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"

Monday, March 30, 2009

Taiko X2 ON Ensemble and Kenny Endo March 28, 2009

Taiko X2: Right On!

By Glen Creason

I admit I am prejudiced. I have been a fan of the On Ensemble since I saw them last at Cerritos and admired their unique hybrid of Taiko drumming and world music. Each of the four members: Masato Baba, Kristofer Bergstrom, Shoji Kameda and Kelvin Underwood are classically trained and have studied in Japan with the legendary Japanese-American Taiko master Kenny Endo. Having Endo perform with them at this concert was both an honor for the young men but a blessing for the large crowd on hand to get their Taiko and eat some sweet musical cake for dessert. Since I equate the word fusion with dilution I will not use it here but what Kenny Endo and subsequently the On Ensemble do is place their improvisations and modern musical forays in fascinating paths of discovery that branch out from the big highway of a centuries old Japanese drumming tradition. Sometimes the paths become highways themselves but at the center of every tune is the drum despite the dozens of instruments and sounds used at this show.
This concert began with the basics, the grand tradition of Taiko with Kenny Endo playing the big Taiko drum, turning two sticks and a skin stretched out over this hollow space into a magical journey called “Harukaze.” The large crowd sat up in their seats and got ready for more when On came on stage for “Noon Cycles” that straightened some backbones in rapt attention. When special guests started joining the group it increased the scope but not the volume, just adding intricacy to the sound. There was Brad Dutz on vibes, Ysanne Spevack on violin and Kaoru Watanabe on flute. These three were really and truly superb, certainly strong enough individually to stand up there and carry a show on their own. Each guest added a certain spice to the mix; Spevack making some tunes drift toward Balkan or Indian tones, Dutz tossing tasty jazz riffs in and Watanabe returning everything back to Japan with his flute. Sometimes there would be a stage full of hand held percussion like on “Spirit of Rice” or a seashell blown as in “Yume no Pahu” or the sort of pedal koto played by Bergstrom and even a didgeridoo from Aborigine Australia. Holding it all together was the powerful, limitless invention of Kenny Endo playing Taiko.
The second half was very innovative and stretched the limits of the Japanese tradition out to its outer limits. There was light and lyrical songs like “Little Man” that ended with a wonderful kumidaiko and then there were the amazingly rich sounds of throat singing from Shoji Kameda as in “Yamasong.” In yoga they suggest that you take a pose to its edge and that is where On went for “Waiting,” “Turns,” and “Hisashi” using turntable scratching, throat singing, dozens of percussive inventions, a western drum kit and touches of rock and roll to create a sometimes edgy soundscape. Somehow, it just worked beautifully and “After Rain” dedicated to our dear, dirty LA was like the place itself; a stupendous, multi-textured dream.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

John Mayall and Dave Mason March 20, 2009

Old School In Session: John Mayall and Dave Mason at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

It is sad but sometimes the old time big names hide diminished talent and offer lackluster concerts. In rock and roll music this can be particularly disappointing because it sort of mirrors the fade of youthful glory in all our lives. At Cerritos on a fine Friday night the opposite was in fantastic evidence as John Mayall and Dave Mason just lit up the big hall with loud, lovely blues and rock and roll, played the way it should be done with passion tempered by experience. It did the big boomer crowd’s collective heart good to see both men in such fine fettle, singing like it was 1968 and playing the guitar to teach the few youngsters in the house a lesson.
Mayall opened the show, his mane of hair now snowy white but his voice not much different than when he growled “California” back when gas was twenty-seven cents a gallon. The opening blues jam spiced as were most of the Mayall set by fiery guitar solos from Rocky Athas and a solid young band that had to run to keep up with the old pro. There were the familiar ones that we heard back in the 60’s like “Chicago Line,” “the Bear,” the aforementioned “Ca-a-a-a-lifornia” and the evergreen “Room to Move” that were so strong and so fine they had folks standing up and dancing. The organ playing of Tom Canning was electrifying but when Mayall blew his trademark blues harp time seemed to stand still.
After a brief interlude to allow the audience to take a whistle-stop, Dave Mason took the stage, he of the early 1970’s classic pop-rock and roll albums. Mason has never been much for showmanship but on this night he just let his guitar do the talking and it came through very loud but quite clear. Mixing the old with a few new ones Mason just put on a master’s class with his telecaster, sending notes in bushels over the spellbound crowd. There were tunes representing the major scenes in his career including the beautiful “World In Changes,” Only You Know and I Know” and “Look at Me, Look at You” from the truly classic “Alone Together” album that sounds as good today as it did when I snatched it off the shelves of “the Sound Seller” in 1970. There were some great hard rocking Traffic tunes including “40,000 Headmen” and “Dear Mr. Fantasy” with high decibel exhilaration pumped up by the organ magic of Bill Mason, the thundering bass of Gerald Johnson and the powerhouse drumming of Alvino Bennet. The highlight of the entire night may just have been the face-melting guitar solo of Johnne Sambatoro that exemplified the spirit of hard rock and roll. Dave Mason had the guts to throw in several new songs which were well received, especially “Let Me Go” which preceded a finishing romp of the poignant “Shouldn’t Have Took More Than You Gave” and a totally rocked out “All Along the Watchtower which showed Mason to be at the peak of his powers and in no way looking down any hill.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Royal Crown Revue March 14, 2009

