The Stanley Wind Ensemble tends to come out in public only in summer, the off-season of the classical music calendar, but the group is always worth checking out.
As it turns out, the group will have an unusually busy week, performing in Moorpark on Saturday night and again Wednesday at Ventura College in the annual public showcase of young composers involved in Miguel del Aguila's "Voices" composition program.
Founding conductor Michael Stanley graduated from Thousand Oaks High School in 1990 and formed the wind ensemble in 1991. He's now a Burbank resident and culls wind players from the Conejo and San Fernando valleys, offering a local voice to the too-rarely heard wind ensemble repertoire.
Saturday's program includes music by Percy Grainger, Sammy Nestico and a new work by local Michael Fortunato (previously heard in a "Voices" concert).
"Voices" continues to be one of the region's most encouraging music education programs, in which fledgling composers are nurtured by no less formidable a composer than del Aguila himself.
With funding from the California Arts Council, the Oxnard School District, Oxnard College and the Ventura County Behavioral Health Department, the program is free to all participants; and, judging from past summer concerts by its members, the unleashing of creative energy is working wonders.
At Wednesday's concert, we'll hear music by teenage composers Fortunato, all of 17 now, Tezozomoc Vasquez, Dwight Parry, David Schneider, Danny Black, Susana Montal and others, written for the Stanley Wind Ensemble and other instrumental settings.
Stanley Wind Ensemble, Saturday, 8 p.m. at the Moorpark High School Performing Arts Center, 4500 Tierra Rejada Road. Tickets are $6; (818) 841-7671. "Voices" concert at 7 p.m. Wednesday at Ventura College Theater, 4667 Telegraph Road in Ventura. Free; 984-7162.
Guitaring On: The music store bin reserved for guitarist Robben Ford, an Ojai resident for the past few years, has just expanded by two titles of radically different vintage.
In the one corner, we have "Sunrise" (Avenue Jazz), the rough-and-ready album of live tracks snatched out of the early '70s. Its numbers, which include vocals by Ford and the late Jimmy Witherspoon--an admirer and employer--amid the long instrumental outings, were recorded at now-defunct venues such as the Ash Grove and the Golden Bear.
Ford then was just an early twentysomething who came down from his Northern California home base and immediately began making noise around Los Angeles as a new kid to reckon with.
The list of people who wound up using his service came to include Joni Mitchell, George Harrison, Miles Davis and countless others.
As a slice of history, "Sunrise" showcases an eager young guitarist, full of adventure and a blues-fired spirit, rough edges and all, and is recommended for Ford fanatics.
On more solid ground, the new project from Ford is the ambitious "Supernatural," on the Stretch label, due in stores this week.
The album shows an artist who has matured greatly since his days of wild oats and fiery riffs.
It's a reflective but also gutsy R&B project given a fresh production touch by Susan Rogers, whose resume includes work with the artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince.
What does remain similar between the archival album and the brand new model, with some telling differences, is Ford's guitar playing, which still contains a distinctive blend of heated intensity, a finely nuanced touch and tasteful phrasing.
It's his signature sound on the instrument, his identifiable way of making the thing sing.
The new album, composed almost entirely of thoughtful Ford-penned vocal tunes, is both a continuation and a departure from "Tiger Walk," his last official solo album of a couple of years ago that also harked back to a late-'70s soul-jam sound but in a much looser and more instrumental way.
His latest, played by real humans in real time, is anything but techno. Ford wraps his guitar playing and voice around funk-erific grooves, keyboard colors that include organ, electric piano and occasional old-school synthesizers, horns and saucy background vocals, including input from his wife, Anne Kerry Ford, and Ojai-based singers Julie Christensen and Perla Batalla.
The musician list also includes drummer Vinnie Coliuta, his old pal, keyboardist Russell Ferrante, and Roger Kellaway (another Ojai neighbor), who arranges strings on "Don't Lose Your Faith in Me."
Can it be? Robben Ford with strings? As if in compensation, he plays electric guitar with extra dirt in his tone and extra fire in the hole.
For this blue-eyed soul-fueled project, Ford also calls on old collaborator Michael McDonald, on whose projects Ford has appeared. McDonald returns the favor by co-writing a couple of tunes and lending his instantly identifiable voice on "Deaf, Dumb and Blind."
Ford's vocal style has always been cleaner than his focused-but-gritty guitar playing, however much it dips into jazz-inflected terrain. He often sounds like a basically nice guy with a mean case of the blues, a paradox you can hear on the CD's closing tune, a bluesy shuffle version of Paul Butterfield's "Lovin' Cup."
If his singing is on the money but cool, his guitar licks hint at something more ornery.
That's part of the Ford charm, dating to when he was a teenage guitar slinger in the '70s, coming down the California coast to fame and sideman glory.