Since he joined the ranks of the cultural elite living in Ojai a few years ago, the noted pianist Roger Kellaway has shown up in various contexts. It only makes sense for a pianist who, while established in the jazz world, has always maintained his love of, and skill within, musical variants.
Kellaway showed the many things he's made of when he gave a rare solo piano performance Saturday night in the literal living-room intimacy of the Ojai Institute. The compact-yet-expansive concert, under the title "Inner Journey," came across as a unique chamber music experience, with plenty of cross-stylistic musical offshoots.
The concert began poignantly with a new tune written in memory of Beatrice Wood, the famed Ojai artist who died, at age 105, a week earlier. The title of Kellaway's tune, "Kissed Again," was taken from a book by Wood, and it's a lovely, memorable waltz, pumped up with an implied Brazilian rhythmic energy. The music was a suitable homage to Wood's twin attributes of contemplation and impish vitality.
After that prelude, Kellaway requested that applause be held until the end. His seamless stitching together of many pieces turned the performance into a suite-like structure reminiscent of Keith Jarrett's free-ranging solo piano concerts.
Whatever the idiomatic turf Kellaway works in, as he veers into classical and impressionistic directions, aspects of his inbred jazz instincts tend to surface. His chordal palette and swing-inflected phrasing reveal traces of his jazz muse, but so do other, less tangible qualities, such as a restless will to invent and improvise.
You could hear the jazz aspect at work most clearly in his readings of standards, such as Irving Berlin's "Always," in which its familiar form was both respected and reinvented. Later in the set, the beautiful "My One and Only Love," often treated as a tender ballad, was energized by Kellaway's Erroll Garner-like chordal treatment of the melody over a left-hand pedal and a solo that shook with dynamic intensity.
His style is often flowing, without being florid. To some ears, his music can sometimes steer a bit too close to the bland harmonic colors used in New Age music, as in "Dream Catcher."
But then, elsewhere, he puts inspired simplicity to good use, as in the spare, meditative poetry of "Lamentation Permutative Mirrors," one of the boldest, and yet simplest, pieces on the program.
For an encore, Kellaway played "Soaring," the title track from a now out-of-print solo piano album. As he commented after the concert, Kellaway plans to record another solo album. Judging by Saturday's performance, the time is nigh, and the material is ready.
Anacapa on Record: Pride of Santa Barbara's home-grown classical music scene, the Anacapa String Quartet gets its name from the Chumash word meaning "always changing, never the same." It's a fine maxim for any music ensemble to heed, and rings especially true for this quartet, which has shown equal passion and commitment to standards of the repertoire, contemporary and music off to the side of conventionality.
The bad news: The Quartet has announced it will disband after a final concert May 28 at Victoria Hall in Santa Barbara. The musicians have decided to pursue separate career goals.
The good news, tempered by the bad: They just released their debut CD, an impressive recording of Mendelssohn's Quartet in F Minor, Opus 80, and Dvorak's Quartet in C, Opus 61. To launch the album, they'll perform in the down-home, come-as-you-are atmosphere of the Roy restaurant Monday night.
Provincial pride is bound to step in here, as the Anacapa has been Santa Barbara's main local classical-ensemble-making-good, but the musicians shine by general musical standards as well. It's been very nice while it's lasted.
* Anacapa String Quartet's CD-release party is Monday at 7 p.m. at Roy, 7 W. Carrillo St., Santa Barbara. $5, refundable with purchase of CD. Call (805) 966-5636 for dinner reservations.