ON the Beat | Artful Drumming at Hahn Hall, Jazz Tickles State Street

Sō Percussion Brought its Artful Percussive Powers to its Music Academy Debut

Credit: Zach Mendez

It began with the sound up for metal bars ringing, in a hypnotically steady pulse mixed with polyrhythmic complexity. So goes the minimal mesmerism of Eric Cha-Beach’s 4+9 (Four and Nine), opening a fascinating concert last Saturday at Hahn Hall from Brooklyn-based Sō Percussion. A premiere percussion group on the scene and the world, the quartet made its Music Academy debut in the Mosher Guest Artist Concert series, and invited the gifted Academy fellows — and percussion faculty members Michael Werner and Joseph Pereira — to join the party.

The evening’s infectious, invitational spirit extended to us in the house, inviting the audience to chant and jangle keys on cue for the evolving and semi-improvisational tapestry of a finale, Jason Treuting’s Amid the Noise.

Sō Percussion, which returns to the 805 for a concert with frequent collaborator Carolyn Shaw at Campbell Hall in April, is a shining example of a new music torch keeper appealing to both erudite and everyday listeners. For this program, each of the four works varied in texture, concept, and literal toolkit/palette. Part of the challenge for percussion music composers is deciding which of the myriad percussion instrumental choices to focus on, making us wonder if the vibe-serving surfboard on stage would be put to musical use. It wasn’t.

Kendall Williams’ Walk, March, Run opened with the quartet walking down the aisles, summoning up an increasingly thicker and faster sonic plot, in keeping with the title. A concert centerpiece was the world premiere of Robyn Dee Kay Jacobs’ Collective Ungraspable, for snare drums and hi-hats played in unexpected ways, and warm modal swarm of marimba to close. On this Saturday night, we were duly seduced, soothed, teased, grooved and intellectually engaged. Sō Percussion was in and all around the house.

THIS WEEK AT MA: The Academy’s Big Show this week is its first fully-produced opera in three years, Tchaikovsky’s Eugene Onegin, at the Granada on Friday and Sunday. Also check out Wednesday’s “Showcase Series: Molly Joyce and Fellows,” celebrating composer-in-residence Joyce.

DOWNTOWN JAZZING: This just in: jazz was taking it to the streets — State Street, specifically — on Sunday afternoon, a welcome sound and force. It began with a performance by young and fledgling musicians set up on the entrance of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art, under the apt heading “The Sound of Art.”

In other “visiting New York artists out west” news, Ted Nash — the fine reed player and key member of Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra — continued his habit of Santa Barbara summering and teaching, in his fourth artist-in-residence stint at the Santa Barbara Museum of Art. It began after his 2010 album Portraits in Seven Shades, with music created via inspiration of specific paintings. Nash, reportedly an especially strong and patient teacher, has returned to lead young musicians/composers in creating music inspired by art, this year in connection with SBCC’s Summer Jazz Seminar and its head, the solid saxist Andrew Martinez.

Sunday’s performance featured compositions inspired by SBMA’s current show “Going Global: Abstract Art at Mid-Century.” Among them were music teacher (and Spencer the Gardener member) Brett Larson’s evocative piece, slipping into swing for the solo section, and young Elise Sneddon’s poetic work channeling the “subconscious” swim of Fernando de Szyszlo’s canvas Mar de Lurin.

Drifting several blocks down a busy, tourist-flocked State Street, we were happy to come upon the sound of a sax quartet (calling itself Wax Quartet) playing beautiful arrangements of Astor Piazzolla’s “Libertango” and a re-thought “Round Midnight.” Jazz on State. We could get used to it.

TO SEE/HEAR: Another New York jazz horn player, this one with strong roots and ongoing links to Santa Barbara, comes hither, when Nate Birkey brings his quartet (featuring pianist Josh Nelson) to SOhO on Monday. The assured, hopelessly lyrical player – and singer — returns in a long-standing July tradition, timed with gigs with Spencer the Gardener come Fiesta time. Birkey’s tenfold discography reached a new high with his album Rome, recorded in that hallowed city. For research, get thee to Spotify.

On Friday night, fans of the Robert Fripp universe, and general fans of good music, would be wise to head up to Solvang’s Lost Chord Guitars. The fretboard nimble and affably musical California Guitar Trio – acolytes from Fripp’s Crafty Guitarist dimension, fresh off a stint opening for King Crimson — makes a rare appearance. Travis Larson opens.

ON the Beat is the new all-things music and music-adjacent column by music/arts journalist-critic Josef Woodard, who has written for the Independent since its beginning (and even for the predecessor weekly the News & Review). He wrote the Fringe Beat column for 25 years, but ON the Beat is more inclusive, preaching the gospel of eclectic musical tastes.

Woodard grew up in Santa Barbara, soaking in/writing about music locally and internationally. He wrote for the Los Angeles Times for a quarter century, has contributed to Rolling Stone and Entertainment Weekly, continues contributing to DownBeat and elsewhere, and has published books on jazz legends Charlie Haden and Charles Lloyd. His debut novel, the salty-satirical Ladies Who Lunch, dropped in 2021. He is also a musician-songwriter-situationist with albums out on Household Ink Records.

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