Royal Crown’s Hip Coronation at Cerritos

By Glen Creason

The Royal Crown Revue came to Cerritos on a Saturday night and showed some real flipped out flair in front a swelled house, anxious for some swell tunes. The revue is ample with eight members in the band, two vocalists and some redheaded and blonde eye candy worth ogling. There is a silver tongued and double-breasted suit, fedora wearing master of ceremonies and a hepcat lead singer who seems to be a cross between Mugs McGuiness and Frank Sinatra. Still the heart and soul of this potent musical mix is the horn section featuring the truly outstanding sax man Mondo Dorame who shows all his emotion out of the end of his horn.
It was a dazzling show at Cerritos, opening with a splashy “Man With the Golden Arm” that sparkled with the 1950’s cool that permeates the music of the revue. Two comely burlesque queens strutted their considerable stuff while the band wailed and you got the idea this might be fun. Everyone is dressed to the nines and the sound is big, bigger when Eddie Nichols hits the mike with ring a ding ding stuff like “Come Fly With Me,” “Luck Be a Lady,” and “This Town” which were given some authority by the strong horn section platform and the superb drumming of Bam Bam Danny Glass along with stand up bass work from Dave Miller and very solid lead guitar by Mark Cally. The show is sweetened considerably by the beautiful brunette songstress Jennifer Keith who jumped up the terrific “Forty Cups of Coffee,” put a honey coating on “They Say” and improved the overall attitude with “It’s a Good Day.” Yet, the very best number in the opening half was a seamless ensemble performance of “Memories Are Made of This” that would have made Dino proud.
A short intermission did not seem to cool the jets of the Review and an Eddie Nichols medley of romance songs including “Temptation,” Date at 8,” and “Jezebel” started the band on a runway to takeoff. Miss Keith did a sexy version of “An Occasional Man,” followed by a wunderbar “ Bei Mir Bist du Schon” and “Mack the knife” that was triple decker sandwiched around a nod to Louis Prima and Keely Smith. This included a really spirited “When You’re Smiling” with Eddie Nichols taking the unenviable Luigi parts. They sang it well but Jennifer just did not look bored enough to be a great Keely.
By far, the best moments of the second half took place when the band really opened up and got into the groove of their hits like “Watts Local,” “Zip Gun Bop,” the too long ignored “Hey Pachuco” and their rollicking farewell “Viva Las Vegas.” In these pieces, especially “Hey Pachuco” the band got to stretch it out and show their well-practiced chops. It is easy to get lost in all the serge suits, polished wingtips, red lipstick, four inch heels and brilliantine hairdos but the Royal Crown Revue actually really swings the great old music of several eras quite convincingly. They don’t just look hip, they play hip too.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

The Keys to New Orleans March 3, 2009

“A Long Night in the Big Easy at Cerritos”

By Glen Creason

Featured performer Allen Toussaint in the musically magnificent “The Keys to New Orleans” show was doing so well and playing so sweetly that I thought to myself that I could listen to this man all night. And I almost did. Toussaint got in the spirit of the Crescent City, settled in at the big Steinway used for all three great pianists and turned a forty-five minute set into an hour and forty minutes of expertise on the keyboards and the art of songwriting. Toussaint has more hit records than Cerritos has cars plus a piano technique that makes the man a genuine maestro on the 88’s. Many of the tunes heard on this night were hit records way back when Rock and Roll was a toddler including stuff like “Mother In Law, “ “Fortune Teller,” “Working in the Coal Mine” “Certain Girl” and the infectious “Java” that was played at my grammar school dances. He has never slowed or gone out of style, producing hit songs in every decade since. From “Yes We Can Can” to “Southern Nights” Allen Toussaint has blazed a path across American pop while supplying folks like Ernie K. Doe, Lee Dorsey, Bonnie Raitt, Frankie Miller and even the Rolling Stones with hit songs. What the large crowd on hand was hip to also is that Toussaint is one incredible piano player in almost every style imaginable. There seems to be no limit to his dexterity and style nor does there seem to be a bottom to his deep well of musical wisdom. He told charming stories, he tossed off grand arpeggios as he spoke and was overall a wonderful host who was having so much fun it was hard for him to leave or for us to let go. Even amidst all the hits the very special moments came on a spectacular biographical ramble in which he beautifully moved through his piano influences leaving many a mouth agape in the hall. Yet, instead of finishing at a gallop he slowed to a canter in the finale “Southern Nights” with an enchanting prelude spoken about his childhood visits to the Louisiana countryside.
Two accomplished and extremely polished New Orleans music veterans, Jon Cleary and Henry Butler, opened the show. Cleary is exceptionally powerful in his piano excursions putting a capitol B in barrelhouse. In his short but very potent seven song set he gave the big crowd songs to remember as in “Young Boy Blues,” “Over in Gloryland,” “Don’t Let My Husband Catch You,” and “Farewell to Storyland.” He also made the masses sit up and move a little with two superb instrumentals, especially the last boogie-woogie that reached a fever pitch. Cleary was closely followed by the legendary Henry Butler who showed such speed and dexterity on his bluesy piano romps that it sometimes expanded musical boundaries. He kept it to just five numbers but they all glowed with some real heat. “He busted off juicy slices of New Orleans meat with “Orleans Inspiration,” “Something You Got” and went the distance with “Let It Roll” that saw the audience beg him to stay. Unlike Allen Toussaint’s long distance course, Butler’s run was more like a bracing six furlongs where he won going away.