Blues at the Showgrounds and Jazz in Monterey

Tommy Castro Is Hot

BLUES SOCIETAL HEARING: Tommy Castro, the seasoned and saucy fifty-something blues maestro from the Bay Area, is next in the roster of blues shows presented by the Santa Barbara Blues Society (SBBS), this Friday, September 17, at Earl Warren Showgrounds’ Warren Hall, which has morphed into Santa Barbara’s official, culturally imbued blues haven. Castro, who has played SOhO in the past, returns to the revered SBBS series, in the wake of one of his strongest albums yet, Hard Believer (Alligator). On a varied lot of straight blues, blues-rock, and rhythm-and-blues tracks, including “It Is What It Is” by the late Stephen Bruton, Castro works his guitar and voice in ways that grab at the ear and heart.

Tommy Castro
Courtesy Photo

Castro’s star has been rising of late, but this wave of acclaim—including a four-pack of honors at this year’s Blues Music Awards from the Blues Foundation—comes on the heels of a strong and sturdy life in the trenches. Once you hear his commanding sound, with guitar and vocal cords, you get it and want to get some more.

FRINGE PRODUCT: Norwegian trumpeter Nils Petter Molvær has been staking out his own claim in the atmosphere-loving Scandi-jazz sound for many years now, reaching an early apex with the 1997 classic Khmer (ECM) and demanding attention once again with his hypnotic latest, Hamada (Thirsty Ear). When he first hit the scene, Molvær dazzled with his fresh blend of ’70s Miles Davis, Jon Hassell’s “ambient” aesthetics, and some of that special, hard-to-define but easy-to-feel voodoo to which only Norwegians seem to have access. Among his regular allies, including on this recording, is the individualistic, texture-mastering guitarist Eivind Aarset, who helps coat the musical fabric of the album, but this recording is mostly the handiwork of sonic mystery man Molvær, who has virtually created his own expressive branch of Nordic impressionism in sound.

Molvær’s particular magic is hard to categorize—always a good sign. Like Arve Henriksen, another Norwegian trumpeter who has been gaining more attention more recently, Molvær freely and fluidly blends an ethereal yet also human voice-like trumpet sound with an electronic paintbox, and glides easily between poles of idiom: Is it jazz, or a new kind of jazz-rock? It’s Molvær at work.

SHARING SHEARING: This Sunday afternoon at SOhO, part of the Santa Barbara Jazz Society’s monthly gatherings, George Shearing is the subject, and jazz notable Cambrian vibraphonist Charlie Shoemake is the catalyst of the happening, in a show dubbed The Sounds of Shearing. The brilliant blind British pianist Shearing, now 91, is the creator of such “real book” classics as “Lullaby of Birdland” and a piano stylist with his own supple linear and big band-inspired “power chord” approach to jazz piano, and generally has given mainstream jazz piano a great name. Shoemake, who worked with the Shearing for a dozen years, unveiled a Shearing tribute at last year’s Cambria Jazz Festival, and the popular project has grown legs, and is taking to the road. Joining the vibist, who is one of the Central Coast’s finest jazz denizens, are pianist Joe Bagg (in the Shearing role), guitarist Ron Anthony, bassist Luther Hughes, and drummer Colin Bailey.

JAZZ FAN ALERT: If you haven’t marked it on your calendar yet, consider a drive up the coast this weekend to the Monterey Jazz Festival, the finest—and oldest—world-class jazz festival close enough to demand attention. Expect to see jazz fan and Monterey regular and neighbor Clint Eastwood showing up in some capacity, and a typically top-drawer program, which includes Chick Corea, Dianne Reeves, Roy Hargrove, Chris Potter, and Christian McBride. Also in the mix on multiple stages all weekend are “showcase artist” vet Roy Haynes, Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo-Pak Coalition, Ahmad Jamal, Angelique Kidjo, Nellie McKay, and Septeto Nacional de Cuba (coming soon to a Campbell Hall near us). For the annual festival commission—a grand tradition in Monterey—Billy Childs unveils his new “Music for Two Quartets,” with his group joined by the Kronos Quartet.

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