Totem. Nahual. Daemon. Cultures the world over have often described in great terms the spiritual implication of everyday animals, and on Saturday night at The Granada Theatre, one modern-day musical shaman took it upon himself to exemplify their mythical significance through the language of rhythm and melody.
Wynton Marsalis and his 15-piece Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra lit up the evening with their presentation of Spaces, a musical ode to 10 members of the animal kingdom that kicked off UCSB’s 2018-19 Arts & Lectures series to rousing effect. As if their grace and dexterity with brass and percussion weren’t enough, Marsalis and the band called on the kinetic prowess of dancers Lil Buck, Jared Grimes, and Myles Yachts to slink and shuffle around each musical composition in a choreographic display that punctuated each coda and cadence.
Perched next to the orchestra on folding chairs and dressed in little more than jeans and T-shirts, the dancers’ modesty belied their superhuman ability to manifest and embody the spirit of Marsalis’s reverence for the winged and the wild, and the results were nothing short of transformative. As Buck and Yachts wove around the stalwart orchestra and Grimes tapped his way downstage, scraping and leaping to mounting effect in the closing piece, “Bees Bees Bees,” one had the distinctive feeling Marsalis was conjuring up a musical incantation that might inspire a fresh generation of jazz appreciation. If the response of the 1,400 area students who had filled the theater’s matinee presentation the day before was any indication, the spell had already been cast.