BLUES IN THE BOUNCING HOUSE: The Santa Barbara Blues Society, one of the deeper and longer-lasting cultural entities in town, going back to the late ‘70s, has been a’roving, in terms of venues, but committed in terms of its musical cause. After years nestled in Victoria Street Theater and then Warren Hall, a favorite venue of late (it gets my vote) has been the Carrillo Recreation Center, the historic room whose spring-loaded dance floor tends to get a good workout when the Blues Society brings in its business.
So shall it go, bump and bounce on Saturday night, when champion blues harmonica player (and advocate) Mark Hummel and guitarist Little Charlie, and band, lead the blues charge. The well-studied and hot-playing Hummel, a regular visitor to Santa Barbara, via his Harmonica Blowout shows, knows his history and his heroes — as in Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He was also recently was featured on a tribute album to Little Walter, as was guitarist Little Charlie. Blues lovers in town will remember him from past shows by his band Little Charlie and the Nightcats. The pieces are in place to expect that, in this house come Saturday night, there will be bounce.
BLUEGRASS, GREENER AND DEEPER: When it comes to old school, been there/done that bluegrass musicians still making the scene, guitarist-singer Del McCoury is one of the reassuring greats, and still picking and singing up a storm. We caught McCoury’s band, featuring his sons Ronnie and Robbie, at Campbell Hall two years ago. Next Thursday at the Campbell, McCoury leads a different colored and more miles-trained horse, with the Masters of Bluegrass, a band with fellow legends Bobby Osbourne, J.D. Crowe, Bobby Hicks and McCoury’s brother Jerry.
CONTEMPORARY MUSIC, HERE AND NOW: Contemporary music has, many years ago, been a part of the programming agenda of the Contemporary Arts Forum (CAF being the erstwhile moniker of the now-named Museum of Contemporary Art Santa Barbara, A.K.A. MCASB). That connection returns next Thursday — a “First Thursday” — when the cleverly, and logically, named Now Hear Ensemble performs next Thursday, October at 7 p.m. Formed by double bassist Federico Llach, an Argentine musician who came to study at UCSB, the Now Hear Ensemble has performed at REDCAT, downstairs at Disney Concert Hall in Los Angeles, and elsewhere in SoCal, and is soon to release the album Made in California, containing music by Golden Stately composers. Next Thursday’s program includes compositions by UCSB professor Clarence Barlow, minimalist/conceptualist composer Tom Johnson, and Llach’s own ping pong-centric work. Bring on the new, in the contemporary compound upstairs at Paseo Nuevo.
JAZZ IN A NUTSHELL ON A FAIRGROUND: For us hopelessly habitual Monterey Jazz Festival fans, who make a point of driving the relatively short jaunt to the ever-idyllic Monterey Bay area each third weekend of September, it can be a bit surprising to realize the compacted cultural intensity of a weekend which often serves as a primer on what’s up in the jazz world. For 52 hours, from Friday evening through last Sunday at midnight, 2013’s 56th annual Monterey Jazz Festival brought it on, from mainstream biz (such as the Clayton Hamilton Jazz Orchestra, including a medley arrangement of Dave Brubeck tunes to honor the belated legend) to sideline stars (e.g., the fascinating, scene-seizing keyboardist Craig Taborn’s quartet, led on grand piano and Farfisa, before he raced over to the arena to play with Dave Holland’s new neo-fusion group Prism, with snaky-fingered guitarist Kevin Eubanks).
Singers made joyful, crowd-pleasing noise, including Bobby McFerrin, whose spirit you all project sounded better than the early stage when he played the Granada earlier this year — which is to say it sounded looser and more relaxed. What he does with Bob Dylan’s “I Shall be Released,” in a subtly inventive arrangement, is something special, for one.
Mighty fine singers also framed the main arena roster, from the rightfully kudoed newcomer Gregory Porter, deftly mixing jazz, soul, gospel and X factors to Sunday’s closer, popular heroine Diana Krall. Krall may be officially midstream in her career, but she keeps surprising, as with her cool new T Bone Burnett-produced celebration of ‘20s swagger, Glad Rag Doll. Best of all, for encores, she gave her rough velvet treatment of deep cuts from the songbook of The Band, including “Whispering Pines” and “Ophelia.” For that alone, we salute her.
Piano jazz has a showcase ally in the festival’s annual piano trio series, hunkering down in the coffee house venues for two or three sets a night. This year’s models were classically infused and wily virtuoso Uri Caine, the young dynamo Orrin Evans, and the post-Bad Plus-y and Euro-phonic piano trio Phronesis (a group to keep an ear out for). Down the way, past the aromatic food area, at Dizzy’s Den, Ravi Coltrane, who has been going stronger and more confidently than ever in the wake of his signing to the Blue Note label, took charge and worked dynamic angles with his group.
One of this year’s no-brainer highlights was a spotlight on the mysterious traveler and jazz Prometheus Wayne Shorter, riding high and sounding amazing in his 80th birthday year. He put on the sharpest (and most composition-geared) quintet show of the five I’ve caught so far this year, and the Shorter worship continued with the world premiere of two new, festival-commissioned tunes — and intriguing ones at that — in the gripping set by the Joe Lovano/Dave Douglas led Sound Prints, one of the boldest new groups in jazz. While on the festival compound, Lovano brought out his group Us Five, and Douglas led his quintet, both fetching and venturesome outfits.
After Krall’s official arena closing set ended, the hardy and music-hungry knew to head over to the Dizzy’s Den venue, where the annual “B3 Blow-out” star Dr. Lonnie Smith and power trio (featuring the fab guitarist Jonathan Kreisberg) was still carrying on in his hip, nimble and soulful way, past the schedule’s bedtime and curfew. Sometimes, the Monterey festival lingers, reluctantly giving into the reality that the party is over, for this year.
These are a few of the reasons, circa 2013, that I plan to renew membership in the Monterey Jazz Fest Kool-Aid Club.