Though modest in scale, the Latin American Composers Festival at Cal State L.A. was generous in idealistic intent. The three-concert event, performed by members of the Luckman Chamber Ensemble, sought to help redress the flagrant underexposure granted music from the "other" America. Mission accomplished.
Saturday night's keynote concert belonged primarily to the festival's guest composers, both duly celebrated if still lesser-known than they should be. Cuban-born Tania Leon, now based in Brooklyn, and Mexican composer Arturo Marquez are bold contenders in the Latin American scene.
Leon's music is often girded by fascinating rhythmic ideas. "Permutation Seven" teases into a pulse but usually fragments into a more Cubist interpretation of rhythm. The Luckman sextet dealt bravely with the challenging score, if not always crisply. Leon's "A La Par" is an energetic dialogue and dance for piano and percussion--Paul Da Silva and David Johnson--full of rhythmic gumption and tonal restlessness.
Visiting Mexican virtuoso Lidia Tamayo, who champions contemporary uses of the harp, was joined by percussionist Joe Mitchell--and tape--for Marquez's dynamic, modular "Son a Tamayo," including a swaggering passage reminiscent of psycho-lounge legend Esquivel. Marquez's solo piano piece, "En Clave," suggests a distinctive offshoot of minimalism and, yes, the Cuban clave rhythmic rudiment. "Moyolhuica" is a tour de force for solo flute, played here with expressive bravura by Danilo Lozano, with indigenous Mexican references--including pre-Columbian sounds--mixing with Modernist thought.
Marquez's "Octeto Malandro" evokes a sophisticated dance band, charged with metric trickery and harmonic elasticity.
The evening's one departure, composer-wise, was "Memoria E Fado," by the great Brazilian musician and composer Egberto Gismonti, played lyrically by David Johnson, like a jazz-colored hymn.