France/Russia/Colombia/Cuba/New York: A Musical World Tour in DTLA

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While many L.A. residents probably headed to Oldchella this past weekend to see the Rolling Stones, Paul McCartney and Neil Young, I trekked downtown and enjoyed two very different concerts.

imgresThe L.A. Philharmonic presented a French-Russian program at Disney Hall on Friday night. On the bill was Maurice Ravel‘s gorgeous Piano Concerto in G, followed by Igor Stravinsky‘s rousing Firebird. Ravel only wrote two piano concertos. On Friday we heard the first one, performed by Spanish pianist Javier Perianes with the L.A. Phil conducted by fellow Spaniard Pablo Heras-Casado. Perianes was impeccable in his subtlety and shadings, drawing a nice balance of early jazz and impressionist elements. The middle adagio is one of classical music’s most beautiful, and he played it elegantly. Conductor Heras-Casado provided a perfect complement — a serendipitous pairing that happened when the originally scheduled pianist had to bow out due to a family emergency.

Firebird was the first of three early Stravinsky/Diaghilev ballet performances in Paris. It is loud, taut, and episodic, with something like 30 small segments, probably because it was, after all, incidental music for the Ballet Russes’ performances. There were many fast-paced scenes. Hearing the music without the dance, I felt something was lacking – a little disjointed perhaps. Nevertheless, the full L.A. Philharmonic — filling the entire stage — was impressive as always.

Justo Almario, Maraca, and Art Webb playing at the Flute Summit. Photo by Guido Herrera-Yance (The original image is no longer available, please contact KCRW if you need access to the original image.)

On Sunday, I went to the lovely outdoor venue of La Plaza de Cultura y Artes — just steps away from historic Olvera Street — for the Havana-LA jazz flute summit, featuring a trifeca of master flute players: New York/L.A.’s Art Webb, Cuba’s Maraca, and Colombian and L.A. resident Justo Almario. The trio was backed by a great rhythm section lead by pianist Oscar Hernández of the Spanish Harlem Orchestra, with Eliseo Borrero on upright bass, Aaron Serfaty on drums, and Christian Moraga handling congas. As an aspiring flute player, this was a show I didn’t want to miss.

All three flute players are advanced in classical, jazz, and Latin styles. Orlando “Maraca” Valle studied classical music for 10 years in Havana, and recorded many albums as a leader. Art Webb studied at Juilliard and has played on recordings (both as sideman and leader) going back to the mid-1970’s. I first noticed the beauty of Art’s flute playing on Norman Connors’s 1973 album Dance of Magic. Justo, though first known as a tenor saxophonist, excels at flute playing, and like the others has a beautiful tone and sound. He’s much in demand with bands around town (e.g. José Rizo’s Mongorama).

The group performed Cuban classics such as “Tres Lindas Cubanas” as well as toe-tapping originals by Justo Almario like “Born to Love” and “Mr. Quick.” Each musician exhibited his own unique sound at the show. Maraca played fast and high up in the third register, even hitting notes into the fourth; Justo’s sound was more flowing and lyrical. Art was a combination of the other two. These three can play Bach or Debussy, or Lecuona and other tropical Latin classics. The fact that they are adept across multiple genres is very impressive. I was super inspired.  Thanks to Guido Herrera-Yance of Yambu Productions and Ruth Price of the Jazz Bakery for putting on the show. We loved it!

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