Rhythm Planet Recommends: August Concert Picks

Left to right: Kamasi Washington (Photo courtesy of the Los Angeles Philharmonic; Dayren Santamaria (Photo: Deidhra Fahey); Harold Mabern (Photo courtesy of Catalina Jazz Club)

There is a treasure trove of concerts coming up this month that should appeal to music lovers of every persuasion. The City of Angels is home to many diverse cultures, and these shows reflect some of our rich multicultural landscape. From classic Cuban son and singer Daymé Arocena to vioinist Dayren Santamaria and dissident rockers Síntesis, we’ve got quite a few Cuban acts to look forward to in August. Also straight-ahead veteran jazz pianist Harold Mabern, plus lyrical Persian music from powerhouse vocalist Hamed Nikpay. And last but not least, one of this summer’s hottest tickets features jazz keyboard superstar Herbie Hancock performing at The Hollywood Bowl along with young lion saxophonist Kamasi Washington. Don’t miss out!

Friday, August 11 | Septeto Santiaguero | Grand Performances (Cal Plaza, Downtown LA)

Septeto Santiaguero is from Santiago de Cuba in Oriente Province in Eastern Cuba—the birthplace of the Cuban traditional music called son Cubano. It’s an older style of Cuban music than mambo or timba. (Most of the Buena Vista Social Club members were originally soneros from the East who moved to Havana for work because that’s where the hotels were, which meant more jobs to be had.) Septeto Santaiguero is a seven-piece outfit that features conga or bongos, tres guitar (as in six double strings), trumpet, bass and vocals. Like a fine aged rum, their music is mellow and sweet, perfect for slow, sensual dancing. This is a rare opportunity to hear and dance to a band that rarely—if ever—comes to Los Angeles. Admission is free. For more info, click here.

Friday & Sunday, August 11–13 | Harold Mabern Trio | Catalina Jazz Club (Hollywood)

I first heard pianist Harold Mabern perform with the great jazz trumpeter Lee Morgan back in the late 1960s. More recently, Mabern has released a number of fine albums as leader and also as a sideman for tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander. Smoke Sessions Records just released a new album by this true jazz veteran called To Love and Be Loved, which I’m enjoying a lot. Mabern rarely comes west, but he performs this weekend at Catalina Jazz Club, together with his terrific drummer, Joe Farnsworth, and bassist Mike Gurrola. For tickets and info, click here.

Saturday, August 12 | Hamed Nikpay | Grand Performances (Downtown LA)

The Iranian community will surely come downtown to hear the famous Hamed Nikpay perform his gripping, powerfully charged songs at Grand Performances this weekend. To add to the evening’s magic in Cal Plaza’s Water Court, Nikpay and his musical ensemble will be accompanied by dancers, under the direction of Farzin Farhadi. Admission is free. For more info, click here.

Thursday, August 17 | Daymé Arocena | Skirball Cultural Center (Los Angeles)

Cuban singer Daymé Arocena hit the scene in 2014, together with veteran Canadian musician, Jane Bunnett & Maqueque, one of Canada’s best known Cuban groups. Since then, veteran producer Gilles Peterson has released three of her CDs on his Brownswood Recordings label. Arocena has been described by NPR host Felix Contreras as a mixture of Celia Cruz and Aretha Franklin, and I don’t think anybody would argue with that. Her repertoire includes songs in both Cuban and English. Admission is free. For more info, click here.

Wednesday, August 23 | Herbie Hancock & Kamasi Washington | Hollywood Bowl

Herbie Hancock (Photo courtesy Los Angeles Philharmonic Association)

One of this summer’s ultimate jazz highlights will feature the amazing jazz titan and pianist, Herbie Hancock, who has gifted us so much interesting music. From his 1962 Blue Note debut Takin’ Off with its hit, “Watermelon Man,” and his funky, mind-tripping Head Hunters album for Columbia to “Rockit” and other hit albums that probably made Miles Davis jealous of their sales figures. Remember that Hancock was the pianist in Miles’ quintet from 1963–1968.

Los Angeles’s own Kamasi Washington is the young lion of jazz, who has been making a name for himself locally and throughout the rest of the United States and now Europe as well. His 3-CD debut, The Epic, was laced with spiritual themes like John Coltrane’s A Love Supreme, along with tracks for heavy tripping like Coltrane’s big band epic Ascension. A chance to hear both artists in one evening is unusual and hearing them in the Hollywood Bowl’s beautiful outdoor amphitheater setting on a summer night should not be missed. For tickets and info, click here.

Friday, August 25 | Síntesis & Dayren Santamaria | John Anson Ford Theater (Hollywood)

Dayren Santamaria is a wonderful new Cuban-born violin player that Angelenos have fallen in love with. The violin is very much a Cuban instrument, featured in the great charanga (flute and violin-based) bands that go back to the 1950s: Orquesta Aragón, José Fajardo, Orquesta Broadway, Alfredo de la Fé and others. Young and dynamic, Santamaria is sure to make the violin swing in a most Cuban way.

Síntesis was one of the biggest Cuban rock-based outfits during the 1980s and ’90s, fusing rock and other modern elements with traditional Afro-Cuban music in a very special way. The group formed despite Castro’s persecution of rock bands in Cuba. It’s a horrendous chapter of music in modern Cuba we don’t often hear about.

I interviewed Síntesis back in in 1997 on Café LA, and I don’t think they’ve been back here since. Given the current administration’s threats to restrict movement in and out of Cuba, who knows if this 40th anniversary tour stop might be their last show here, period. For tickets and info, click here.

Banner photo of Septeto Santiaguero (top) courtesy of Grand Performances.