Reviews of shows from the Cerritos Center for the Performing Arts and other local venues published by the Los Cerritos Community News. The writer and paper are in their twentieth year of covering these events.

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Location: Fear City, Ca., United States

"My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre - as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field." George Sanders in "All About Eve"

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Sweet Honey in the Rock April 22, 2008

Sweet Honey in the Rock: Harmony and Humanity

By Glen Creason

Exuding class, offering sweet optimism, fostering brotherhood and teaching important historical lessons in song, the excellent vocal group Sweet Honey in the Rock achieved perfect concert balance on Tuesday evening at the Performing Arts Center. These teachers of the great African-American cultural tradition have expanded their scope from early gospel-folk shows to encompass the entire planet in their repertoire. On this night, their great individual talents blended into a tapestry of song and story that really lifted up an entire auditorium for almost two hours. In these times of trouble Sweet Honey puts the emphasis on the possible and pointed the way to the future by showing us the lessons of the past where the great battles won have paved the way to today’s progress.
The old songs still resonate, as did “Somebody’s Callin’ My Name” which opened the set and gave notice to the many newcomers to these shows that the sound coming from just five women (and the sign language from another) can be as large and dramatic as a symphony. “Do What the Spirit Says Do” was another old time spiritual made pure and strong by the rousing rhythmic exhortation from Louise Robinson backed by the a-cappella accompaniment of her sister Sweet Honeys. These were not the only gospel-tinged tunes in the show, certainly the first half closing dynamite singing of “I’m Coming Home Someday” by Carol Maillard and Dr. Ysaye Barnwell’s superb narration and singing of “When I Die” was the kind of performance you feel in your bones. Each member of the ensemble is unique but Dr. Barnwell’s bass notes really make that Sweet Honey sound vibrate into your soul. There were also a couple of wonderful African tunes sung in pristine harmony, creating a soundscape that was amazing and full of color. “Denko” brought each member into a percussive whole while Nitanju Bolade Casel wailed a soulful vocal and the entire hall was used as chorus for the uplifting “Fulani Chant” that recognizes God in nature. Nature and Earth Day was further saluted by the exuberant emotional performance of Aisha Kahlil on “the Soul of Nature” that joined with her Dream chant as some of the most adventuresome music in the show. As a cautionary tale “Greed” was powerful, yet simple, touching the heart while repeating the message until it rung true.
The second half was a full of stories of courage in African-American history, hard-earned wisdom, hope in our children’s future and our place on earth. When “Sweet Honey in the Rock” sang for the children the hopeful song “I Like It That Way” or “Members of the World’s Community” you felt just like you were part of something bigger than the seat there in the Center. When they sang “Breaths” it made you cherish your own respiration and a piece of the action hereabouts. This is truly feel good music, always asking for the best in people without falling back into ignorance or apathy.Much of the rest of the concert centered on Black history and music held together by one valuable thread: freedom. There was “the Ballad of Harry T. Moore,” “Song of Freedom” and the deeply moving “Peace” that asked the audience to demand an end to violence and sent out a healing glow that passed over the crowd like a sweet musical zephyr. Only the encore of “Down the Road I Be Goin’” was left and the delighted crowd experienced their only letdown as the music finally faded into thunderous applause.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

Juilliard String Quartet April 11, 2008

Juilliard String Quartet Classical Quality at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

There is something so civilized about an evening of classical music at the theater, especially if the charmed hall is our own Performing Arts Center. Especially inviting are the sounds of a string quartet that suggest intimacy and fine musicianship inherent in such a concert. Being that the performers on this Friday night at the great hall were the exalted Juilliard String Quartet, possessing an illustrious bloodline and fifty years of such performances behind them and the composers were none other than Papa Haydn, Dmitri Shostakovich and Ludwig Van Beethoven this one seemed to be a sure thing. Certainly the evening possessed all of the assumed joys from those components but added much in the passion of the performance and some real surprises along the way. The Juilliard String Quartet is Joel Smirnoff and Ronald Copes on violins, Samuel Rhodes on Viola and Joel Krosnick on Cello. Each gentleman is an accomplished musician but in a string quartet putting egos aside and playing as one is all-important. This group is absolutely seamless in their approach and execution.
The concert opening Quartet in E-flat Major, Opus 76, No. 6 by Joseph Haydn showed some hints of adventure, commencing with the unusual allegretto that was rather forward thinking for the late 18th century when it premiered. The challenging piece was performed by the quartet with panache especially the beautiful Fantasia with the cello of Joel Krosnick taking flight and the playful Menuetto where the violins, viola and cello quite literally danced through the movement. Despite our two hundred year perspective on this composition it was very much ahead of its time with the future of 1800 ahead.
Shostakovich’s Quartet No. 13 in b-flat minor, Opus 138 was everything but soothing and classical. The piece immediately established a Russian influence and a modern setting charging the hall with unsettling, sometimes even disturbing musical images. The quartet is comprised of one adagio movement but five sections that make great demands on the musicians and their instruments. Violins are tapped in percussion, strings plucked and the central viola maintains a kind of expressive center to this rather challenging composition. Certainly, on this night there were those in the audience not enamored of this twentieth century modernism but others who sprang to their feet in a standing ovation at the conclusion. Shostakovich seems to bring strong emotions out of most aficionados of the form. If the Haydn was a delightful appetizer on the night and Shostakovich the daring entrée of exotica, then the concluding Beethoven was a lovely dessert. The Quartet in F Major, Opus 59, number 1 was sweetly lyrical, refreshingly energetic, expressive with rather grand gestures and gorgeous in its melody. The four movements had a perfect balance: the playful opening allegro, the very bold allegretto vivace, the dramatic adagio molto y mesto with its interplay between cello and violin and the finishing adagio based on a Russian melody that somehow completed the work perfectly.

