MUSICAL PLEASURES, BIG AND PERSONAL: It’s a big week for intimate musical pleasures. Between the Assad Brothers on Monday night and uncommonly fine pianist Stephen Hough on Tuesday, Santa Barbara should be embarrassed by its cultural riches in a two-day stretch.
Any chance to hear Brazil’s dynamic guitar duo the Assad Brothers should be seized, but catching them in the close-up ambient splendor of the county courthouse Mural Room is extra special. UCSB’s Arts and Lectures borrowed the “Chamber Music in Historic Sites” concept from the founding Los Angeles organization, and it has been a great addition to our cultural life, especially considering this city’s scenic spaces, ripe for retooling into temporary chamber music venues.
CAMA has ushered in some of the world’s greatest pianists in recent years, including Alfred Brendel (twice), Andr¡s Schiff, and Richard Goode. One rising fringe character, whom we came to know and love at his local debut at the Lobero last season, is the British pianist Stephen Hough. This year’s program may look middling, with Beethoven’s last sonata and a pack of waltzes, spiced by a Webern tidbit. But Hough has a knack for ennobling, energizing, and making mysterious whatever he touches.
FRINGE PRODUCT: It has often been said of the great keyboardist-composer-groovemeister and still underrated legend Joe Zawinul that he has a big band at his fingertips. From his early work with Weather Report in the early ’70s-when synthesizers were young, primitive, and monophonic-until five minutes ago, he has worked textural and digital magic by blending colors in sweet, ragged, and surprising ways. It’s all in the distinctive sonic mix.
Now, the “one-man big band” analogy comes to fruition in real time, with real ensemble resources. Brown Street (Heads Up) thrillingly documents an ambitious project, bringing Zawinul’s music and playing together with acclaimed WDR Big Band Kln from Germany, joined by Vince Mendoza‘s ¼bercool and faithful charts. This two-disc set is likely the first great jazz album of 2007, and something of a revelation for Zawinul devotees and skeptics alike. The latter camp, perhaps reflexively turned off by electronic sounds, can hear in the tapestries of big band sound the potency and uniqueness of Zawinul’s swing, from New York by way of his native Austria, and global points between.
Weather Report’s songbook, although closed since they disbanded in 1985, is well accounted for here, partly because the project began as a Weather Report tribute effort. So we hear classics like the ballad “A Remark You Made,” “Boogie Woogie Waltz” (which Zawinul also regularly plays in his current band, Zawinul Syndicate), and the sinuous seduction of “Black Market.” Some of the most arresting tracks, though, are from more obscure corners of the Report library, including the wickedly cool-and fast-“Fast City,” the shuffling spunk of “Night Passage,” and the hypnotic, mysterious linearity of “Procession.” Those tunes represent Weather Report’s later chapters, a rich and overlooked period, long after the public “Birdland” buzz had worn off.
Other aspects of Zawinul’s oeuvre emerge as well, including a beautiful take on his seminal ballad “In a Silent Way,” which was made famous by Miles Davis. “Carnavalito,” a Martian/tropical raver, comes from Zawinul’s underdog 1986 solo album Dialects, and the Syndicate tune “March of the Lost Children” marches to its own drummer(s).
“Brown Street” itself, an entirely improvised piece from Weather Report’s 8:30, epitomizes Zawinul’s charm-ephemeral, tough, and joyous by turns, in the moment and for the ages. In all, these two hours with Zawinul and the WDR band is both a nostalgic trip through Zawinul’s archives and a view of that music through a new prism. As much as Zawinul is a self-made, self-generating sound factory, his music sounds spectacular and swinging with horns.
TO-DOINGS: The adventuresome Primavera Festival at UCSB continues through Saturday. Tonight’s ECM concert features clarinetist Gareth Davis and Friday’s concert brings guitarist Seth Josel to the spotlight, along with composer Clarence Barlow, a welcome newcomer to the faculty. (Got e? firstname.lastname@example.org.)