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MUSIC: Ventura County | SOUNDS

Symphonic Sightseeing

New West's renditions inspire images without need for slide show.

October 22, 1998|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Last weekend, the New West Symphony launched into its third season, and the operative word was "picturesque." There was a clear thread running through the program, a decidedly programmatic one featuring Grofe's crowd-pleasing "Grand Canyon Suite," Stravinksy's "Firebird Suite"--the prettiest of his three early groundbreaking ballets--and Respighi's "Pines of Rome."

This is all music about imagery, whether the admiring travelogue concepts of Grofe and Respighi, paying tribute to the respective geography of the titles, or Stravinsky's sonorous illustration of Russian folklore. In the case of the Grofe, taking up the concert's first half, the picturesqueness was made literal with the projection of specially commissioned photographs of the Grand Canyon by Larry Janss.

However fine and visually sensitive Janss' images were, the aesthetic jury is still out on whether a slide show really has a rightful place in a concert hall, especially when its function is to make obvious the innately evocative sound of Grofe's work, one of several sight-seeing opuses he wrote. We can hear the mules in the cadences of the movement called "On the Trail," and the tumult overhead in "Cloudburst," without literally seeing them.

All in all, though, this was a fine and musical way to begin the season. The crowd was healthy and appreciative. The music was accessible, and not at all without substance.

One of the nicest surprises, in fact, was just how well the Grofe's score holds up when played with the kind of aplomb that this finely tuned orchestra is capable of. The canny melodic manipulations of its opening "Sunrise" movement, the enigmatic purr of its "Painted Desert," and the whimsy of its mule movement emerged through the controlled hand of maestro Boris Brott and an ensemble that grows ever more refined as it goes.

Brott also coaxed the orchestral forces into polished readings of Stravinsky, especially in the angular loveliness of the "L'Oiseau de feu et sa dance" and the declarative air of hope in the final theme. Respighi was in fine form, as well, even through its moments of unabashed kitsch, as when we literally hear bird song from the stage.

As a surprise encore, Brott brought out something completely different--the mournful profundity of Bach's Air on a G String. Here, at last, was music evocative of no place or legend, but just the sheer magnificence of the music for its own sake. It was a definite high point of the evening, a musical moment in the truest sense.

*

The Finer Art of Jazz Vocalizing: Jazz singer Karrin Allyson came out of Kansas City, Mo., a few years back, and, with her limber, refreshingly tasteful style has chalked up credits and kudos. This Sunday at the Victoria Hall in Santa Barbara, she returns to town with her quintet, having performed as part of a Santa Barbara Jazz Society concert last year.

Allyson wins friends and influences music lovers, courtesy of her delicate balance of improvisational invention and melodic subtlety with a warm-toned instrument. As jazz singers go, she's clean and smart, with a flair for little detours into the unknown.

Kansas City-based, she began making regional noise and broke out into wider acclaim when Concord Records picked up her self-produced debut recording, "I Didn't Know About You," in 1992. That album came with a recommendation from another noted musician out of the Kansas City area, Pat Metheny, and critics were impressed. The latest of her now five-title discography on the Concord label is "Daydream," featuring such notable guests as vibist Gary Burton and Randy Brecker on fluegelhorn.

Also on Sunday's bill is pianist Jon Mayer and his trio, joined by tenor sax player Ernie Watts, also heard on Mayer's recent CD, "Do It Like This," on A Records. Mayer's resume includes stints with John Coltrane and Jackie MacLean, and his 1995 album "Round Up the Usual Suspects" featured bassist Ron Carter and drummer Billy Higgins. He travels in the right circles.

BE THERE

* The John Mayer Trio, featuring Ernie Watts, and the Karrin Allyson Quintet, 7 p.m. Sunday at Victoria Hall, 33 W. Victoria St., Santa Barbara. $20; (805) 682-7441.

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