Friday, March 23, 2012

In Praise Of Taking Chances

Steve Lehman Octet at SF Conservatory. Photo by Sun Lee.
This is a little nudge to our audiences regarding the shows they spend their hard-earned money on, and if I may be so bold, a bit of friendly advice that has served me well as a now-veteran music fan. We present a huge cross-section of music over the course of any given season, covering innumerable genres and often bridging or falling through the cracks between them. It’s these hard-to-define shows that have reliably been the most memorable and satisfying events I’ve known as a concert-goer. The majority, it seems, happen in the smaller venues, namely the Swedish American Hall, YBCA Forum, JCCSF, the Gould Theater and the San Francisco Conservatory. Don’t get me wrong, there are a vast number of big-hall shows that stick in my memory from years before I was honored to join the ranks of this organization up to now, but it’s the more intimate, less easily describable experiences that have consistently been the richest and most rewarding.

Examples of some magical moments from the past couple of years: Cindy Blackman’s pile-driving groove at the Great American Music Hall; the gorgeously (and hilariously) bent punk-jazz of Steven Bernstein’s Sexmob, the cinematic mastery of guitarist Marc Ribot and the terrifying telepathy of Vijay Iyer’s trio at YBCA; the stripped-down power of Donny McCaslin's trio and the enveloping sexiness of Gretchen Parlato’s hushed voice filling the Swedish American Hall; Steve Lehman’s otherworldly octet sounding like a single, multifaceted instrument and the transcendently earthy, yet alien, voices of Huun Huur Tu at the Conservatory. None of these artists fit comfortably in a single box, and yet, that dichotomy is an eminently intriguing asset – one that thrives most when the wall between artist and audience is as small and invisible as possible.

This season we’ve got: Tin Hat, an eclectic quartet who paint lovely and arcane pictures in sound like no one else; the unique Kate McGarry, re-inventing pop tunes as multi-layered canvases for vocal expression with a great band; Cyro Baptista’s Banquet of the Spirits, who bend Brazilian musical tradition and improvisational skill into beautiful shapes; Third World Love, a band confounding stylistic and cultural definitions in amazing ways.
If you didn’t get to see Uri Caine at the Conservatory last Sunday, you missed a superb show by one of the most accomplished keyboardists and composers around, who moves in and out of bebop, free jazz, classical and funk settings seamlessly.

While I’m at it, I’ve got to throw in a plug for Hotplate, our continuing series of club gigs featuring local artists at Amnesia in the Mission district. This is a project I must divulge a vested personal interest in, but trust me when I say if you haven’t gone to one, you’re missing something very special.

What I’m saying with all this is – be brave. Get out there and give a smaller venue show with a potentially unfamiliar artist a chance. In fact, seek out the artist you know least about, and jump in with both feet. Leave your preconceptions and expectations at the door. Embrace the opportunity to be taken on an unfamiliar journey and enjoy the ride for all its worth. I guarantee, if we’ve done our jobs, you’ll leave the show with the feeling that a whole unexplored world has opened before you.
– Rusty Aceves

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