JAZZ AT THE CENTER OF ATTENTION: Anyone in need of a good live jazz fix got more than they might have bargained for when Wynton Marsalis steered his mighty Jazz at Lincoln Center (JALC) Orchestra through town. The Granada was abuzz with jazz notions of a high order, whetting the appetite for more of the same in town. JALC may live up to its reputation for keeping things contained and on the conservative side, but on a broader scale, what this band does is account for the jazz story in motion, from the ’30s (during an all-Ellingtonian first half) through the ’10s, via a closing nugget from Marsalis’s own Vitoria Suite.
As to the burning question of what the most avant-garde moment of the evening was, it had to be Marsalis’s chancy, tonality-dicing solo on Ornette Coleman’s “Una Muy Bonita” (in an inventive arrangement by Ted Nash). It sounded as if Marsalis were channeling Don Cherry, smearing his way through flurrying passages, all around the changes. To close, it was Marsalis channeling the early ’80s “young lion” Marsalis, whipping up expressive fire on his 1983 tune “Knozz-Moe-King.” Mo’ please.
While jazzbos hereabouts could, and do, whine about the diminished degrees of live jazz in Santa Barbara, there are bright lights on the horizon. Namely, a potent doubleheader of Brad Mehldau and The Bad Plus, in the Jazz at the Lobero series, May 3. In an exciting cross-stitch appearance, the super good Bad Plus — whose recent projects included a version of Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring — returns to the 805 in June, in the Ojai Music Festival.
Another big piece of local jazz news is that, come June, Santa Barbara City College kicks off its new educational jazz camp, officially ordained out of Jazz at Lincoln Center — and specifically Nash as artistic director, with Santa Barbara’s Winnie Swalley as executive director. Apart from the attention directed from the jazz world to our humble city by the enterprise, we relish the thought of great players in the city limits, hopefully circulating in our houses of music and hanging.
OUTSIDE JAZZ, INDOORS: Let us now praise Colter Frazier for bringing more experimental, improvisation-oriented jazz and other left-headed music through town via his recently ended, monthly Santa Barbara New Music series at Muddy Waters. In February, the penultimate show of the six-year-long series, Rova Sax Quartet saxist Larry Ochs teamed up with sentient drummer Don Robertson for one of the strongest improv-fired sets I’ve heard in Santa Barbara.
A few days later, the sense of experimental heroes passing through our tourist town continued when the great new music baritone Thomas Buckner (not to be confused with fine Venturan saxist Tom Buckner) made his area debut at UCSB’s Lotte Lehmann Concert Hall. He was appearing with the German Ensemble L’Art pour L’Art and stretching ears and minds to the tune and effect of music by John Cage, Christian Wolf, and the ensemble’s rangy-minded percussionist Matthias Kaul.
MUSEUM OF MUSICAL: On Thursday, March 21, in the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s invitingly intimate Mary Craig Auditorium, we get the final chance this season to be reminded why this room has been such a gift to Santa Barbara’s chamber musical muse in the last several years. Joining the ranks of numerous impressive string quartets to grace this stage, the acclaimed Ying Quartet finishes off another fine season of chamber music concerts with a program including Haydn, Schubert’s Death and the Maiden quartet, and work by Chinese and Chinese-American composers.
This year’s season had a heightened sense of linkage between music and art; what happened in the auditorium and what graced the galleries. Last fall, guzheng master Weishan Liu’s recital arrived in sync with the ancient Chinese art-poetry show The Artful Recluse and the Catalyst Quartet’s fascinating concert last month, went all Latin American in repertoire, timed with the Myth and Materiality Latin American art exhibition. Good things are happening at SBMA, upstairs and downstairs, art-wise and music-wise.