THINKING JAZZ: To paraphrase Garrison Keillor, it’s been a fairly quiet season for jazz in UCSB’s Arts & Lectures program, compared to the usual high standards. Last fall’s presentation of wannabe-jazz-flavored pop singers Steve Tyrell and Queen Latifah hardly satisfied any jazz fan’s needs, and Herbie Hancock’s concert was disappointingly glib and commercial, in contrast to his several more venturesome previous shows in Santa Barbara. The Monterey Jazz Festival 50th anniversary project aggregated fine jazz players, but it is still just a loose all-star road show at this point.
All that, however, promises to change next Tuesday at the Granada, when the stars align, and this grand new venue will be made safe for the jazz muse. For the maiden voyage of jazz at the Granada, Arts & Lectures is hosting a tour stop by the poetic power trio of Bobby McFerrin, Chick Corea, and Jack DeJohnette, vocalist, pianist and drummer extraordinaire. Each is a consummate and restlessly creative musician at the top of his respective game, and they are coming together as a trio for the first time. The concert should be one of the greatest Santa Barbara jazz shows of the year, and it couldn’t happen in a nicer room.
Granada memories take some of us back to the mid 1970s, when Chick Corea’s electrified Return to Forever performed in the theater at a time-before it was chopped up into a multiplex cinema-when the Granada hosted many major pop and jazz concerts. (That incarnation of Return to Forever is slated for a reunion tour soon, after 25 years apart).
Bobby McFerrin has often performed impressively in town, most recently in a striking all-improvised concert with his group Voicestra last season at Campbell Hall. Drumming legend Jack DeJohnette, whose myriad interests include the Keith Jarrett Trio, Trio Beyond, and other projects for his Golden Beams label, has played less frequently in Santa Barbara. But fans of the glorious, sadly short-lived Jazz Hall on Victoria Street may remember his mid -’90s appearance there with his Oneness band.
What the trio creates as a collective will be something else entirely. Warning: These guys will be making it up as they go along. Improvisation is their agenda, pure and simple. In jazz, gatherings of various musicians can result in fresh and inviting new musical equations-assuming they all have something to say, interactively. McFerrin, Corea, and DeJohnette, who have already played with each other in different settings, share a free and flexible approach to music-making and virtuoso chops-but one they never feel obliged to unleash for grandstanding’s sake. They also stake deep claims in improvisation, but can keep things engaging and melodic without resorting to abstraction. To wit, they appeal to head and heart, with detours to the funny bone (especially from McFerrin’s corner).
FRINGE PRODUCT: At a time when the business side of jazz is trying to find its bearings and fretting over its future, pianist Brad Mehldau is one of the few pillars of the medium. He’s a mid-career great, going about his profound business, all the while validating the music as the Great American Art Form. And for Mehldau, that means taking the time-honored context of the jazz piano trio, digging in, and also stretching out within that form. He does so with becalmed bravura on his latest album, Brad Mehldau Trio Live (Nonesuch), recorded in the subterranean jazz temple of the Village Vanguard. In taut and artful cahoots with bassist Larry Grenadier and drummer Jeff Ballard, Mehldau surveys his usual musical topography over the course of a wholly satisfying two-disc set. He nods to more or less contemporary pop with expansive versions of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and that awesome Soundgarden standard “Black Hole Sun,” rendered into an epic 23-minute journey. But he also shows what he knows and is curious about on “More Than You Know,” “The Very Thought of You,” and Coltrane’s “Countdown.” Jazz, 21st century-style, doesn’t get much better than this