazz albums, Jasmine).
Two years ago, a documentary on the eccentric all-American genius Brian Wilson making his last album (which turned out to be more of an insider EPK — electronic press kit — project than a full-fledged documentary) was premiered and discussed at the Lobero Theatre, where Wilson himself had brought his ace band to play only a few months earlier.
For this year’s model, SBIFF itself actually closes on a musical note, with the premiere of Julian Napier’s adaptation of the beloved Georges Bizet opera in contemporary movie style, Carmen in 3D (which sounds like a joke title, along the lines of Bambi Meets Godzilla, but no). From the boomer pop zone, Morgan Neville’s Troubadours deals with the phenomenon of the site-and-sound symbiosis of James Taylor, Carole King, and other singer/songwriters back in the day, who found a thriving scene in Los Angeles and especially at venues like the Troubadour. For the next 10 days, we’ll be all eyes and ears, in and out of the blur.
FRINGE PRODUCT: Joe Lovano, possibly the greatest mid-career tenor player in jazz today, continues his strong discography on Blue Note with his imaginative, innately hip new Charlie Parker tribute, Bird Songs. Lovano is rare among saxists for his natural ability to work across supposed boundaries, camps, and attitudes — stirring up freer instincts with well grounded jazz approaches, including, of course, bebop. That delicate balance is especially in effect in his current band, Us Five, with two (count ’em) drummers, Otis Brown III and Francisco Mela, pianist James Weidman, and bassist wonder Esperanza Spalding. It’s an inspired, distinctive, loose, and tight moveable feast of a group.
Lovano unveils some fresh ideas about how to pay tribute to the great world of Bird, with new arrangements and attitude adjustments on Parker themes both familiar and lesser known. The proceedings open with a percolating “Passport” and close, eleven tracks later, with a lazing cool spin on “Yardbird Suite.” Two medley-fied miniatures, clocking in at less than two minutes each — “Birdyard” and “Blues Collage” — lay out and celebrate the beautiful maze-like math of Bird’s bop lines/heads. He revisits and reinvents the typically up-tempo “Donna Lee” as a slow, blowsy ballad, dancing around the changes with Ben Webster-like suavity, finally landing on the famous melody, but sculpted into a new shape. In short, Parker and Lovano shine mightily and subtly on Bird Songs.
Speaking of Spalding, S.B. jazz fans can rejoice and mark calendars for a strong February, with Spalding’s band at Campbell Hall (February 27), and the striking guitar summit of Bill Frisell and John Scofield, in trio mode, at the Lobero (February 12). Be there