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Bach Camerata Explores a Broad Range of Music

The classical chamber group, its name notwithstanding, performs a varied selection of early to modern pieces.


Of the many twists and turns in the regional classical music scene during the '90s, one of the clear success stories is that of chamber music group the Bach Camerata. Founding flutist Adrian Spence seems to have the right combination of attributes--musical aplomb, a talented circle of musician friends, gumption and charm--to make the Camerata fly and to benefit local chamber-music aficionados.

Over the past five years, the Camerata, a feisty, resourceful little entity, has spread its sphere of influence. What began as a strictly Santa Barbara-based group has included Ventura County venues in its compact, six-concert season, beginning this week.

The group's name notwithstanding, the music of Bach is less an abiding concern than a point-of-departure for the group. But this week's season kickoff program is devoted to that towering Bach work, the "Brandenburg" Concerti, in a complete performance. For the remainder of the season, the Bach Camerata avoids Bach altogether and instead surveys a purposely varied range of music, from early to recent, from Pergolesi to Messiaen.

On the final program in April they will reprise Oxnard-based composer Miguel del Aguila's Wind Quintet No. 2, which was premiered by the Camerata a year ago. When the work was honored with the Kennedy Center's Freidheim Award last October, the group went to Washington, D.C. to perform the piece--a feather in the collective cap.


Let the concerts begin.

* The Bach Camerata, Friday at Ventura City Hall, 501 Poli St. in Ventura; also Sunday at the Forum Theatre, Civic Arts Plaza in Thousand Oaks. Both shows are at 8 p.m. Tickets are $18; 565-5951, or 800-557-BACH.

Latin-Jazz Tribute: Master conguero Poncho Sanchez, who brings his steamy musical stew to the Ventura Theatre on Saturday, spent several years during the '70s playing with Latin-jazz pioneer Cal Tjader, who died in 1982. Since starting his own band in the '80s, Sanchez has made a point of acknowledging the master vibraphonist's influence and legacy.

The Tjader torch burns especially bright on the latest addition to Sanchez's sizable discography, "Soul Sauce, Memories of Cal Tjader," on Concord Picante. The album kicks off with the classic Dizzy Gillespie-Chano Pozo anthem "Soul Sauce," and closes with a smoking rendition of Chick Corea's "Oran."

Tjader's "I Showed Them" lushly smolders, while Sanchez's own "Song for Cal" waxes bittersweetly, and the seductive contours of "Poinciana Cha Cha" perfectly demonstrates the unique capacity for reinvention in Latin-jazz. Sanchez carries on, perpetuating the Tjader tradition in fine form.

A local note: on the project, the role of vibist is ably filled by Ruben Estrada of the Oxnard-based Estrada Brothers group, which released its first, self-produced CD last year. The group was recently signed to the Milestone label.

* Poncho Sanchez, Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Ventura Theatre. Tickets are $13.50; 648-1888.


Not Just Folk: Virginian troubadour John McCutcheon, a handyman with a song and a tale, is next up in the concert series put on by Brian Bemel, Saturday at Ventura College. McCutcheon belongs to that strata of folk musicians--operating just outside of the mainstream of pop or country--who have built a sturdy reputation based on a body of work and a humble but faithful following, rather than fluke hits or savvy image-making.

When it comes to classifying McCutcheon, he's never quite fish or fowl, as heard again on his "Nothing to Lose" album on the Rounder label. He shifts easily from Everyman balladeer to rock singer in the John Hiatt and Bruce Springsteen mold. The title cut is a wisecracking, easy-swinging track on the title cut that recalls Dan Hicks' swagger.

As a songwriter, he often revels in spinning tales, championing the everyday drama of just folks. On "Losers Like You," he takes the role of a man suffering the wages of juggling work and family. "I've got four empty rooms and a hole in my heart where there used to be kids and a loving wife/I know this happens in the movies and in the paperback novels/but this isn't supposed to happen to people like me/only to losers like you."

An instrumentalist noted for his hammer dulcimer playing, and a gamut of other traditional instruments, McCutcheon has also made children's albums and seasonal recordings, including the recent album "Winter Songs" for Rounder. A world-traveled keeper of the Americana flame, McCutcheon is out there doing music, for the entire family.

* John McCutcheon, Friday at 7 p.m. at the Civic Arts Plaza Forum Theatre, 2100 E. Thousand Oaks Blvd., Thousand Oaks; tickets are $10, $8 children; 650-5900 or 449-ARTS; and Saturday at 8 p.m. at the Ventura College Theater; tickets are $12 in advance, $14 at the door; 654-6459.

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