Monday, April 07, 2008

Sonny Rollins April 5, 2008

Sonny Rollins: Greatness at the Center

By Glen Creason

It’s hard to find the words to give the towering figure of Sonny Rollins his due when it comes to making music with his saxophone, the instrument he has created miracles with for over a half century. That sax is truly the writing instrument of this great man’s genius, a blessed, brass cornucopia of ideas, emotions and musical notes that seems to never be exhausted. In the hands and mind of this perfect master melodies and musical ideas take on added levels of meaning and become journeys of discovery with no two the same. Now approaching 80, Sonny Rollins seems not to notice time’s winged chariot hurrying near and his performance at Cerritos on this night was stunning in its power, inventiveness and artistry for a man of any age. For the most part the large audience sat in awed reverence, merely nodding to the percussion and bass accompaniment as Rollins wasted no time in a ninety minute set of pure passion that inspired the band to heights worthy of playing alongside the colossus.
Opening with the title track from his latest “Sonny Please” Rollins played out front for near ten minutes before handing it over to trombonist Clifton Anderson. It was a straightforward narration, as straight as Odysseus’ path in the Odyssey, featuring layers of riffs, bottomed out by bass notes from the horn in a stream that came rushing past the melody and back again before you could catch your breath.
The sweet “Someday I’ll Find You” was as lyrical and hopeful as the title, spiced by a wonderful guitar break by Bobby Broom and an amazing drumscape created by Kimati Dinizulu. Rollins was a team player on this one, dodging in and out of the melody but finishing the piece after some tasty interplay with excellent new drummer Kobie (Kobe?) Watkins with the first of several exquisite finishes. At times he almost sounded like he was sampling Stan Getz as he caressed the melody.
The following “Nice Lady” was swinging with a calypso beat bouncing the sax on top of a song so accessible you could imagine it getting lots of requests on radio IF there was radio with that kind of good taste. Sonny strode toward the edge of the stage at its conclusion and gave some lucky fans the thrill of their lives as he peppered them with tasty notes by the bushel. Without any ado he came right back with the superb Duke Ellington tune “In a Sentimental Mood” which featured larger spaces between notes which just served to bring the lovely melody into perfect perspective. When bassist Bob Cranshaw finished a pulse thumping solo, Sonny launched into a five minute conclusion that was worth the price of admission. In those mere minutes he packed more excitement than most can manage in a full hour and a half. “Half as Much” sounded very much like his "Way Out West" material which seems right on since the composition is by Hank Williams but the old honky tonker never heard it done exactly like Sonny styled it on this night. Even country and western works beautifully with this band. The trademark “Why Was I Born” sort of answered its own question as the fully limbered up Maestro Rollins just stood like a great heavyweight champion, rocking back and forth as the golden notes poured from his horn. The Cerritos audience coaxed them out for a single encore of “the Blues” which was the perfect end to a truly great night of Jazz. The entire concert reminded you of the movie “Big Night” where the master chefs created a masterpiece called a “timpano” full of the most scrumptious delicacies, layered in precise measures to create an unforgettable feast.

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Shidara March 28, 2008

To the Mountaintop with Shidara at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Taiko group Shidara visited the Performing Arts Center on Friday and brought with them an entire region of Japanese history and folklore. Their show “Heart of the Immortal Mountain” is an attempt to preserve these ancient traditions of the bucolic region of Okumikawa with music, dance and the thunder of taiko, one of the most powerful musical forms on earth. They hail from the rural climes of Toei where they live and train together in complete dedication to this art. Shidara loosely translated means a group of people with a strong will to succeed and persevere. This they did and more at this weekend show with passion and intensity hard to match in other genres. The creative force behind the group is a woman named Chabo who composes much of the music, is the artistic director and performer. This is not music to be taken lightly and it requires complete dedication and exhausting rehearsal and preparation. The packed house at the Center met each segment with encouragement and great appreciation that drove the musicians to greater heights which sometimes seems impossible when all the drums are working together, the eleven musicians playing as one, all 3,000 pounds of percussion on stage at once .
The riveting “Murasamenone” opened the show with just two joyful ladies played small drums (shime-daiko) creating the sound of heavy rain in the forest. Many of the pieces mirrored states of nature with an underlying philosophical commentary connecting man to nature. This was especially evident in the fascinating “Kazenomichi” which followed the wind through grass and trees but suggested the quest of mankind making choices and following roads not taken. It began with just two flutes and built into a huge, percussive wave that engulfed the audience in contemplative, then elevated pulses. “Niebuchi” finished the first half with a truly grand finish, every drum driving in astounding synchronicity, starting like drops of water turning into a rushing river of sound that might uproot boulders along the river bed.
The second half alternated between these thoughtful pieces like “Koganenokaze” with the three “shakuhachi” flutes playing a haunting melody, conjuring up the fields ripe for harvest resting and waving in the gentle breeze and the wildly energetic “Hono Kuni” which brought into play the magnificent “odaiko” drum which booms a bass foundation that reverberates through the entire piece and auditorium. “Tonbi” had a completely mesmerizing sound following a hawk’s circles in the wind, riding around the concert hall on sonic path that was almost visual in its execution. The flute became the hawk’s path and the six drums in pristine harmony formed an entire sky of sound. The following “Hono Kuni” left the already fevered audience in a state of taiko-awe which continued for the final piece “Hana Matsuri” which recreated the harvest festival of their region and brought scores of delighted concert-goers up onto the stage for dances, drumming and wide smiles of taiko-joy. Shidara had indeed, brought the heart of he Immortal Mountain to a hall in Southern California as several thousand Americans stepped the light fantastic for a Japanese harvest in a Toei.