Sally Barr and her new jazz orchestra gave a fine and highly promising performance at SOhO on Monday night. Barr, a violinist who has long been a mainstay in that capacity on the Santa Barbara classical music scene, showed once again that she has a terrific voice and unerring taste in both material and musicians. The set list read like a lesson in crucial jazz standards, the kind everyone should know. “Ain’t Misbehavin'” was followed by “April in Paris,” “You’d Be So Nice to Come Home To,” and an up-tempo version of “Blue Skies.” The band, a handpicked assemblage of the absolute top players in town, included Jim Connolly (bass), Jon Nathan (drums/arrangements), Brad Rabuchin (guitar), Tom Buckner (sax/flute/clarinet), and Jim Mooy (trumpet). Everyone got plenty of solo time, and the Nathan, Connolly, and Rabuchin rhythm section did an amazing job of keeping things swinging. Barr’s voice cut through the big sound with vibrant color and emotion, her phrasing a model of clarity and sophistication, and every word etched precisely in sound.
Just when Mooy or Buckner broke off another hot solo, Barr started in on the chorus again, and just when it seemed that it couldn’t get much better, there was a break and the band became an orchestra. For “Tenderly” and “What Is This Thing Called Love?” the main group was joined onstage by a quartet string section that included violinists Lisa Weinstein and Claude Lise Lafranque, along with violist Kirsten Monke and cellist Claudia Kiser. For some of these numbers, which were all fully orchestrated, Nathan left his drummer’s seat and stood to conduct the strings. Monke took a beautiful cello solo on “Tenderly,” and Connolly took one of several splendid bass solos.
“Caravan” brought the collective back off the break sounding like the great house bebop orchestra this town (and venue) deserves. “Green Dolphin Street” followed, along with too many more classics to count. Ending with a particularly ebullient “You Don’t Know What Love Is,” Barr and company showed the crowd that there is much more fire and passion to come.