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MUSIC REVIEW : A Facile Evening With Stoltzman and Friends


Rare is the performer who can brave the crossover waters and survive with integrity intact. Clarinetist Richard Stoltzman is an old hand in the art--and the business--of crossing over, from classical to jazz to new music to new age, without flinching or apology.

A little apology or coherency of programming would have been in order when Stoltzman served up his grab-bag concert at Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday.

The program was framed by two sturdy, popular pastries--Debussy's "The Maiden With the Flaxen Hair" and an encore of jazz great Sonny Rollins' "St. Thomas." Between, Stoltzman's diverse interests worked to cancel each other out rather than celebrate the joys of eclecticism.

Then again, there was no evidence that Stoltzman had any loftier goal this evening than mild titillation. It was an aperitif of a concert, received indifferently by a crowd of 7,285 that was happy to clap between movements.

Two Debussy transcriptions for clarinet and piano (Bill Douglas) were pleasantries warming up to the concert's one substantial work, Francis Poulenc's Sonata for Clarinet and Piano. The curiously anachronistic 1962 piece oscillates between romantic languor and parodistic jauntiness.

A miscast reading of Bach's timeless Air--with tinkly synthesized harpsichord and Robert Kassinger's pizzicato double bass--seemed less timeless than usual. Five etudes composed by Douglas were cute, slight and, fortunately for the listener, short.

Opening the second set, a spotlight followed the clarinetist as he sashayed down the aisle toward the stage--like a pixie-ish pied piper--floating long notes over billowy piano arpeggios. In true crossover fashion, Stoltzman had a wardrobe change, trading in his white-jacket concert attire for a purple shirt and black velvet pants. This was our sartorial cue that Bach had left the building.

Highlighting music from his "Brasil" album, Stoltzman offered music by Heitor Villa-Lobos and Baden Powell and Wayne Shorter's haunting "Ana Maria."

Filling out the band were guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves, keyboardist-arranger Jeremy Wall and the concert's most notable improvisers, vibraphonist Gary Burton and drummer Alex Acuna, who injected much-needed doses of energy.

Stoltzman, plainly, is a gifted instrumentalist, almost too silken and facile in his execution. In jazz mode, he approaches things cautiously, taking none of the chances or liberties that give jazz its vitality.

If short on logic or intensity, the concert was a little midsummer night music, innocuous and instantly forgettable, dignifying none of the genres it brushed across.

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