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VENTURA COUNTY WEEKEND | SOUNDS

Chorale Comes Home for the Season's Finale

Los Robles singers renew link with Moorpark College in performance at the new arts center.

June 06, 1996|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Eighteen years old and counting, the Los Robles Master Chorale wraps up its official four-concert season this weekend with a sampler program under the title "Great and Glorious Opera Choruses."

But, season brochure-holders beware: It takes place not at Thousand Oaks Civic Arts Plaza as previously scheduled, but in the new 400-seat Performing Arts Center at Moorpark College.

It's a homecoming of sorts. Moorpark College has been a kind of nucleus for the chorale, led by Moorpark College music department faculty member James Stemen and, until last year, operating under the moniker of the Moorpark Masterworks Chorale.

The name change reflected the ensemble's desire to broaden the identity of the group, which has traveled to Europe and relied on a talent pool from Ventura County and Los Angeles. The change also represented a more cosmopolitan image, in time for a shift to the new performing home at Civic Arts Plaza.

The 1995-96 season included a spirited performance in March of Vaughan Williams' Mass in G Minor and, last month, Brahms' German Requiem, featuring guest conductor Vance George, director of the San Francisco Symphony Chorus.

This weekend's fare is, by design, less focused than earlier programs. Opera choruses from "Carmen," "La Traviata," "Die Fledermaus" and "Pagliacci" will be served up with relish.

As an addendum to the season proper, the more humbly scaled Los Robles Chamber Singers will perform the following weekend, at Westlake United Methodist Church in Westlake on June 14 and the First Baptist Church in Ojai on June 16. "Music Spread Thy Voice Around" is the title of a program that includes works by Debussy, Schumann, Mozart, Handel and others.

For the past five years, Stemen has led this 17-member group in peripheral performances around the Los Robles schedule, at fund-raisers and parties, as well as in actual concert settings. Here, they get a day or two in the sun.

* Los Robles Master Chorale, 8 p.m. Saturday and 4 p.m. Sunday at Performing Arts Center at Moorpark College. Tickets are $8-$15; 482-2866. Los Robles Chamber Singers, 8 p.m. June 14 at Westlake United Methodist Church, 1049 Westlake Blvd., and 4 p.m. June 16 at First Baptist Church of Ojai, 130 Grand Ave. Tickets are $8 in advance, $10 at the door; 378-1453.

*

GREENER BLUEGRASS PASTURES: Nimble-fingered banjoist Alison Brown, who comes to the Jazz Hall in Santa Barbara tonight, cuts an unusual profile among progressive bluegrass musicians. First of all, she is a she in a male-dominated scene, and a veritable virtuoso, with a degree in literature from Harvard and an MBA from UCLA.

She was working as an investment banker with Smith Barney, playing music on the side, when she had a flash of inspiration: What would it be like to devote her full energies to the thing she loved most? She gave up her day job and earned a Grammy nomination with her 1990 debut album, "Simple Pleasures" and went on to work in the band Alison Krauss and Union Station and as musical director for Michelle Shocked.

No doubt, Brown's atypical background has helped gain attention and stir some kind of mild media frenzy: She was featured in the Wall Street Journal last week, and will be trailed after by a "CBS Sunday Morning" camera crew while in Southern California. But there's much more than a scoop at stake here. Brown is an impressive player, doing her best to evolve the prog-grass movement that began in the '70s with players such as David Grisman.

Brown's new, fourth album on the Vanguard label, "Quartet," carves out an extra-bluegrass niche that is similar, in many ways, to jazz-minded banjo wizard Bela Fleck and his Flecktones. Folk purists may cringe as the band makes forays into jazz, shuffle rhythms and ride grooves locked into place by an electric bass, but clearly Brown's band is on to something original.

* Alison Brown tonight at Jazz Hall, 29 E. Victoria St., Santa Barbara; 963-0404.

*

JAZZ IN THE HALL: Jazz, proper, returns to Jazz Hall on Friday and Saturday, in the midst of one of the club's most impressive months of shows yet. The dynamic, well-grounded pianist Eric Reed was born in Philadelphia but was living in Los Angeles when he was discovered and recruited by Wynton Marsalis. Thus began a public profile that has gradually spiraled upward since.

Now all of 25, Reed is working as a sideman and coming out as a leader in his own right. Last year, he played in an all-star cross-generational trio with octogenarian Benny Carter and fiftysomething Charlie Haden, and the youngster often came across as the musician with the firmest grasp and greatest love of jazz's past.

Reed is one of those open-minded, tradition-rooted jazz upstarts who can make sense of the twists in jazz history. And, more importantly, he has swing in his blood.

* Eric Reed, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday, and 10:30 p.m. and midnight Saturday at Jazz Hall, 29 E. Victoria St., Santa Barbara; 963-0404.

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