GOOD NEWS/BAD NEWS DEPT.: As we speak, breathe, and read, our beloved Chapala Street is under siege, being trampled underfoot by over-sized architectural grotesques. In homage, we cry in our beers at Elsie’s. The central artery of State Street-with a McStarbux on every other block and rent hikes pushing out many non-franchise businesses-threatens to morph into a corporate theme park. Old-school Santa Barbara lovers may, on a bad day in paradise, fear the worst for the fate and the soul of America’s greatest little city.
And the burning question is, now, with the tourist season heating up and hip friends and family coming to town, where should we steer our discerning friends and visitors for a taste of real, non-homogenized and non-corporate-ized Santa Barbara? Thankfully, all is not lost. For eats, for instance, you can’t go wrong with any Cajun Kitchen, the Zen Yai, either Rose Cafe, or that shrine-like favorite La Super Rica.
For live music off the State Street grid, The Mercury Lounge is a compact and magical enclave tucked away on Hollister in Old Town Goleta (still no McStarbux there, yet). In one recent week, John Doe and the super-cool Swedish band Little Dragon packed ’em in there. Muddy Waters, the hub of a comfortably loose-fit stretch of Haley Street, is another magnetic destination for those seeking funkier charms and a heady, fine schedule of music. Touring bands of varying indie and singer/songwriter stripes have put the place on the larger map, and fringe fodder also finds its way into the inviting space.
Thursday (May 22), for instance, the Santa Barbara New Music Series (formerly known as “Experimental Music Night”) brings to Muddy Waters two great improvisational jazz musicians-Hal Onserud and Mike Vlatkovich. Bassist Onserud has worked with the Dutch scene-i.e. Han Bennink and Misha Mengelberg-and with left-end legends like Bill Dixon and William Parker. Trombonist Vlatkovich is simply one of the strongest and most underrated jazz musicians on the West Coast, last heard locally this spring at the MultiCultural Center in Bobby Bradford‘s Mo’tet. There, he burned and simmered and joked and cut loose.
VOICES ON BOTH SIDES OF THE STREET: Lucky for us, Marilyn Horne has been “summering” in Santa Barbara for many years, and we have gotten to know her well through her gleaming work with the Music Academy of the West, interfacing with the public in Master Classes and her annual August opera production. She steps into a different kind of spotlight on Saturday afternoon at the Granada, singing popular songs with her sonorous friend, Broadway legend Barbara Cook. Together, they’ll offer their diverse yet complementary approaches to the Great American songbook.
FRINGE PRODUCT: At last September’s inaugural Solvang Jazz Festival, despite the presence of well-known and veteran names, the most inspiring sound heard was that of stellar young pianist Taylor Eigsti, who is all of 23. His dynamo of a trio cooked up some fascinating music at the Royal Scandinavian Inn (arguably, the hippest music ever heard in that space). Now, we can-to cop the cliche-take that sound home with us, with Eigsti’s striking second album for Concord Records, Let It Come to You. Opening with a fresh arrangement of Cole Porter’s “I Love You” (accentuating that song’s implied emotional question mark factor) and closing with Eigsti’s “Fallback Plan Suite,” it’s an impressive statement, overall. The highlight track, actually, may be his take on Pat Metheny’s cool tune “Timeline,” with guest Joshua Redman in a tenor sax/piano tte- -tte.
At a time when there is an abundance of strong young jazz musicians, in inverse proportion to the availability of opportunities for recording and touring, it’s exciting to hear this kind of work, which is both accessible and adventurous, contemporary-minded yet grounded in tradition.
TO-DOINGS: The Santa Barbara Blues Society’s next doing hits Warren Hall on Saturday, with Nat Dove, veteran blues pianist, educator, author, and Bakersfield Blues Preservation Society director.