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SOUNDS AROUND TOWN : Key Player : Musician and college instructor Nico Abondolo is an improvisational dervish.

February 27, 1992|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

A week in the life of double bassist Nico Abondolo can be a multifarious affair. Last week it included a day of teaching at USC, a day working as a studio musician on the film score for "RoboCop 3" and then attending to his duties on the faculty of the UC Santa Barbara music department.

This year he has taken the reins as director of the ever-changing new music ensemble on campus, called Prisms.

"I'm the detail man," he said on a break between rehearsals. Prisms will have its major concert of the year (the "second annual extravaganza," according to the press release) on Saturday, with a program that will feature music by resident faculty and student composers, often accompanied by dance.

Abondolo, 28, was born in Los Angeles, got his master's degree and doctorate at Juilliard in New York City and returned to Southern California. For the past four years, he has been at UCSB, shaking up the status quo and trying to make academia safe for dangerous ideas.

On the concert's program is a new work by noted computer music composer Joanne Kuchera Morin for clarinet and digitized facsimiles of clarinet. And part-time Santa Barbaran and composer Thea Musgrave's "Primavera" for flute and voice (with additional sound effects) will be performed.

At last year's keynote Prisms concert, Abondolo appeared as the improvisational dervish as part of The Perks--the micro "company" he formed with dancer Rebecca Stenn (now with Momix). This year he will play percussion, along with David Brogan and Kent Thompson, for "Night Pulse," a piece choreographed and danced by Christopher Pilafian.

Improvisation often plays a role in Abondolo's music.

"If the pieces that I work with are set, usually they start as improvisation--just hashing out materials. I'm much more apt to find ideas through doing rather than thinking. That's my method. I think Led Zeppelin worked that way. A very lick-oriented band."

Needless to say, Abondolo's stylistic musical taste meter swings widely. "I see music as gestural, as evoking song or dance, as being either a raw exorcism of emotion or a premeditated intellectual art form, too. It doesn't bother me if it's chant or Hendrix."

Looking at what's on Abondolo's current agenda attests to his eclectic outlook: He plays in a Brazilian band called Banda Carioca, which has played at Joseppi's in Santa Barbara. And he's starting a bass-vocal jazz duo with Kimberly Olsen.

On Sunday at the Music Academy of the West (where he also teaches during summer sessions), Abondolo will take part in a UCSB faculty recital that includes George Crumb's "Madrigal IV." And listen for his low-end urgings in a theater near you when "RoboCop 3" hits the screen.

Abondolo looks at his musical life philosophically as well as practically. "History is one of my favorite subjects, and so is exploring different cultures. Music is a great ticket for those things."

The new, Part 2: On the subject of contemporary music in Santa Barbara, Basso Bongo will bring to the Center Stage Theater its own agenda of new musical madness Sunday.

A year ago, percussionist Amy Knoles--a member of the Los Angeles-based EAR Unit--brought her arsenal of acoustic and electronic instruments to the Center Stage for a solo performance. This year she returns with an accomplice, bassist Robert Black, with projections lending a visual element to the show.

Basso Bongo (a name representing the pair's respective instruments) delves into the gray area between areas of classical, ethnic, rock and minimalist music. Dress informally.

Biggs patrol: In terms of public exposure for his music, it's a healthy year for John Biggs, Ventura's celebrated composer-in-residence. Since he moved to Ventura from Santa Barbara a few years ago, Biggs' music has been heard in regular doses, courtesy of the Ventura Symphony and the Master Chorale, which performed his well-received "Mass for a New Age" at Santa Barbara's Music Academy of the West two years ago.

Ironically, Biggs is being recognized in his former town after years of relative neglect. Last week, the Santa Barbara Chamber Orchestra programmed a 1961 work by Biggs, Triple Concerto for Brass.

Then, on Sunday, a full plate of Biggs music--dating from 1958 to 1990--was served to Ojai Festival patrons and other hangers-on at the Thacher School auditorium. Come May 21 and 22, Biggs' "World Premiere for Youth" will be featured in a Master Chorale concert.

His Triple Concerto, tucked into the chamber orchestra program between the safer territory of Dvorak and Haydn, is a potent work handled gutsily by conductor Heiichiro Ohyama's ranks. Biggs gives equal time to three separate soloists and also spotlights a normally subservient branch of the orchestral family tree. (The lovely, lowly trombone, in particular, owes Biggs gratitude.)

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