A hit on the mostly-barren landscape of “live” concert programs this fall, UCSB Arts & Lectures’ engaging “House Calls” series of mostly-exclusive streaming shows is aptly named. Rather than steering touring artists’ itineraries through the local “houses” of Campbell Hall et al, we’ve been led on a site-specific tour of the artists’ domains. Cyber-travels included the Jazz at Lincoln Center “house of swing” with Wynton Marsalis and a pared-down big band, and a Copenhagen church for the Danish String Quartet.
More recently, the series’ led us to Ireland, for a fascinating and culturally expansive visit to the home of “roots” genius (as in MacArthur Award genius) Rhiannon Giddens, and on December 10, for the frothiest, tipsiest “House Call” yet, to the Portland, Oregon home/mock—stage of Pink Martini mainstays, pianist-founder Thomas Lauderdale and singer China Forbes.
These acts are no strangers to Santa Barbara, or to the Arts & Lectures’ roster. Giddens has brought her gleaming and ever-curious musical historicism and natural-studied vocal (and fiddling) powers to town, with her band Carolina Chocolate Drops and solo mode. Here, she and multi-instrumentalist (and present life mate) Francesco Turrisi explored sundry musical roots, from her home turfs of the deep South and female icons deserving-wider-recognition (including the towering Sister Rosetta Tharpe) to Irish music, all in unpretentiously captivating form.
Pink Martini has made a happy habit of showing up with their gala Christmas-timed show at the Arlington. Paring down the signature larger band for the threesome format (the central duo plus drummer Andy Borger) felt odd, like a puzzle with missing pieces. The classic Pink pizzaz and textural breadth of the Hollywood Bowl-suitable concert band was reduced to supper club dynamics here. Still, the party spirit prevailed as the pair traversed the old Martini songbook of oddities, kitsch, sand originals.
In a post-show Q&A, Lauderdale seemed especially “in the spirit,” with giddy asides and impromptu offers to auction off flamboyant bric-a-brac for the Santa Barbara Performing Arts Center. It was a fittingly absurd, spiked egg nog-y moment in a year in need of it.
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