GAME ON: Seasonal transitions happen in funny, fuzzy ways in Santa Barbara, where getting the feel of where one stands in the calendar can be tricky. But for those of us culturally fixated sorts, we know it’s time to put away summer-ish things once the official fall concert season begins. Next week, things become official, on both jazz and classical fronts.
Next Thursday’s concert by the Pat Metheny Unity Band launches a set of five world-class jazz shows in town this season, four of them in the ambient embrace of the Lobero in the Jazz at the Lobero series, and one of them, Wynton Marsalis and his Jazz at Lincoln Center orchestra, at the Granada on March 10, 2013, courtesy of the UCSB Arts & Lectures series (which jazz fans have noted has lately scaled back its interest in jazz).
On the longhair side of town, doing its part to wake us up on “serious” high musical cultural terms, Camerata Pacifica beats the other classical institutions in town to its season-opener by weeks with their kickoff concert on Saturday, September 22, at the Music Academy of the West’s Hahn Hall (a shift from the usual Friday slot). As is its wont, CamPac opens its chamber music season with some juicy provocation, including a piece by Luciano Berio, and a world premiere by Huang Ruo called In Other Words. Judging from the substance and flair of previous Ruo premieres heard performed by the group, we’re in for another inspiring and literally fresh musical occasion.
Metheny has passed through the 805 many times and in many modes and projects over the past few decades, going back to his appearance with Gary Burton’s group at the Arlington in the late ’70s. But when Metheny makes his semi-regular Santa Barbara visit next Thursday, there will be some kind of in-house, long-term reverberation attached. The Unity Band is the guitarist’s first band featuring a saxophonist — and, in Chris Potter, one of the handful of great and most versatile tenor players alive—in 30 years, since he worked with the late Dewey Redman and Michael Brecker in his 80/81 band, which put on a memorable show at the Lobero, lo, those many moons ago.
Metheny’s own large “Group” has featured occasional trumpet, but no sax, and we wonder why. He has appeared on other saxists’ projects, such as the should-be classic Till We Have Faces (JMT) by Gary Thomas, which is one of the great “lost” Metheny albums, and which finds him in a tougher, more angular mood than usual. On the Unity Band album, one of the year’s better jazz records, Metheny clearly relates deeply to Potter’s style, and the flexible saxist tilts toward Metheny’s bold but more romantic approach, compared to, say, Potter’s own knotty cool Underground band. It works beautifully, especially with drummer Antonio Sanchez and wunderkind bassist Ben Williams in supple sync. Next Thursday’s show is not to be missed.
TO-DOINGS: Jazz floweth over more than expected this week, considering the late booking of young, buzzed-about trumpeter Gabriel Johnson, who is playing at SOhO on Sunday night. While leaning too heavily into the pop-groove-jazz direction for some jazz fans’ comfort, he’s one of those fine players, like Chris Botti, whose strong musicianship is detectable behind the suave sheen.
And, if it’s the third weekend in September, it must be time for the Monterey Jazz Festival, which finds masterful alto saxist David Binney (appearing with Antonio Sanchez at Monterey) stopping by Santa Barbara to play at Jim Connolly’s dreamy cool Piano Kitchen on Monday, with John Escreet, Tim Lefebvre, and Louis Cole. The fest up north brings its usual bounty of jazz that matters, plus some feel-good treats and other asides, to a dense weekend schedule at the Monterey Fairground. This is the festival’s 55th annual and with an especially tasty lineup, including Metheny’s band (their warm-up gig for the big Lobero date), Jack DeJohnette, a commissioned piece by Bill Frisell, and too many more to mention. No doubt, celebrity jazz champion, neighbor and festival supporter Clint Eastwood will be there, in the audience and possibly some speaking situation — presumably sans empty chair in tow (montereyjazzfestival.org).