ON the Beat | Preservation and Progressive Ideas in the Music Houses
A Rich Musical Spring Continues, with Carolyn Shaw as Special Guest-in-Absentia
This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on March 9, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
Lobero B-Day Party Update
Party time and anniversary-esque vibes continue in the recent life of our beloved Lobero Theatre, which officially celebrated its milestone 150th birthday on February 22. The list of notable occasions in the theater, planned and unplanned, includes this Friday’s concert (March 10) by acclaimed jazz saxman Charles Lloyd, celebrating his own 85th birthday (check out John Zant’s fine cover story here) and last Saturday’s return of the literally Lobero-spawned Los Romeros (see review here) in the long trail of its 60th anniversary. Numbers matter.
We’ve also seen onstage happenings which exceed expectations, as when Jack Johnson and band marched boldly forth into their February 21st concert in all their power outage-enforced “unplugged” glory, in the dark and into our hearts. And then, last Friday night, the stage became packed with writhing audience members, led up by those New Orleans-ian provocateurs from the Preservation Hall Jazz band. The happy pile-up was to the tune of “When the Saints Come Marching In,” with shoutouts to all the saints and sinners in the room.
Veteran jazz celebrity Lloyd, who has called Montecito home for decades, lays claim to an impressive attendance record at the Lobero, with a reported 18 appearances here over the years — not including his opening act slot with Buffalo Springfield at Earl Warren Showgrounds in the late ’60s. But Preservation Hall is undoubtedly the jazz act with the highest number of Santa Barbara stops, going back to the late ’60s and showing up regularly ever since. They routinely pull in full houses of satisfied customers, thanks to their uncontroversial good-time energies and nostalgic tapping of early jazz and Crescent City bonhomie.
So it went at the Lobero, easing off, late in the show, into a respectful funeral dirge of “Just a Closer Walk with Thee,” introduced by the Prez Hall founders’ son Ben Jaffe (a kid when the band started playing Santa Barbara) honoring those recently passed — including the now late, always great Wayne Shorter. Then came the life-affirming second line groove, leading us back from the proverbial cemetery, on through to the massive stage dive finale.
Shaw in the Houses, in Quartet Mode
We won’t see composer/vocalist/string player Carolyn Shaw in the house, locally, until she shows up at Campbell Hall on April 21, with Sō Percussion. But her savory musical presence made her an artist about town last week, when her impressive way with string quartet writing showed up in not one, but two, houses of music in Santa Barbara. Principally, the focus was on the all-Shaw program brought to Hahn Hall on Sunday afternoon by the respected Brooklyn-based Attacca Quartet, in its wowing local debut, and on the heels of two Grammy awards for their Shaw-based albums Orange and Evergreen.
But last Thursday, Shaw was also the talk of the room when the Austin, Texas-based Miró Quartet arrived as part of the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s always pleasurable chamber music series in the intimate Mary Craig Auditorium. Sandwiched between the standard, but beautifully played, sounds of Haydn and Dvorak, Shaw’s fascinating, epigrammatic collection of five miniatures, Microfictions, vol. 1 — inspired by a novelist’s bite-sized twitter haikus — was the centralizing highlight of the evening. It also served as a warm-up to Sunday’s larger Shaw showcase.
At Hahn Hall, the Attacca completed the task of showcasing Shaw’s personal touch in the string quartet context. This concert was part of UCSB Arts & Lectures’ important “Hear & Now ” series of concerts by buzzed-about newcomers to Santa Barbara, which included last year’s profound, authentic Bach Goldberg Variations from premiere harpsichordist Jean Rondeau. The Attacca Quartet is a taut and committed unit, with Amy Schroeder and Domenic Salerni on violins, violist Nathan Schram, and cellist Andrew Yee (both Schroeder and Yee are Music Academy alums, incidentally), and well-suited to Shaw’s special voice in quartet mode.
As heard at SBMA, Shaw draws on conceptual, cross-referential inspirations for her music, and the Attacca’s six-pack of scores alluded sideways and sometimes directly to the deconstructed influences of Haydn (Entr’acte), architecture (Plan & Elevation), Beethoven (Blueprint), language (Three Essays), arboreal splendor (Evergreen) and, well, the immortal beauty of the common organ (Valencia).
