Joshua Bell and Jeremy Denk | Photo: Courtesy

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Academy Notes

The Music Academy of the West’s (MAW) festival is very much in mid-stride at this point in its summer season. A more scaled-down and down-the-middle orchestra concert arrives Saturday in the more intimate space of Hahn Hall, with Dvořák’s chestnutty “From the New World” symphony as main course, and Kodály’s Dances of Galánta counterbalanced with an opener of living composer Dorothy Chang’s Northern Star.

But the biggest news on the MAW radar this week takes us back to Hahn Hall on Friday, July 5, where a fairly all-star cast of violinist Joshua Bell, pianist Jeremy Denk, cellist Steven Isserlis (who recital-ized last night, July 3) and violist Richard O’Neill mount The Fauré Project. Timed with the centennial of the death of important French composer Gabriel Fauré — a pivotal bridge between late romantic and nascent modernist waves — the concert features piano-based groupings in trio, quartet, and quintet form, the Quintet No. 2 in C Minor of which also includes Academy fellow Anthony Chan as second fiddle to the celebrity Bell.

Where Latin Meets the Jazz Road

Poncho Sanchez has been to Santa Barbara many times over the 40-plus years of his life as one of the most significant figures in modern Latin jazz culture. Last Friday as part of the “Jazz at the Lobero” series, the conguero and sometimes vocalist brought his all-around expert band (including Santa Barbara–bred trombonist Phil Menchaca, a fine player among uniformly fine players) and reliably kept the full house of customers satisfied. This is music suitable for a party and for discerning music listeners alike, a treat for head and soul and body.

As a running joke, Sanchez commented on requests he had gotten, but mentioned that requests cost $1,000 — per band member! I was going to request “Giant Steps,” the hottest tune on the band’s 2019 John Coltrane tribute album Trane’s Delight, but it was beyond my tax bracket. And besides, this was more of a Friday night get-down set of old faves, crowd-pleasers, and a welcome dose of smartly navigated jazz changes in the form of Jerome Kern’s “Yesterdays.”

Poncho Sanchez | Photo: Courtesy

Late in the show, Sanchez’s naturally affable and witty stage manner, perhaps aided by sips of what his bandmate called “special water,” took him down a Santa Barbara memory lane. He recalled playing with his legendary boss/mentor Cal Tjader here, at Casa de la Raza, and before that, with a Tex-Mex band, and a nervous car trip up requiring a speedy dispensing of weed in the face of a Highway Patrol car behind them. Suddenly, Sanchez was recounting a memory resembling a Cheech and Chong skit. It was that kind of night at the Lobero.

For a ripe encore, he tipped his hat in the Tjader direction, with the vibist’s classic “Guachi Guaro.” By this point, there was much dance-related wriggling in the house and the aisles, as if by divine design.


Alejandro Escovedo is heading to SOhO on July 11. | Photo: Nancy Rankin Escovedo

Count the veteran man of song Alejandro Escovedo — heading to SOhO next Thursday, July 11, as one of those many artists of slippery categorical description who fell into the Americana half-accidentally, but has found there a happy home. Now 73, the Texas-born artist whose family line includes famed kinfolk Pete and Sheila (Sheila E) Escovedo, and whose diverse list of genre associations includes “cow punk” — as in his place in the Nuns and then the twang-banging band Rank and File — is on a tour to promote an intriguing reshuffled nostalgic album, Echo Dancing, on the Yep Roc label. As Paul Simon did a few years back, Escovedo has taken a group of 14 older tunes and recast and refashioned them, a way of embracing the past, with a new attitude.

Up Santa Ynez Valley way, the enterprising and enlightened arts-supportive nonprofit known as Artist Advocacy Foundation is hosting a “Fiesta de Paella,” as a fundraiser event on Saturday, July 13 (location revealed upon purchase). The evening honors Jeff McKinnon, an influential theater teacher at Santa Ynez High School among other contributions to culture (info here).  

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