Great Shows Past and Upcoming

Ornette Coleman Promises to Be the Jazz Event of the Year

LOOKING AHEAD AT LOOKING BACK: As the calendar year rounds the corner and heads into the final stretch, the chronic concertgoers in town begin compiling their lists of what made this year special. Two of 2010’s greatest shows went down last week. The remarkable and venerable (460 years old!) Dresden Staatskapelle, led by Daniel Harding, presented the year’s greatest local orchestra concert at the Granada, on themes of Schumann and a deeply glorious Beethoven’s Seventh Symphony. The next night, at “Tales from the Tavern” at Santa Ynez’ Maverick Saloon, the great Bonnie “Prince” Billy (aka Will Oldham) finally visited the 805, with his stunning rootsy-yet-re-inventive indie folk-rocking poetry. Dressed in white, including a white cap with a treble clef sign, the whiskered semi-visionary transfixed with his tight, ultra-harmonious band in tow, including dazzling guitarist Emmett Kelly (whose mother lives in Santa Ynez, hence the connection).

Ornette Coleman
Saalfelden Bauer

FREED JAZZ GOES WEST: A palpable buzz of excitement has been building for Santa Barbarans with an ear/heart for adventurous jazz, music lovers of all stripes and curiosity seekers wondering what the fuss is about, all geared around a single event: Ornette Coleman is finally coming back to town. Break out the “Jazz Event of the Year” banners. He is 80 now, and fully engaged, still one of the most stellar and individual jazz musicians alive, whose mantle boasts a MacArthur Genius Grant, Grammy awards (including a 2007 “Lifetime Achievement”), and a Pulitzer for his last album, 2006’s Sound Grammar. That fine album’s bass-fortified sound, with drummer Denardo Coleman rumbling poetically and father Ornette sailing and essaying above, likely foretells what we’ll hear on Friday at Campbell Hall.

Although hailing from N.Y.C. since making the pilgrimage there forty years ago, Southern California plays a large part in Coleman’s story, as the creative breeding ground from whence the Fort Worth, Texas-raised saxophonist blasted off into musical history and legend in the late ’50s. Multiple significant Ornette-in-California memories come flooding back from over the years, including his last visit to Santa Barbara, in 1988—well, in Isla Vista, at the great old Anaconda Theater, in the once-burned-down Bank of Amerika—during a populist phase following his last major-label album, Virgin Beauty (Portrait), with a guest shot by Jerry Garcia.

Significant Los Angeles homecoming gigs include a ’90s concert at the downtown Broadway Theater with the original quartet-minus-one (Don Cherry was MIA, but Charlie Haden and Billy Higgins were in the house and on fire), and a potent Disney Hall concert in the mid ’00s. Meanwhile, his famous/infamous “Tone Dialing” double-header concert in San Francisco in the mid ’00s featured both his polytonal tapestry-like electric band and his acoustic band, with a controversial body-piercing circus act between. He landed at the Monterey Jazz Festival, as well, first in a show in the ’90s, which was received ambivalently, but again two years ago, with the aged—but always youthful—sage winning over the crowd. He tends to do that, especially in this wise and alive late period.

Listening to great Rhino box set Beauty Is a Rare Thing (great Christmas gift idea, by the way), a six-disc set of Ornette’s rich ’60s Atlantic years, it’s startling how fresh and in the now this music still sounds. One famed album, recorded in Hollywood in 1959, was The Shape of Jazz to Come, a title which could be mistaken for brash hubris. But the title’s truth rings out in retrospect, both about the ahead-of-its-time music—which is both joyous and iconoclastic, confident but innately searching—and as a prophecy of the development of more engaging avenues of jazz with a forward-leaning spirit.

TO-DOINGS: In worldly music news, check out Gamelan Çudamani at Campbell Hall tonight, Thursday, November 4, and the Korean Classical Music and Dance performance at the MultiCultural Center on Saturday, November 5. In blues news, Joe Louis Walker takes charge of Saturday night’s blues shindig at Warren Hall, courtesy of the Santa Barbara Blues Society. The intimate splendor of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s chamber music series continues on Wednesday with the Szymanowski String Quartet.


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