THE FIDDLER INSIDE THE VIOLINIST: Gilles Apap‘s multiple musical personalities have made themselves at home on Santa Barbara’s stages for many years, and for that, we are thankful. A bona fide classical virtuoso, Apap has a taste that goes beyond the classical repertoire to include Celtic, Carnatic, “gypsy,” and bluegrass music, and he has distaste for dressing up and playing the stereotypical classical musician role. He hardly needs an introduction by now, and yet his latest album represents a fresh angle, at least in terms of his recording. While he has released several albums now on his own Apapaziz label, Gilles Apap and Friends is the first to document his love of bluegrass and old-timey music, and it’s a lovable doozy of an album.
So here he is, having just returned from touring Europe playing the arduous Alban Berg Violin Concerto with various orchestras. On a break between world-traveling stints, he stops home in Arroyo Grande for some well-timed surfing action and a CD release concert at the Marjorie Luke Theatre on Friday. It’s all in a month’s work for a down-home virtuoso fiddler.
THE MAN WITH THE GOLDEN STRINGS: Tom Ball, we thought we knew ye. Yes, Ball is known far and wide as an internationally respected master blues harp player, and half of the cherished duo Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan. But Ball is also a masterful guitar player, with a penchant for creating unique finger-picking arrangements on steel string guitar. Now sporting a solo guitar discography three titles deep, Ball has reminded us of this secret love again with his new one, Music for Films (Dog Boy), a crisp-sounding and crisply-conceived project recorded at David West’s Studio Z.
Ball’s concept album will appeal to fans of smartly outfitted acoustic guitar and film music, of Hollywood and “art” camps. He includes “Over the Rainbow” and the Beatles tune “Yesterday” (heard in Help!), but also moves in surprising directions through movie music’s annals. It may be a natural fit hearing “Manha de Carnaval-aka the popular “Black Orpheus”-and Ry Cooder’s theme for Walter Hill’s The Long Riders together. Less expected is his version of the theme from To Kill a Mockingbird by the late, great, longtime Santa Barbaran Elmer Bernstein.
Retro TV fans will involuntarily grin hearing Gounod’s “Funeral March of a Marionette,” the darkly perky theme song to Alfred Hitchcock Presents. The great Ennio Morricone is the only composer on here with more than one treatment, both from the composer’s warmly romantic side rather than his kitsch side-the themes to Il Maestro e Margherita and Once Upon a Time in the West. Ball does refreshing wonders with movie themes-cum-jazz real book chestnuts-“Secret Love” (from Calamity Jane, of all things) and Jerome Kern’s “The Way You Look Tonight” (from Swing Time).
Have no fear: Ball still sings and plays the country blues with the best of ’em. But guitar-wielding detours such as this are pure delights for the ears and soul.
FRINGE PRODUCT FOR ALL AGES AND PERSUASIONS: Pity the pretty jazz vocalist. Music journalist types get CDs by attractive singers, and immediately internal alarms go off. We too often assume that marketing and cosmetic appeal will trump musicality (and jazz is a genre where no one can hide behind surfaces or Pro Tools manipulations). It’s an unfortunate stereotype, exposed in all its folly this year by the arrival of Canadian chanteuse Sophie Milman‘s marvel of an album, Make Someone Happy (Linus/Koch).
She looks like a model and sings like an angel with a personal hotline to the emotional and technical depths necessary for good jazz singing. Listen to her supple readings of “People Will Say We’re in Love” and “It Might as Well be Spring,” or her diversions into pop, with Stevie Wonder’s “Rocket Love” and a nod to Canadian guitar hero Randy Bachman, who wrote and plays on “Undun.” This is one of the surprise charmers of the jazz year. Don’t be distracted by her surface beauty. The deep stuff is what counts.