BLUES HANGOVER: Last week — in the post-holidaze — decorations, celebrations, and drifting mentalities were put away, and wee mortals like us made noble attempts to get gracefully back on the reality bus. Part of that reality check is the area’s concert calendar, which had its official 2012 kickoff with a country-blues boomer-friendly marathon, the close to a four-hour double-header with ‘70s heroes Hot Tuna (unplugged, except for Jack Casady’s loping bass) and David Bromberg’s bluegrass-meets-blues quartet. In all, the rootsy evening felt like something of a rite of renewal, or a calendar-oriented hangover cure.
As the calendar turns, it’s another big month for blues, which seems to be a January tradition in the making. This Saturday night, January 14, over at Warren Hall, the Santa Barbara Blues Society (SBBS) is putting on its annual “Member Appreciation” show, with Steve James making his Santa Barbara debut. James is a fine and suitably rough-toned singer and guitarist, specializing in the distinctive snap ‘n’ rattle sound of the National Resophonic, and part of the strong if under-the-radar world of country-blues musicians in America, a list which includes past January SBBS guests like John Long and last year’s guest, Doug MacLeod, and, not incidentally, Santa Barbara’s own Tom Ball and Kenny Sultan.
Blues harmonica ace and advocate Mark Hummel has been bringing his famed, star-studded harmonica blowout through Santa Barbara each January for the past few years, and this year moves from former haunt SOhO (where the crowd was closer than elbow-to-elbow a year back) to the larger, if booze-challenged venue of UCSB’s Campbell Hall, on Tuesday, January 24. This time around, the focus is a tribute to the blues harp master Little Walter, with harp aces Charlie Musselwhite and Billy Boy Arnold in tow.
BACH TO GOLDBERG: Meanwhile, another major musical B-factor, the music of the mighty J.S. Bach, is getting an unusual public showcase this month and not entirely in expected ways. Most notably, at Hahn Hall on Friday, January 13, Camerata Pacifica makes a rare rapprochement with its original name and concept many years ago, as the Bach Camerata, by programming Bach’s famed Goldberg Variations (which has been memorably performed recently in this very room, by Christopher Taylor)—but in a string trio arrangement. Meanwhile, at the symphonic ranch, the Santa Barbara Symphony’s January program (January 12 and 22) features Bach’s Brandenburg Concerto No. 3, and noted violinist Anne Akiko Meyers as guest soloist.
WHAT’S NEW: A good way to kick off a new year is with new music, and we get a dose from the far end of the jazz ethos courtesy of the brave monthly Santa Barbara New Music series, Thursday, January 12, at Muddy Waters. This month’s double-billing roster features Call and Response, the spoken word meets trombonely might, with poet Dottie Grossman, ‘bone ace Michael Vlatkovich and drummer Richie West, who transforms into the percussionist in the Charles Sharp 4, featuring the multi-instrumentalist leader, bassist Jeff Schwartz, and drummer Trevor Andries.
LATE-BREAKING SHOW OF NOTE DEPT.: It was with some surprise that the renowned and left-of-center Turtle Island String Quartet was announced as the concertizing fare in the compact, intimate and quite acoustically kindly Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s Mary Craig auditorium, for a short-notice gig on Sunday, January 22, at 3 p.m. This has been the site, it must be noted, of many a powerful and internationally-respected string quartet concert in unusually close-up quarters, one of the secret treasures of our town’s already rich classical music landscape in recent years. We don’t ask questions: We just show up and, in the case of the Turtle Island, expect the classical-meets-jazz-and-roots delectability that this unique group has served up for years, and in much larger venues.
LISTOMANIA, JANUARY MOP-UP DIVISION: With the official sealing off of the 2011 calendar and cultural parade, we get the unavoidable urge to make some list-based sense out of what went down, this time in terms of albums heard and films most enjoyed. This humble scribe’s best-of findings… Films: The Artist (Michel Hazanavicius); Martha Marcy May Marlene (Sean Durkin); The Future (Miranda July); Drive (Nicolas Winding Refn); Winnie the Pooh (Stephen J. Anderson and Don Hall); The Tree of Life (Terrence Malick); City of Life and Death (Chuan Lu); Bridesmaids (Paul Feig); Rango (Gore Verbinski); If I Want to Whistle, I Whistle (Florin Serban). Albums: Radiohead, King of Limbs; The Gourds, Old Mad Joy (Vanguard); Gillian Welch, The Harrow and the Harvest (Acony); Tom Waits, Bad as Me (Anti); Paul Simon, So Beautiful or So What (Hear Music); Ambrose Akinmusire, When the Heart Emerges Glistening (Blue Note); John Scofield, A Moment’s Peace (Emarcy); Craig Taborn, Avenging Angel (ECM); Anthony Braxton, Trillium E (New Braxton House); Gonzalo Rubalcaba, Faith (5Passion); Joe Lovano, Bird Songs (Blue Note).