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.

My Photo
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"

Sunday, February 26, 2012

Monica Mancini and Arturo Sandoval February 25, 2012

Monica Mancini and Arturo Sandoval: Great Show on the Stage

                                 By Glen Creason

    It was a beautiful, crisp late winter’s night and the Performing Arts stage was filled with fine musicians and beautiful people. Dazzling was an appropriate adjective to describe the spectacle of the Monica Mancini with Arturo Sandoval and his big band as a Cerritos concert spectacular.  Around three dozen participants worked to make the evening a memorable one and they succeeded individually and as a team. Classy Monica Mancini sang truly great songs, Sandoval hit the high trumpet notes and his big band was every note of big on this night. The only sour notes came from the drunken clowns in my row that seemed to think the show was a time for their inebriated shouting “conversations,” inappropriate interruptions of the artists, off-key accompaniments and constant trips to the lobby for more foolishness fuel. When the chief idiot shouted a marriage proposal to the elegant Ms. Mancini with her husband ten feet behind her on the drums it was enough to drive this reviewer to high ground. An old friend used to say when encountering such bores: “there are more horse’s asses than there are horses.”
     Arturo Sandoval showed great charm and an amazing musical repertoire that included extended jams of stuff from all over the map and musical genre. He began with a not in the least corny “America the Beautiful” that saluted his adopted country with sincere affection and trumpet power that reached not only the back rows to maybe parts of Orange County. Arturo made fun of his imperfect Cuban-English but as one wise wag said he is fluent in four musical languages. The rocket-fueled Latin Jazz “Apertura” got the audience glowing with energy and as was the case all night, allowed the big band to really stretch their musical muscles. I mean, when you have three drum solos from three percussion posts you are giving the band some room to move. To tell the truth, on this night despite the big name headliners it was the big band that kind of stole the show. They put a lot of passion into all of the music and made the hall throb in time with the music. “Salt Peanuts,” a Sandoval favorite did Dizzy Gillespie proud and when gorgeous Becky Martin gave voice to “Sway” and “A Night in Tunisia” Arturo was speaking pure jazz. His marathon piano reading of the electrifying “Surena” rose temperatures once more and the duet with Ms. Mancini of Charley Chaplin’s “Smile” was just a nice finale in a strong night of big music.
     The show was opened by the very polished Monica Mancini who sings with authority and respect for the very greatest tunes in the American songbook. Of course, she chose many of her father’s classic songs including “Moment to Moment,” with a sinus-clearing trumpet solo by Sandoval, “It Had Better Be Tonight” from “the Pink Panther,” the exquisite“Charade,” and the lesser known but just as wonderful “Two for the Road.” With  the excellent big band platform she seemed to relax and focus on making the songs sound as they were written by Johnny Mercer, her father and the optimistic “Accentuate the Positive” with its Harold Arlen lineage. Of course her fans came to hear Mancini on Mancini and with “the Days of Wine and Roses” and the silky smooth “Moon River” she made magic. Even after leaving the stage the big band reminded everybody in the hall that “Peter Gunn” is one of the baddest (in the best sense) tunes ever written. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

The Assads February 15, 2012

The Assads: Twice the Guitar Genius
                          By Glen Creason

     What a joyful and satisfying night it was for aficionados of classical guitar music as the Performing Arts Center gave us not one but two masters of the instrument onstage at once in Sergio and Odair Assad. The award-winning brothers Assad showcased a fascinating program of composers from their native land of Brazil. These brilliantly talented brothers have been perfecting their performance art for forty-five years and their command of the instrument is only matched by their skill in arranging compositions that lend themselves to the two guitars played in perfect synchronicity.  Each man plays with a distinct style and tone while managing to blend the two into a single narrative. It seems like they have a common musical heart that beats as one but flows through different expressive hands. The resulting sound is amazing and the music is made much better by their unique layers of expression. At times the two instruments work so well together you have to look again at the stage to see four hands at work instead of two.
     So much of the classical guitar repertoire is drawn from Spain it was nice to see a program from just Brazilian composers and works less familiar to audiences here. Moreover, guitarists themselves who knew the instrument intimately composed all of the pieces in the first half.  Some of the names are familiar, some not, but the music was wonderfully eclectic and delicious.  The first selection was by Ernesto Nazareth, called the father of Brazilian music from the stage and it was an appropriately ethereal piece, “Eponina” that showcased the delicate touch of both men followed by the brisk and playful “Batuque.” In the guitarist composed selections that followed there was the rhythmic, almost dance music of Joao Pernambuco, the deep and sensual samba-like “Manha de Carnival” by Luiz Bonfa along with the bittersweet and wistful “medley” by Anibal Sardinha.  The finale of the first half was the dreamy waltz and slightly swinging “Suite Retratos” by Radames Gnatelli. Amazingly, the Assads never glanced at a piece of sheet music and also never missed a note. The guitar playing was passionate and perfect.
     After the intermission the show only got better with a stunningly beautiful set of short songs written by Sergio Assad himself and played solo by his brother with deep emotion. This was followed by the more traditional sounding “two works” by Heitor Villa-Lobos which added drama to the program. There was the more familiar sounds of Antonio Carlos Jobim (but not too familiar) and the absolutely exquisite “Palhaco” by Egberto Gismonti. The final “Tahhiyya li Ossoulina,” (written by Sergio) was an evocative tribute to the mixed Lebanese blood of the family Assad which featured plenty of percussion and guitars in tunings that sounded like ouds at some points. The grateful audience begged for an encore and got the lone Spanish piece of the night, some Albeniz that demonstrated the Assad’s versatility and desire to throw in a Latin lollipop. Taken as a whole, the concert was a triumph of great but rarely heard music with superb guitar mastery that made it all sound wonderful.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Perla Batalla and Eclipse Quartet February 4, 2012

