THE REICH STUFF: Given that the justifiably world-famous Ojai Music Festival has played host to many “serious music” greats of the past century- including Igor Stravinsky, Aaron Copland, Pierre Boulez (multiple visits), Olivier Messiaen, Gyorgy Ligeti, and Gyorgy Kurtag, etc.-it’s surprising to learn that this year’s Steve Reich focus is Reich’s first Ojai visit since 1973. Back then, he was a not-quite-young upstart performing in his hypnotic phase piece Four Organs. Reich was a maverick lurking on the classical music/experimental music periphery, before works like Music for 18 Musicians and Different Trains made his works and the idea of minimalism salient features of contemporary music in the late 20th century and beyond.
Circa 2008, Reich is 71, still going strong creatively, and enjoying life as one of the handful of acknowledged great American composers. He is, for instance, one of the three cover men on this month’s celebrated British classical magazine Gramophone, alongside John Adams and Osvaldo Golijov (both of whom have been celebrated at Ojai), with the headline “Today’s Great Composers: How they made contemporary lovable again.” Hear, hear.
At Ojai this weekend, the Reich component starts strongly tonight (Thursday), with chamber music including Four Organs and his important new work Daniel Variations (based on the late journalist Daniel Pearl and the Book of Daniel). Other Reich music threads through the 62nd annual festival weekend, and Sunday evening the festival closes with Reich’s masterful choral opus Tehillim.
This year’s festival, which promises to be one of the better programs of recent years, comes courtesy of that inspired keeper of the contemporary music torch David Robertson, who is this year’s music director. The festival will also be graced by the presence of soprano great Dawn Upshaw (who put in a memorable performance at the Lobero last year, post-radiation therapy and sans coiffure, and brave as all get-out).
POUTINE PATROL: It goes by different names-Victo, FIMAV (Festival International de Musique Actuelle Victoriaville) or just Victoriaville-but the annual left-of-center “jazz” festival in this humble, rural-ish, and French-speaking Quebec town has become a real cultural rite of spring on our continent. This year’s 24 shows over five mid-May days marked the festival’s 25th anniversary, a real occasion, especially for an event so fueled by adventure and fringe elements. (Adding caloric-but-yummy gravy to the experience is the regional Quebecois menu item known as poutine, with pommes frites, cheese curd, gravy, and toppings to suit).
Sensibly, FIMAV #25 featured frequent visitors John Zorn and Fred Frith, each with two different projects. Zorn’s fittingly-named The Dreamers traffics in a cool yet strange avant-lounge-surf sound, beautifully wobbling between Marc Ribot’s angular guitar and Kenny Wollesen’s cushy post-Martin Denny vibes. In the opposite corner was Moonchild, Zorn’s noisy metalloid trio (minus Zorn himself) with vocalist Mike Patton, bassist Trevor Dunn, and drummer Joey Baron mustering up a crazy-lovely-cathartic ruckus. Frith, enjoying bursts of creative energy in his sabbatical year from Mills College, has formed a new, brainy rock band, Cosa Brava, and revived his legendary wild, Kurt Weill-esque ’70s band Art Bears, here called Art Bears Songbook, with drummer Chris Cutler and violinist Carla Kihlstedt, who is also in Cosa Brava. Kihlstedt gave a captivating performance in the CAF/Iridian Arts “Strike” series this year.
Other FIMAV highlights included the visionary Roscoe Mitchell’s Note Factory, an elegantly whacked improvisational meeting of Montrealers Rene Lussier (guitar) and Martin Tetreault (turntables), and Japan’s Otomo Yoshihide, another Victo regular. For this columnist’s money, the hottest show came from the all-female, all-free-improvised Norwegian quartet spunkily called : Spunk, featuring inimitable vocalist/knob-twister Maja Ratkje.
TO-DOINGS: Any reasonable excuse to head over the 154 to the idyllic town of Los Olivos is a good one, in our book. Two examples: the blessedly nature-fixated Wildling Art Museum, and belated follow-the-Sideways-map jaunts. Here’s another fine excuse-the Los Olivos Jazz and Olive Festival, Saturday afternoon, June 8, in the downtown Lavinia Campbell Park. This year’s musicians are pianist Stefan Karlsson, from the straighter-ahead angle, and Bobby Bradford’s wondrous Mo’tet, from the straight-meets-avant-garde corner.