Pianist Brad Mehldau

SHOW OF THE WEEK: With the arrival of jazz piano great Brad Mehldau, going solo at the Lobero tomorrow night, the painful jazz drought in Santa Barbara of the past few months officially ends, and in high, concentrated style. Yes, concentrated is the operative word. Mehldau is one of precious few pianists in jazz who, in solo mode, offers up a full-service, three (or four) dimensional musical intensity when left to his own mental and imaginative devices, not to mention his unusually self-sufficient two hands. Solo is not just a cost-cutting gesture for Mehldau, surely the finest jazz pianist (and jazz musician, period?) of his generation.

(For the local record, another bedazzling jazz player who soars in solo mode is Gonzalo Rubalcaba, whose solo set at Campbell Hall a few years ago was one of the more memorable jazz concerts in memory hereabouts, just before he released his must-have Solo album).

Coming soon, Mehldau, with the help of producer Jon Brion, goes wide, production-wise, and invites multiple guests for the first time since 2002’s cool and quirky Largo (produced by Jon Brion and a tribute to both Mehldua’s Los Angeles-based years and the club where he liked to play).

GEARHEADS, UNITE: Music merchants, pardon the pun, have been in synch with the national economic angst since the terrorist attack by Wall Street. Live music has fared better than expected—especially in Santa Barbara, suddenly a weekly hot spot for hot stuff in multiple genres—validating the idea that music is a great and necessary balm (to paraphrase the old stoner’s adage, “times of music and no money will get you through better than times of money and no music”). But, music equipment being a “luxury,” it isn’t flying off the shelves.

That particular angst can be gauged at the NAMM show, the annual emporium, expo and polyphonic, poly-genre noise fest held at the Anaheim Convention Center each January. Last week’s gathering, of instrument and gear companies, retailers, musicians (famed and otherwise), gear gawkers, journalists and others was typically massive (and eventually exhausting) but also had a wary air, on the heels of a meager 2009. Hope is on the rise, though. NAMM remains a trip, and a reality check occasion for anyone involved in music. For one, there are few examples of musical gathering points which so amply illustrate how wildly diverse the pursuit, care and feeding of music is. You wander, perhaps half-dazed, from exhibition hall to hall, noting the wild variety of humanity linked to the awesome yet Balkanized world of music.

On the other hand, demographics mix here. You notice flannel-donning and/or bespectacled indie types lurking wide-eyed in the area devoted to home recording. Companies like Tascam and Olympic have tapped into the new market for compact, high-powered handheld recorders. Digital recording has been put in the hands of the masses, even the wallet-challenged, like never before. Karl Marx would be pleased.

Santa Barbaran NAMM energies tend to radiate outward from the booth of Seymour Duncan, longtime local-global guitar pick-up czar (a cool and benevolent czar with mean Tele licks at the ready). From up SLO way, we note the large spread of Ernie Ball (with a NASA theme this year) and, down in the humble village of the basement hall, National Resophonic, where Bob Brozeman could be found coaxing musical splendor from a 12-string dobro.

Swedes have been working into the international keyboard market, through the rightful popularity of the proudly red nord line of synth/samplers, but also the more esoteric pursuit of old-school analog bliss with the revival of the Mellotron. The heart warms, seeing the revival of other keyboard classics, like the Hammond B-3 and the Rhodes. Off the beat, Taylor Guitars—a woodsy, upstairs retreat from the NAMM madness equipped with a showcase club—showed off an eccentric intrigue, an 8-string guitar with double choruses for the inside strings. I’ll take one, to go. Layaway, anyone?


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