STRING THINGS: For the next week and a half, Santa Barbara’s cultural scene will be awash in guitar music, and not just the usual pop tart parade. The Santa Barbara Symphony’s Second International Guitar Festival, Return of the Guitars, comes busting through the cultural portals with a greater force than the first time around, two years ago. The grand Los Angeles Guitar Quartet is at the center of things, performing the new Sergio Assad concerto for four guitars and orchestra the weekend of March 28-29, and also premiering an intriguing new “Don Quixote” project at the Lobero on Wednesday, with Santa Barbara’s own John Cleese as actor/narrator. Other guitarists in the 805 next week: ex-Wings man Laurence Juber at SOhO on Monday, Leo Kottke at the Luke Theatre on Tuesday, and jazz great Russell Malone with Ron Carter‘s trio at the Lobero next Thursday. Off the beaten path, check out the classically trained Los Angeles Electric 8, at SOhO, Saturday at 6 p.m. (More info: thesymphony.org.)
Wait, there’s more: Although it’s not officially part of the festival, the biggest guitar news of the week arrives at Campbell Hall on Friday, when the masterful jazz guitarist John McLaughlin shows up with the all-star Five Peace Band, alongside keyboard legend and fellow fusion pioneer Chick Corea, bassist Christian McBride, alto saxist Kenny Garrett and drummer Vinnie Colaiuta. This is one of those special, catch-it-while-you-can groupings, which may or may not alight the scene again. Now 67 and going strong, McLaughlin, certainly one of the top 10-or top five?-greatest living guitarists, blew through town a year and a half ago at the Lobero with his neo-fusion band 4th[cq] Dimension and is hopefully making Santa Barbara a more regular stop in his travels.
NEWS FROM THE CULT OF KEITH: While the jazz world swirls and frets and metamorphoses, one centering force is the presence of one of the music’s greatest and longest running groups, the 26-year-old Keith Jarrett Trio, with bassist Gary Peacock and drummer Jack DeJohnette. In some strange but also comforting way, the Cult of Keith continues, undaunted by the “outside” or “inside” world of jazz. Last Wednesday, the trio once again landed in one of its favorite west coast rooms, UCLA’s Royce Hall, and put on a notably long, generous-in many ways-and deeply musical show. We might have sensed that the sometimes temperamental Jarrett was in a warm and expansive mood when he approached the microphone before playing and proposed a teasing riddle, introducing the first tune, “Life is Just a Bowl of Cherries,” as “both a lie and the truth.”
Much of the best came first, in a long set including an especially adventurous invention on the theme of “Solar,” opening with a micro-overture on solo piano, then moving inside and outside with the group, with a rangy sounding DeJohnette refraining from the magnetic pull of a swing groove until the end. As has become a tradition, their version of Thelonious Monk’s “Straight, No Chaser” was an onramp into the most avant-garde maneuvers of the night, an “out” place this trio can go with the best of ’em.
One of this night’s most memorable moments was also blessed with sublime simplicity: the way Jarrett caressed and phrased the beautiful melody of “Once Upon at Time,” as if channeling Frank Sinatra, reminded us of his virtually improvisation-free album The Melody and the Night with You, in which the pianist’s touch and “singing” voice were up front and center. Nobody plays the piano like this guy, then or now.
Surprising us again at the beginning of the second set, Jarrett actually took a request for “Autumn Leaves.” Before a lustrous encore of “You Belong to Me,” Jarrett offered a cryptic statement: “It’s not about the money. It’s about the quality of the energy.” On this night, the quality control and energy control were riding high.