ON the Beat | Jazz on the Town, Now and Then
SBCC Jazz Energies Shake Up SOhO, Validate Jazz Life in Town
This edition of ON the Beat was originally emailed to subscribers on March 30, 2023. To receive Josef Woodard’s music newsletter in your inbox each Thursday, sign up at independent.com/newsletters.
(Soundtrack to this column: One More, Please, Tim Berne and Matt Mitchell, on Intakt Records, here.)
Thinking back over the dusty archives and general time-warping, black-hole conditions of the COVID hunker down can be an illuminating, bewildering, and bothering endeavor. I do remember planning to go to Ricky Skaggs’ show at the Lobero Theatre on Monday, March 9, 2020, but was sternly dissuaded by my son Sam, who had been tracking the virus much closer than I had.
If memory serves, the last mind-expanding “blow me away” brand show I heard before the doors of the world clanked shut was on the night the great alto saxist Tim Berne played at SOhO on February 11, in a sizzling and brain-massaging duo with pianist Matt Mitchell. Towards the end of the set, the ever wry Berne told the audience “if you’re in Los Angeles tomorrow, we’ll be playing at the Hollywood Bowl. See you there.” Of course, his tongue was in cheek, where it often lives.
Berne has always taken to smallish venues and jazz festivals beyond American shores, in keeping with the truism that some of the largest-minded jazz can be found in smaller spaces. (Incidental local angle: Over many years, Berne has often worked with the stellar, free-ranging, and proudly Santa Barbara-brewed drummer Tom Rainey, including with a new group featuring nimble guitarist Gregg Belisle-Chi.)
As sad and hermetic as the viral-mandated live music hiatus was, at least I and a roomful of rapt listeners had that intense memory to feed off of.
As genre-specific live music goes in Santa Barbara, the classical and pop scenes have always been thriving, while jazz intends to be more of a trickle. Still, jazz is down but hardly out. In the big rooms, we have the Wynton Marsalis Septet at The Granada on April 4, and the “Jazz at the Lobero” series continues with Derek Duget on April 8, and the ever lovable Tierney Sutton on Friday, May 12. The sextet sensation ARTEMIS — which happens to be an all-female group — closes out the UCSB Arts & Lectures jazz component, at Campbell Hall on Sunday, April 23.
And sounds of jazz shiver the rafters of SOhO in a fairly regular rotation.
Monday/Sunday Kind of Jazz Love
Mondays at SOhO have long been coated in jazz, whether in open mic settings led by Jeff Elliott, Kimberly Ford, and others; or involving occasional outta’ towners. Monthly, the long-standing Santa Barbara Jazz Society has also staked its claim on Sunday afternoon affairs, with various guests — local, L.A.-based, or beyond — in the spotlight, most recently in a show led by pianist John Proulx two weeks ago.
Last Monday night at SOhO, jazz was delivered in hefty portions, thanks to one of the periodic visits by jazz ensembles from the motherlode at Santa Barbara City College.
On this night, before a healthy-sized and appreciative audience, we heard juicy charts smartly realized by three ensemble — the “Good Times Band,” directed by trombonist/teacher/director Eric Heidner, the New World Jazz combo led by Ed Smith, and the sharp “Lunch Break Band,” helmed by Jim Mooy. The Lunch bunch served up a varied short but punchy and musical set, including an intriguing big band arrangement of Pat Metheny’s “It’s Just Talk,” kicked off with Mooy instructing his band, off-mic, “ECM vibe… here we go.”
In the special guest slot: respected trumpeter-bandleader and expert practitioner of the esoteric EVI (Electronic Valve Instrument) John Daversa, each of whose solos were compelling and fit-to-order. He leapt up front (literally) to conduct, in antic body language, his own compositions “Funky Camels,” a slinky syncopated thing with sneaky twists, and a ripe Dizzy Gillespie tribute, “Cheeks.” During the latter, he egged on alto saxist Julio Longcob — one of the star soloists this night — and insisted he continue his tasty solo beyond the pre-planned juncture in the piece. Jazz: subject to change with little notice when the going is good.
Speaking of good going, the most impressive Santa Barbara soloist this night was tenor saxist Simon Blondell, whose sense of poise, swing, and invention is making him a strong candidate for most valuable Santa Barbara saxist, tenor soloist division.
While jazz fans in town can often be found clamoring for more activity in that Great American Art form, especially in terms of artists passing through town, the j-word does show up here. Next up in the SBCC jazz contingent at SOhO is the Monday Madness band, featuring local made good Adolfo Acosta, who grew up here and has played with Tower of Power for years. For a hearty triple-header of big band jazz, head over to SBCC’s Garvin Theatre on Monday, April 24, when the Good Times, Lunch Break, and Monday Madness dishes out one of their full plates of finely-tuned and swung big band culture, a welcome occasion for fans of the medium.
Tom Russell is no stranger to Santa Barbara, and we’re not talking about his tenure of many years studying criminology at UCSB. The hippie cowboy folkie singer-songwriter has landed in area series and spaces where Americana (and the pre-historical music later dubbed as such) were found, in the Tales from the Tavern series at the Maverick, and at the Lobero’s Sings like Hell series. He returns to the scene of the post-criminologist’s life in music, playing the Lobero this Friday, March 31. His latest of many albums is October in the Railroad Earth, which he described — not too hyperbolically — as “Jack Kerouac meets Johnny Cash in Bakersfield.”
Speaking of men at work, Colin “Men at Work” Hay is also making his way back to the Lobero stage, on Wednesday, April 5.
In other folk-related news, SOhO finds Mason Jennings returning to the club, in the wake of his acclaimed and intentionally spare, stripped-down, and autobiographical true folk album, Real Heart, released last year. Watch your clock: Jennings is doing a supper-time set, at 6 p.m. this Saturday, April 1.
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