Buika, Cassandra, Ornette, and More

“…and then three come along at once.”

So, as usual, all of a sudden lots of things that I want to go to occur on the same week or so, and I find myself dazed and confused. Here are just a few of them (I’ll spare you the rest):

buika_disney_hallLast Wednesday saw me dashing off to the West Side after a late meeting on campus to get to UCLA’s Royce Hall to see Ornette Coleman in the UCLA Live series. It was not a bad show, although about 1/3 of the way through I realized why it all felt familiar. I’d been to see him in exactly the same series in a similar seat in the same hall some years back and decided then (but obviously forgot) that I really would not see him in such a space again. It is the usual Los Angeles Jazz problem. Rather than come to a small(ish) club and be resident for a few days, the mode for LA seems to be to try to pack a big audience into one night. This misses a huge point of the whole intimacy and communication of jazz that is more prevalent in a small space. But LA audiences and concert organizers seem to miss this fact and Jazz limps along lamely in this city, time and again, because nobody seems to want to support the smaller club model much. (Yes, there are one or two small clubs where the touring players come from time to time (minus one – Jazz Bakery still MIA), and yes, there are some places with good local musicians playing and jamming and so forth, but this is not the point. It is still rather sparse for a city this size and this culturally important, and most of the “big jazz” that comes here is inappropriately staged in places like Royce Hall, the Hollywood Bowl, and other totally wrong places. It is no wonder audiences here largely don’t seem to understand the music beyond a very superficial level… but anyway, you’ve heard/read me on this subject all too often.)

Then there was the AFI film festival, with a great schedule of films, all free. I ended up going to see just one, but a big one. I am a big fan of the quirky director Miike Takashi even though his (huge) output is largely hit and miss. When it is hit, it is often great (and usually disturbing, so watch out). Recall Audition, for example. Well, his 13 Assassins is a masterpiece. I love the genre, and love well done celebration of the artistry and traditions, and this was a good example of it, beautifully filmed. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Last night was the singer (Concha) Buika, at the Disney Hall. I am rather captivated by her most recent album Niña de Fuego (particularly on pieces where it it is just her in closer to pure flamenco cantaor mode, with maybe just piano or guitar accompanying), and so decided to hear what she would be like live. It was great. Actually, it would have been even greater in a smaller space, perhaps over a few nights with two short sets per night, but again organizers seem to have decided that this is not a good business model for LA and so we instead get a giant hall of people coming to see a small group doing small club music. Happily, the Disney has surprisingly good acoustic treatment of small groups (chamber music is astonishingly successful in the hall, for example) and so it did not suffer as much as it could have. Nonetheless, the magic of a powerful voice composed almost entirely of smoke against a solo guitar (did not catch his name) or piano (the great Ivan “Mélon” Lewis) is best appreciated close up in a small space. (Blurry no-flash picture above right is her and her group taking bows after the concert.)

Oh, after the intermission, Lila Downs was on for a loud, energetic set. Good mixture of Mexican folk tunes and contemporary songs flavoured by same. Buika was the headliner for me, as I’ve got too much Spain in my blood right now, musical (particularly flamenco) and otherwise, but Downs is good, no doubt.

Tonight, sigh, is the BIG ONE for me. Cassandra Wilson. She is one of my most favourite singers of all time, and always playing with amazing musicians. I missed her earlier in the year because I had to go to Mexico to teach (see earlier posts) and I was very upset since she does not come to LA much and I have not seen her since my Princeton days (in Philly). I am super-tired from getting home at 1:30am this morning after the concert -which ended at 10:15, but… long story- and then getting up at 7:00 to make biscuits and coffee for a breakfast brainstorming session with two colleagues, but I am going to go along. The good news is that the place she is playing (a newish venue, the Grammy Museum and LA Live (not to be confused with UCLA Live…)) seats only 200 people, so while still bigger than ideal, the intimacy of her music will be done a good service by the space. The bad news? I went to get a ticket in advance. Sold out. I have no ticket.

But I have a plan…


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3 Responses to Buika, Cassandra, Ornette, and More

  1. Carol&Co says:

    Good luck on getting in to the concert – I agree sometimes huge spaces lose the magic of the artist. I look forward to seeing Cassandra Wilson in concert finally as you were the person who introduced me to her all those years ago. cmj+

  2. Ele Munjeli says:

    Cassandra Wilson’s version of Sunny Side of the Street with Terrance Blanchard, on the Let’s Get Lost album. Just sayin’: if you haven’t heard it, get there.

  3. Clifford says:

    Hi! Yeah… she’s just fantastic.

    My plan worked. Thursday night and the days following I was in Heaven. One of the very best nights of my year so far, on the basis of the performance of five songs (she did a short set after an interview with her). But such amazing performance…