BWW Review: LA JOLLA ATHENAEUM PRESENTS ETIENNE CHARLES AND CREOLE JAZZ at TSRI Auditorium In La Jolla

BWW Review: LA JOLLA ATHENAEUM PRESENTS ETIENNE CHARLES AND CREOLE JAZZ at TSRI Auditorium In La Jolla

The Etienne Charles sextet's concert at La Jolla's TSRI Auditorium proved yet again that the Athenaeum's jazz program coordinator Dan Atkinson hasn't lost his touch. The series, which he founded in 1989, consistently features some of the best jazz musicians in the country. Atkinson books as many as 18 jazz concerts a year at the TSRI and other Athenaeum venues. He has an unerring ear for talent, often booking terrific young musicians not yet widely known. That's why the La Jolla Athenaeum has been named one of the world's great jazz venues by both DownBeat and JazzTimes magazines. Before Etienne Charles came onstage, Atkinson's exceptional contributions to jazz in San Diego were formally recognized by both the Jazz Journalist Association and the city. Journalist Robert Bush first presented a 2018 Jazz Hero award on behalf of the association and then announced that San Diego had declared the day of the concert "Dan Atkinson Day."

That well-earned moment of recognition was followed by an exciting mix of the jazz and Afro-Caribbean influenced music of Trinidad-born trumpeter and bandleader Etienne Charles. Things got off to a bright bouncy start with "Douen" from the San Jose Suite by Charles, who wrote five of the eight tunes on the program.

Duke Ellington's familiar "Caravan" was driven by the colorful drumming of Jonathan Pinson and featured an exciting series of exchanges at frantic speed between Charles and alto sax player Danny Janklow. Both have sure technique and a solid full sound. Electric guitarist Samir Moulay, bassist Dean Hulett, and pianist Tony Tixier rounded out the sextet. The musicians blended well, and solos were fairly evenly distributed, though, as might be expected, the leader had the greatest amount of time in the spotlight. That time included a most Poncho Sánchez-like solo on three conga drums and what sounded like a bass-pitched cajón box drum.

The day of the concert marked the 50th-year anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr, and the sextet honored his memory with a heartfelt arrangement that began with a somber "Amazing Grace" and wound its way to a minor-key version of a melodic phrase from "God Bless America." It was a soft-spoken reminder that the reverend's death was a tragic loss, not just for the minorities he represented, but for the entire country.

The Caribbean Islands, like the United States, have a long history of racial discrimination that has often inspired the compositions and playing of musicians from Trinidad and other islands such as Cuba and Jamaica. I suspect Charles admires the music of Jamaican Bob Marley partly for that reason. His reggae-influenced arrangement of Marley's "Turn Your Lights Down Low" was a sunny, rhythmic delight.

Charles loves audience participation and encouraged clapping, dancing and singing along on a few numbers. The enthusiastic audience of mostly jazz aficionados did well on the rhythmic clapping, not so well on Bob Marley words or reggae dance-moves. {My excuse is that I was usually in the band when growing up rather than on the dance floor.)

The concert concluded with "Santimanite," another up-beat tune from the San Jose Suite.

This enjoyable concert was the next to last in this season's TSRI series, but other Athenaeum venues feature both jazz and classical music. See schedule and ticket information at the La Jolla Athenaeum's website.

Photo courtesy of La Jolla Athenaeum.




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From This Author Ron Bierman

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