           Perla Batalla and the Eclipse Quartet at LACMA: Surreally Great

                                 By Glen Creason

     When I heard that Perla Batalla was commissioned to commemorate the fascinating and long-worded new exhibit “In Wonderland: The Surrealist Adventures of Women Artists in Mexico and the United States” I had to take a trip down Wilshire boulevard to hear surrealism put to words and music by one of my favorite singers. Ms. Batalla is not only a gifted singer but also a restless explorer of art and culture who is never afraid to try something new and challenging. Certainly surrealist art is not for everybody but seeing this exhibit might change a few minds that think  art is something you completely understand the first time you glance at a canvas.

     The show was opened by the excellent and not for the faint of heart Eclipse Quartet who played two extremely avant garde pieces by Meredith Monk and Ruth Crawford Seeger that expanded all sorts of musical boundaries and scales. While thought provoking and mind-expanding these pieces made me long for something more familiar and so it was I cheered mightily when Perla Batalla took her elegant bare-foot strides toward the microphone after an arresting percussive introduction by Pete Korpela. She started with a lyrical and lovely set of songs from her Mestiza Album that were like a warm spell in winter. “Don’t Say You Did This To Me,” was sweetly familiar with accompaniment by David Batteau, the man who co-wrote (with Perla Batalla) all of the songs in the program. Dona Batalla was in fine voice and stretched it out a bit on the bittersweet “Cine de Llantos,” “Tears of the Sun…” and “Iberia” which seem expressly composed for her strong soprano voice that imbues passion into these songs of the melding of Latin and American cultures. An extremely fine band provided a strong platform for “the voice” with pianist John Beasley taking gorgeous jazz journeys throughout the concert.

    After this limbering up with some familiars Perla Batalla turned to some arresting new material that was 
inspired by the exhibit and expressly created for this concert. In a rare treat the opening song was assisted by pop-music royalty in the accordion playing form of Van Dyke Parks who sprinkled some magic on the terrific “Mexican In Paris” that was evocative on several levels. This was followed by the mystical and deep “I Am (the Great Unreason) that demanded and got some powerhouse singing.  The remaining material was mostly inspired by one of the great romances of the 20th century between the artists Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo who seem to have charged Batalla-Batteau with musical romantic passion. “Diego My Destiny” was sung with an ache in the voice that expressed the deep but doomed Kahlo love for the untamable Senor Rivera but “Tell Me You Don’t Love Me Anymore” was one of those Batalla specialties that just broke your heart and made an entire concert hall imagine such a painful but deep love between the two.  Amazing that in this scene of abstract expressionism I would find very real tears forming in my eyes. The finale returned us to happier times with the Eclipse Quartet joining Batalla and band on stage for a joyful tour of “My Blue House” which demonstrated the richness of the art and love that these Mexican lovebirds shared despite the greatest of obstacles. 

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan February 8, 2012

Grits and Glamour at Cerritos: Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan

