WE, AND THEY, ARE THE WORLD: Is there something about the fragile state of the world which enhances our appreciation of culture far from these shores, far from the stomping grounds of what-me-worry corporate America, idiocy-baiting mass media and “ American Idolatry?” Maybe it’s the justifiable skepticism over American arrogance in many parts of the world, or the frustration of those of us Statesiders who still believe in the beauty of peacefully coexistent but disparate viewpoints. Whatever the case, the “outside” world’s culture beckons, beacon-like. We’ve noticed, for instance, that the international component of the Santa Barbara International Film Festival has been particularly compelling in recent years:hmm, a phenom which seems to have coincided with the Bush years, come to think of it.
And on the too-rare occasions when so-called “world music” comes to Santa Barbara, our ears and souls perk up. This weekend is one of those double-header specials, with two recommended ventures away from the shallow depths of the popular American musical two-step. Not surprisingly, both concerts land at UCSB. Friday night brings a notable local debut by the revered South Indian violin duo Ganesh and Kumaresh, brotherly masters of the Carnatic style violin playing, who will be joined by two percussionists, at Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. The concert is sponsored by the estimable Raagmala organization, which has hosted many a celebrated visiting Indian musician.
On Saturday, the MultiCultural Center’s concert season-a great one, indeed–closes to the loamy tune of the Chookasian Armenian Concert Ensemble, led by clarinetist John Chookasian, a New York-born, first generation Armenian-American who has for many years made it his mission and passion to “preserve and present” traditional Armenian music. The ensemble is replete with such indigenous Middle Eastern and/or Armenian instruments as the ancient and proudly Armenian duduk (as heard via the sweetly wistful virtuoso Djavan Gasparyan), the kanoon (ancestor of the piano), the lute-like tarr, and that most ancient instrument, the human voice-belonging to John’s wife, Barbara.
HIGH ON THE HILL: Andrew Hill (1937-2007) was one of those jazz greats too rarely recognized as such during his life in music, partly because he followed his own heart and his own course over an uncharted musical landscape. Full recognition may still be in the offing, posthumously, as often happens in art. But, in a heartening case of late-period fruition, Hill generated a ripple effect of broader acclaim in the waning years of his life, as his series of acclaimed 21st century efforts culminating in last year’s poetic and expansive album Time Lines, a quintet featuring veteran trumpeter Charles Tolliver and nascent saxist Gred Tardy.
Recorded for Blue Note, the label which first hipped the world to his virtues in the ’60s, Hill’s swan song is resplendent in the stuff which made him soar and murmur: he was innately experimental, and innately soulful, and never fell easily into a handy, marketable bag. Elements of Thelonious Monk, Cecil Taylor, and Mal Waldron might be detected in the Hill style, but only as passing reference points.
I spoke with Hill in 1999, just before his last burst of creativity vitality. He talked the walk of an artist with values in the right place. “I like the synergistic part of the music,” he said, “where an audience and performers get together not for what they think the performance will yield them, because those other areas usually just take care of themselves.” He pointed out that “no one has a knowledge of their destiny. You say you can enjoy the moment, every moment, because sometimes looking at it those other ways just disturbs your life’s flow.”
Hill’s name fit, and also perhaps supplied poetic predestination: he made music from his own special hill, with a view of the civic activity below, but with his own quiet alternate wisdom guiding him through the fog and the folly. Thank for the memories, and the recorded legacy, Mr. Hill.
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