In the Blues Zone
ARTS AWAKEN: Forget what you’re told: January often feels like the cruelest month. Holiday highs and self-inflicted indulgences are over, and it’s back on the bus and straight into a cool, white-knuckled Month of Mondays. The best we can do is to muddle through to February, trying not to say things we’ll later regret to those we love and/or work with. We can also hope that the coming Depression might be downgraded from “Great” to “mild.” And yet : all-American optimism hangs stubbornly in the air. This is the blessed and long-awaited week when the promise of change officially arrives in the form of the Great White House Hope.
Around our town, meanwhile, January is the month when culture again descends after a winter’s nap. The Santa Barbara International Film Festival, starting this weekend and running for 10 days, lights up the landscape and duly tempts us off the streets and away from our daily lives and responsible routines. SBIFF also tends to hit town in a dense moment on the calendar for live music, as it has again this year. The festival is on a happy collision course with the thickening plot of live music enticements, which this weekend includes two blues heroes (Arthur Adams and Robert “Wolfman” Belfour), a guitar-playing wunderkind (Kaki King), restless jazz progeny (the Coryell, Auger, Sample Trio, at SOhO on Sunday), and, from Santa Barbara’s surprisingly fertile classical scene, the ever-impressive San Francisco Symphony. January suddenly got brighter, just pondering these options.
Blues players from outa’ town tend to come on the every-once-in-a-while plan. This weekend, though, the stars have aligned. On Friday night, veteran Adams performs-along with guest Will Jennings-in the first music event of the year in the UCSB MultiCultural Center’s inspired little showcase theater. Then, on Saturday night, the Santa Barbara Blues Society is bringing the 68-year-old Belfour, an impressive and rough-hewn “Mississippi Hill Country” blues player, to Warren Hall for its annual “Member Appreciation Show.”
SYMPHONIC BEAT: In orchestral acoustics news, the honeymoon continues at the Granada, which officially became Santa Barbara’s orchestral room late last spring. Immediately, from the first downbeat, we noticed a substantial improvement over the acoustics of the picturesque but sonically hazardous Arlington. While the Santa Barbara Symphony has settled in as the resident orchestra there, the wondrous presenting organization CAMA (Community Arts Music Association) continues to bring important orchestras from afar into the house. Last May, the spotlight went to the Los Angeles Philharmonic-in its last local appearance led by the grand Finn Esa-Pekka Salonen-and this Saturday, we are paid a visit from the internationally acclaimed West Coast orchestra from the north, the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra (SFSO), under the inspired wand of Michael Tilson Thomas (MTT).
Three years ago, MTT and the SFSO laid out a memorable Mahler‘s Ninth in the Arlington (a concert which actually sounded unusually rich for that room, if memory serves correctly). This year, the program includes Haydn, Brahms, and MTT’s own “Street Songs,” but Mahler is still very much on the orchestra’s collective mind. SFSO recently released a ravishing recording of “Das Lied von der Erde,” featuring baritone Thomas Hampson, the tenth project in the orchestra’s ongoing “Mahler project.”
POETIC RIFFAGE: While the indie-phonic generation has fueled the music scene with a steady flow of inspirational fodder-whether or not terrestrial radio pays any attention-nobody quite matches the achievement of Kaki King. Five years ago, the young and hyper-gifted guitarist dazzled everyone with her virtuosic and also atmospheric acoustic guitar stylings. Comparisons to Michael Hedges were rampant, due to her use of percussive effects, harmonics, and other techniques, and they all contribute to her self-reliant musical voice on the instrument. Not one to settle down too early, King went on to explore an introspective singer/songwriter world. But her Santa Barbara debut, Friday at SOhO, will be all about the mastery and poetics of her guitar playing. Check it out-between films at SBIFF.