                        By Glen Creason

     Yee-haw! I sure felt good to hear country music in the Performing Arts Center again and when the songs came from such second generation C&W royalty as Pam Tillis and Lorrie Morgan it made the evening extra-special and extra good. With too many accolades to modestly recount here I will instead just report that the pair briskly piled winners on top of each other at this show, twenty countrified classics all in a row. In between they showed their bloodlines by telling one amusing yarn after another of lives immersed in old-style country and the Grand Old Opry. Grizzled ones in the audience would most certainly remember George Morgan and Mel Tillis as the fathers of these two young ladies who have decades of experience dating back to when they were kids in Nashville. They also have a bunch of hit songs on their own and they alternated in singing them just as good as ever in front of a healthy crowd of Cerritos fanaticos.
     Both ladies have voice enough to reach the back rows, indeed maybe bounce strong soprano notes off the San Gabriel Mountains in some cases. The show stayed mostly in the country genre but veered off a couple of times very successfully. The show opening “Clouds” by the decidedly non-C&W Joni Mitchell was appropriate with two women with their rich experience but then the fiddles and guitars got to work.  Lorrie Morgan looked darn good and sang up a storm on “ Watch Me,”  “Except for Mondays” then threw in a pair of beauties from her newest CD “California Quake” and “Mirror Mirror” that had some gray heads nodding in the audience. The light-hearted and sweet voiced Ms. Tillis gave us a taste of “the Sugar Tree,” torched up the bittersweet “Train Without a Whistle,” and vamped through the funny “Queen of Denial.” There was a tribute to their famous daddies in “Candy Kisses” from the George Morgan songbook and “Burning Memories” that rang Tillis true after all these years.
    Everything the firm of Tillis-Morgan attempted was lifted up by a very fine band, especially the superb guitarist Roger Eaton, a genuine national fiddle champion Megan B. Lynch, keyboardist and musical director Mark Ontiverius and the multi-faceted singer-songwriter-instrumentalist Mary Sue Englund who added eye-candy and vocal backup worthy of her own night under the Cerritos footlights. The fans demanded radio hits and got “Mi Vida Loca,” “What Part of No,” “Spilled Perfume,” “Don’t Tell Me What to Do,” and “I Didn’t Know My Own Strength,” that were pure country. There was a powerhouse reading of Lorrie Morgan’s “Something in Red” that garnered a standing ovation and Pam Tillis broke a few hearts with a beautiful “Maybe It Was Memphis.”  Still, it was a collaborative effort and when the two ladies tackled “Operator” with it’s gospel tones they really took the show to a higher level. The surprising encore of the Beach Boys “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” was a perfect finale to a night of Southern California country.

Friday, February 03, 2012

Salzburg Chamber Soloists February 2, 2012

    Salzburg Chamber Soloists: 

        Talent times Fifteen

                            By Glen Creason

     The highly acclaimed and greatly anticipated (by Chamber enthusiasts) Salzburg Chamber soloists came to the Performing Arts Center with a fresh and uncompromising program that literally dazzled the cozy but exuberant  Cerritos audience with not so often played compositions that sounded sublime in their young hands. The Soloists are an international all-star team of stringed instrument masters who play very much as a team.  Actually, they are more of a dream team that seems to be able to make material better with their passionate interpretations and the leadership of violinist/conductor Sandor Vegh. Pardon me for being shallow in the face of such elegant and intelligent music but they are also the best-looking ensemble ever seen on a Cerritos stage. Nine lovely women and five handsome men comprise the Salzburgs which might distract the purist but when they begin to play you see this is not a pulchritude pageant and they all belong on that stage for musical talent alone.
     The evening began with a short gem by the great Mozart, his “Adagio and Fugue in c minor, KV 546” that was greatly influenced by J.S. Bach. The solemn commencement leading to a brisk and moving finish appropriately showed the genius of both composers. The Mozart turned out to be just a nice bon bon appetizer for the denser stuff to follow. Benjamin Britten’s complex and difficult to perform “Les Illuminations for Soprano and Strings, Opus 18” completed the first half but not before the hall was taken on a phantasmagoric voyage through the poems of Arthur Rimbaud. In nine parts the Illuminations voyaged in a dream state as sung by delicate voiced soprano, Karine Polverelli who seemed perfect for the role that demanded caressing the French language descriptions of travels in phantom cities but also passionately describing erotic dreams, presumptuous romantic couples, vast seascapes, physical transformations and a rather macabre parade of images from a host of evils. After all that, the piece finishes with a breathtakingly beautiful “Depart” that punctuates the incredible musical journey with a delightful finish.
     In the second half the soloists really lived up to their titles starting with Leos Janacek’s “Suite for Strings” with touches from late Romantic period. Sometimes sweet and lyrical the six pieces offered opportunity for the soloists to shine and they did not drop the ball once. The presto in the middle was exceptional in its gorgeous melody that seemed to sing with the cellos and violins working together as one. The Suite was one of those performances that you hated to see end but it left an afterglow enhanced by the deep and melancholic Adagio and the short but sweet Andante. The final offering on this night, Ravel’s “String Quartet in F Major” seemed to have been written for this young group who flexed their musical muscles especially in the “Assez vif” that featured plucking the instruments followed by the occasional stringed drama, then interludes of the opening theme that sounded better each time it was played. If one were to look for inspiration for much of the classic film music of the 20th century this Ravel composition is a lesson in such musical expression. The encore was an exuberantly joyful “Chant et Fugue” by Astor Piazzola that allowed the young musicians to let their hair down and let their freak flags fly so to speak. The smiles on the faces on stage spread to the grateful audience where it appeared that many of the sometimes staid chamber music fans wanted to dance.