Shaw has an uncanny way of embracing accessible materials, with touches of minimalist elements and older, time-honored classical music values, along with an innate sense of contemporary-geared adventure. There will be anarchy at times, and ambient mood-riding passages. Balance is somehow kept, between the alternating emotional and intellectual properties in her work.
What made the afternoon particularly memorable was the chance to experience a full program of Shaw’s quartet music in one pristine music venue — to see and hear what she’s made of in that context. Next up, the vocalist/collaborator Shaw hits town, with Sō Percussion in tow.
Russian Gem, Repolished
I wasn’t aware of the uniquely fascinating piano music of mid-20th century Russian composer Galina Ustvolskaya until hearing a performance by pianist Markus Hinterhäuser at the 2018 Ojai Music Festival, the year Patricia Kopatchinskaja was in the director seat. A fascination was born. The fascination had a sequel — in an even more close-up and impactful setting — when the formidable and friendly pianist Connor Hanick devoted the first half of his recital at St. Mark’s-in-the-Valley Church in Los Olivos to it last week. The Santa Ynez Valley Concert Series, led by pianist Robert Cassidy, has upped its game recently, having brought the Takács Quartet two weeks earlier. The sanctuary venue, which has been a complimentary host setting for many a fine classical concerts over the decades, seemed an ideal and happy home for Ustvolskaya’s sublime and also challenging music.
Hanick, last heard locally playing Hans Otte’s mesmerizing Book of Sounds at Hahn Hall last fall, also gave a luminous account of Beethoven’s Opus 111 sonata last week. But the epiphanic show stopper came first, with three etudes by this entrancing female Russian composer, enjoying a belated spotlight in the classical world. Shades of Bartok and fellow 20th century Russians Prokofiev and Shostakovich may filter into our impressions of her music, but comparisons don’t do justice to her distinctive and organic sense of modernist invention.
Through-lines of structural logic mix in with freewheeling explorations, incisively realized in Hanick’s hands. Etude No. 5 proved to be a thrilling and disarming capper to the concert’s first half, with its quixotic blend of rugged rhythmic charge, deliciously chaotic clusters of notes, and one recurring, tolling long tone, like an unwavering beacon in a wild storm.
In short, this Ustvolskaya encounter may have made the deepest musical impression on these ears so far this year. More, please.
Charles Lloyd’s Lobero visits are always occasions to savor, and some arrive with more fanfare than others. Five years ago, Lloyd presented an 80th birthday concert subsequently recorded and released on Blue Note in a lavish package. In the past year, discography-wise, this has been a pared-down and reflective year based on the power of threes: a slow-release triple play of trio albums, the newest being Sacred Thread, with guitarist Julian Lage (also at the Lobero for Lloyd’s 80th) and Zakir Hussain (part of the Sangam Trio, recorded live at the Lobero for an ECM release).
This year, Lloyd pulls together a group of jazz greats, including longtime ally Jason Moran on piano, occasional compadre, bassist Larry Grenadier, and most intriguingly, a rare connection with Brian Blade, one of the greatest living jazz drummers. It should be noted that we heard Blade at the Lobero as part of Wayne Shorter’s long-serving quartet. Whilst in Santa Barbara, this quartet formulation will be recording, towards the next in a vast index of titles in the Lloyd bins.
Speaking of pianistic matters and the pleasures of Hahn Hall, tonight (March 9) in the venue, the Music Academy offers a program dubbed “Lowenthal’s Legend,” to honor Jerome Lowenthal, the long-running head of its esteemed piano department. On the all-star roster of six fine pianists are Lowenthal, Ursula Oppens, Vassily Primakov, Nadia Shpachenko, Evan Shinners and Carmel Lowenthal.
As for the classical music event of the week, the honor goes to cellist Alisa Weilerstein, giving the U.S. Premiere of her multimedia, multi-composer Bach-and-beyond project “FRAGMENTS” (see story here), on Friday March 10 at Campbell Hall.
Lastly, for those of us who know recent Grammy-winning Bonnie Raitt as a guiding light of a pop-blues-soul world of her own devising, and not “an obscure blues artist,” as a British rag wag reported, cherish the chance to catch her live, at Chumash Casino on Saturday (March 11).
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