Let the Chamber Begin

by Josef Woodard

NOT-SO-SECRET CHAMBER: One of the Santa Barbara
classical scene’s most inviting yet semi-secret charms opens next
week, when the Museum of Art opens its intimate auditorium to
another round of world-class classical artists, in a room just
large enough yet just small enough to achieve chamber music
nirvana. With this remarkable series, the magical potential of
chamber music comes fully to fruition, as stunning musicianship and
a clement room join forces.

One of the finest young string quartets around, the impressive
Calder String Quartet, continues its series of
visits on Tuesday. They’ll no doubt lend musical polish and wisdom
to a program of Shostakovich,
Ravel, and — for contemporary
measure — Christopher Rouse.

But the concert to go out of your way to catch is on Thursday,
as guitar virtuoso Paul Galbraith returns here,
with his eight-string “Brahms” guitar and bounteous musicality in
tow. Scottish-born and now Sao Paulo-based, Galbraith has garnered
considerable attention with his customized instrument, played
upright like a cello and with a wooden sound box for added
resonance. For those as yet uninitiated to the Galbraith
experience, it’s an odd sight at first, but is also anything but a

Beyond his empathetic relationship with his instrument,
Galbraith distinguishes himself by transcribing and adapting music
from musical corners not normally associated with the guitar. Yes,
he continues to passionately play and arrange Bach
(a lifelong task for any self-respecting classical guitarist). But
rather than dip into the usual Spanish and Latin American guitar
music to flesh out the repertoire, Galbraith bravely heads toward
untapped resources of Haydn (whose music
blissfully graces one of his several albums on Delos),
Mozart, Ravel, and other composers who mostly
didn’t write for guitar, but who wrote beautiful music suitable for
adapting. Galbraith, in short, is one of the wonders of the
classical world, even if not enough people know it yet. Another
opportunity to hear him close-up in the SBMA auditorium is worth
clamoring over and arriving early.

FRINGE PRODUCT: What’s this, yet another
reissue box by one of the select few late jazz greats who are
eating up the imperiled jazz charts? Yes, John
is back, a year after the unearthed live
recording of Thelonious Monk’s group with Coltrane
was released — indisputably 2005’s greatest jazz album. Now comes
the stunning six-disc Fearless Leader on Prestige/Concord. Put
simply, it’s another must-have addition to Coltrane-ana, but at a
heftier price: consider it an early Christmas gift, to yourself or
someone you love — and to whose stereo you have easy access.

As the years go by and jazz struggles to find its forward
momentum, our ears and hearts keep going back to the masters of the
idiom. Of the post-bebop crop, there are the Three Great
M’s — Miles, Monk, and
Mingus. There is the period- and
genre-transcending Duke Ellington, a mountain unto
himself, and our great free spirit Ornette
, who continues to suggest the shape of jazz to
come. But it is Coltrane who can now reasonably be considered the
greatest, deepest soloist jazz ever produced, and the particular
epiphany leading to this conclusion is contained in this compelling
box set, approximately six hours of his recordings for Prestige
between 1957 and 1958.

Coltrane’s famed ’60s band, with McCoy Tyner, Elvin Jones, and
Jimmy Garrison, has been thoroughly explored and repeatedly
reissued, yet we too rarely check in on his early days, and to hear
him play standards like “I Hear a Rhapsody,” “I Love You,” “Spring
is Here,” and “Time After Time,” hinting at his expansive
expressive reach to come, makes for buried cultural treasure of a
striking sort. Fearless Leader is the first of three boxed sets of
Coltrane’s early recordings planned by Concord — which bought the
Fantasy/Prestige label last year and is doing a great stewardship
job, so far. If the next two have anywhere near the power of the
first, we need to start saving up money and shelf space now.

(Got e? fringebeat@aol.com.)


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