Poetry Meets Jazz at Disney Hall

The L.A. Philharmonic Digs the Beats

Joshua Redmon

L.A./S.B. LOGBOOK: Last week at Walt Disney Concert Hall, variously defined beats converged with and confused each other when the L.A. Philharmonic’s game-facing West Coast, Left Coast festival paid respect to jazz, sort of, in Night of the Beats. The concept here was to blend poetry, especially of the bebop-inspired beat poets, with the performances of actual, live, human jazz musicians. The artist list included Kurt Elling, Exene Cervenka, and musicians John Handy, Joshua Redman, Peter Erskine, Christian McBride, and Alan Broadbent.

Of local note, the program opened with a set by Santa Barbara’s own gift to the jazz world (or vice versa?), Charles Lloyd. Lloyd, on an inspired roll at 71, sounded solid with his great current quartet, a poetic (that is, musically poetic) powerhouse with pianist-of-the-moment Jason Moran, ace drummer Eric Harland, and bassist Reuben Rogers; it’s certainly one of the finest ensembles Lloyd has led in the 40-plus years of his career. Lloyd was especially alive and on fire when putting his tenor through seek-mode paces. But while poet Michael McClure intoned his lines, in keeping with the evening’s theme of beat poetry-meets-live jazz, Lloyd-mostly on flute for that segment-and company felt uncomfortably sidelined, and turned into illustrators. Do jazz and poetry actually get along, or was that just a beatnik myth, shuffled off into the musty corners of history and cultural ideas whose time should never have come? The jury’s still out.

Generally, this West Coast, Left Coast festival has been a wonder, including overdue respects for Frank Zappa’s “longhair” music, conducted by John Adams, and the music of former UCSB professor William Kraft. Also heard was current Santa Barbara resident and wildman West Coast minimalist Daniel Lentz, who was accounted for in the Piano Spheres concert, with pianists Vicki Ray and Gloria Cheng crisply navigating the wily, brain-goosing maze of Lentz’s “NightBreaker.”

FRINGE PRODUCT GIFT GUIDE, CONT’D.: For years, saxophonist Joshua Redman stoked the fires of traditional jazz formats, with a strong but derivative and not especially distinctive voice as player and bandleader. We’ve heard him thusly, at Campbell Hall, and later as head of the first incarnation of the SFJazz Collective (which has become much bolder in its second phase). For years, Redman has been a reliable force in jazz-a charming communicator and a flexible enough musician to slalom between different idiomatic poles, even when he hasn’t seemed entirely comfortable in the given stylistic garb.

Lately, though, Redman-in midstride in his career-has been heating up by paring down. He has worked in a revised take on the organ trio tradition with Sam Yahel, in his Elastic Band project, and has bravely delved into the chordless trio format, with increasingly attention-grabbing results. With this year’s model, Compass (Nonesuch), Redman ventures into some of the most intriguing music of his career, by mixing and matching two trios: with drummers Brian Blade and Gregory Hutchinson and bassists Larry Grenadier and Reuben Rogers, among the finest on their instruments on the current scene. On some tracks-such as the opening “Uncharted,” “March,” and the closing “Through the Valley”-the rhythm sections double up, in a post-Ornette Coleman manner, but to fresh-sounding ends.

CRESCENT CITY CHRISTMASING: For most-though not all-Americans, two entities on the time/space/place continuum likely to inspire warm thoughts are Christmas and New Orleans. The two converge next Tuesday, December 22, at the Granada, when the Preservation Hall Jazz Band makes one of its almost annual stops in town, but this time locked into the yuletide musical parade. Its Christmas-themed concert, Creole Christmas, promises to be the hippest one in town since the Blind Boys of Alabama decorated the cultural calendar at the Marjorie Luke two years ago.

While the humble, hoary Preservation Hall in the French Quarter has sure allure for visitors, so does the chance to check in with the band on the road. Personnel naturally ebb and flow: nearly 20-year veteran clarinetist Ralph Johnson (1938-2009) passed away last week, but the timeless trad-jazz sound groove continues.


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