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Delightful Disruption

Annual festival that draws crowds to little Ojai promises variety of musical adventures.

May 26, 2000|JOSEF WOODARD | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Every year it happens: A benevolent onslaught hits Ojai during the transition from spring and summer as musicians from different directions disrupt life as usual in this otherwise quiet town. And it's that time again for Ventura County's one claim to international cultural fame, the Ojai Festival.

Last year, the visitors were mostly Finnish, in a program designed by the Los Angeles Philharmonic's maestro, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and featuring comrades from his native country.

This year, the British are coming. Bring them on, we say, especially when the parties in question are as celebrated as conductor Simon Rattle and composers in residence Thomas Ades and Mark-Anthony Turnage. Rattle, this year's festival music director, is one of the world's most respected conductors, and Ades and Turnage have enjoyed generous acclaim for music that is both challenging and pleasing to the ear.

We'll hear the U.S. premieres of work by both, including Turnage's fascinating classical-cum-jazz piece, "Blood on the Floor." It will be performed in Ojai the night of June 3 by the L.A. Philharmonic New Music Group, along with jazz drummer Peter Erskine and saxophonist Martin Robertson (who were also on the fine Argo recording of the work) and guitarist Mike Miller.

On the French front, we'll hear concert versions of Ravel's "L'Enfant et les Sortileges" and Poulenc's "Les Mamelles de Tiresias" and be able to visually cross-reference images of sets for those operas by David Hockney, on display at the Ojai Art Center. Also in that space, the tradition of offering concert appetizers before the big weekend events continues. Sundowner concerts, by musicians from the California Institute of the Arts, will take place Wednesday and Thursday at 5:30 p.m.

Also on the periphery of the main events will be what looks to be a charming "Family Concert" June 3 at 10 a.m., when members of the Santa Barbara Symphony are joined by narrator Malcolm McDowell in performances of Gandolfi's "Pinocchio's Adventures in Funland" (not Finland) and Saint-Saens' beloved quirk, "Carnival of the Animals."

All in all, there's much for music lovers to look forward to next week in Ojai.

DETAILS

The Ojai Festival, Wednesday through June 4. Tickets range from $10 to $65; 646-2053.

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Prodigious Son's Return: To the jazz world at large, pianist Kei Akagi is defined as a Japanese-born player who made his mark in Los Angeles. It was there that he moved in the '80s from his home base and got gigs as a sideman for Stanley Turrentine, Al DiMeola and finally Miles Davis--the gig that catapulted him into international recognition.

But to those of us keeping track of such things, Akagi will always be at least an honorary Santa Barbaran, a local gone global.

After going to UCSB in the late '70s, he settled in the city for several years, becoming a musical burning sensation through work with the Little Big Band and the great little "fusion" band, the Eraserheads.

He's making one of his periodic returns to town Sunday at the Fe Bland Forum of Santa Barbara City College, and it will be great to hear him in acoustic trio format in an actual concert setting, as opposed to the inherent distraction-filled environment of a club.

The concert is being presented by the Santa Barbara Jazz Society and features notable bandmates Joe LaBarbera on drums and Christoph Luty on bass.

Although remembered for his stint with Davis, having been in that jazz icon's last working band before his death in 1992, Akagi's own subsequent solo career has been much less visible.

It's a shame, because he has built up a fine discography of recordings, including "Mirror Puzzle," "Playroom," "New Smiles and Traveled Miles"--a very fine tribute to Davis in 1998 for a Japanese label--and a brand new CD, "Viewpoint," coming out just in time for the concert.

Part of the reason for Akagi's relative obscurity may be that his own music is utterly different from the funk-lined work of Davis' band. Post-Miles, he dispensed with his electric keyboards and plunged into the acoustic piano realm, bringing a new ferocity and poetry to that tradition.

He plays internationally, including with such prominent musicians as guitarist John Abercrombie and trumpeter Kenny Wheeler, and is warmly received in his native country.

Meanwhile, he lives in the Southland and teaches at UC Irvine, when not globe-hopping. It's always good to check in on this returning sort-of local hero.

DETAILS

Kei Akagi Trio, Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in the Fe Bland Forum at Santa Barbara City College. Tickets are $20.

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Josef Woodard, who writes about art and music, can be reached by e-mail at joeinfo@aol.com.

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