“It should be rum.”

“Debería ser ron.”

That was one of the percussionist-vocalists of Venezuela’s Parranda El Clavo, on stage with remarkably accomplished, expressive singer Betsayda Machado in the Skirball Cultural Center’s Magnin Auditorium Thursday night. He winked impishly to the audience as his words were translated — “It should be rum” — by the group’s manager, Juan Souki. It would have been rum, had the show not been moved to this indoor room (no alcohol allowed) from the outside courtyard due to the monsoon that had swept through unexpectedly earlier in the evening, altering plans for the closing night of the Skirball’s 2017 Sunset Concerts series. Water would have to do for this occasion, that occasion being a little ceremony to bless a CD, that CD being the debut recording of Betsayda Machado y Parranda El Clavo, that debut coming a full 30 years since the ensemble started performing at celebrations and ceremonies in its small, rural village of El Clavo.

It was big moment, a little solemnity following what had been an boisterous, exhilarating, audience-shaking performance of traditional songs going back generations. The first run of CDs had only arrived earlier in the day. The musicians were clearly moved and a little overwhelmed— not a shock, given that until last year, the ensemble had never performed outside of El Clavo. That’s right, 30 years in the village, and now on a North American tour of more than 30 cities, and a CD in hand, titled “Loé Loá – Rural Recordings Under the Mango Tree,” all set for full public release on Sept. 14.

A little of the water was dripped onto a small statue of El Niño, the baby Jesus, his head poking out from the top of a flowing, regal red cone of a robe. He’d already been paraded around the stage a couple of times by Machado’s sister Nereida, who also sings and dances, but now his participation was requested to bestow grace and fortune on this cherished item.

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We all had already been quite blessed with one of the most joyous evenings of music you could imagine, though many in the audience might have wished for some hydration too, not to mention some rum — though the latter hardly could have increased the party spirit, which was ramped up high from the moment the group made its exuberant entrance from the back of the room.

Most fans, many of them Venezuelan, were up dancing throughout the concert, seemingly half making their way to the stage to dance with the artists at one time or another, smiles as bright and broad as they could be all around. This is party music — party is one of the definitions of the term parranda.

It was at a party that Souki first encountered the group. The Caracas resident had been invited to El Clavo for a feast centered on sancocho, the hearty soup of the region, often experienced as a communal meal made in a big pot, everyone tossing something in to the stew, everyone sharing the bounty. Before the encores Thursday he told the tale to us, describing how he’d arrived in town, met some of the locals and then Machado (who was herself well known outside of town, a true voice of her people) and the group performed. And performed. About 25 songs in the ancient tambor style, he said, only stopping when called to from across the street that the sancocho was ready.

As they all ate, he asked where he could normally see this wonderful group perform. At celebrations and parties, he was told. No, not when, where? Do they do concerts? Do they tour? No, he learned. They had never performed outside of El Clavo! That, he was determined, would change. He worked with Jose Louis Pardo, known as DJ Afro of Venezuela’s star modernist group Los Amigos Invisibles, to capture the essence of the field performances and make it work in an album format. They did a great job, with several guests, but nothing intrusive, the album providing an impressive entry into their world, not to mention a captivating listen.

So here we all were this night, shaking and smiling, marveling at the phenomenal webs of rhythms — one particularly jaw-dropping bit came simply from musicians Adrian Gomez, Jose Gomez and Youse Cardozo tapping wooden cylinders on blocks as if pounding grain or something, but in impossibly complex patterns.

It only got more impressive when Diego Alvarez, a.k.a. El Negro, a percussion star from Venezuela living in Los Angeles, was brought on stage to join in. And at many points, the true center of the music was the low moan made by Blanca Castillo on the furruco, the “friction drum” played by stroking a wooden pole stuck into the head of the waist-high drum.

Souki also explained a little history, how the group wanted us all to understand that it represents a “hidden” history of Venezuela, that they are descended from slaves brought from Senegal, that in those days of slavery the masters gave them sticks to work the fields, but during the breaks the sticks were used to make music. Which, of course, ties this to much great music from around the world, the most human expressions, rooted in experiences of inhumanity.

And in the final part of the concert, attention was turned to the current strife and sadness in Venezuela, a nation full of conflict as the economy has collapsed and the government has gone from a modern socialist experiment to an ad-hoc dictatorship. That, Machado explained, with Souki translating, has made her and the group “accidentally famous” via their association with the song “Sentimiento,” a serious piece that commemorates the death and suffering in their nation. But it is also a song of hope:

“It is not impossible for things to get better in Venezuela and to be fixed,” she said. “And we are looking forward to a free Venezuela.”

And after that song, they closed with an ode to the country, waving flags and standing strong. It didn’t dampen the night’s party spirit, it added to it, gave it depth and meaning and context, a night that will loom in memories of those there, all who joined the musicians at the end in shouting, “Venezuela libre!”

El Septeto Santiaguero’s Oasis of Son

The shallow geometric pond at California Plaza in Downtown Los Angeles was a cool, refreshing oasis on Friday evening. It’s surrounded by skyscrapers, not palm trees, and concrete covers its grounds, not sand. But on Friday it was lined by thousands of swaying people, blissfully removed from the cares of the world, the volatile hotspots of the day — Korea, Guam, Venezuela, a New Jersey golf resort, a violence-roiled Charlottesville — all…. somewhere else. Somewhere distant. Somewhere not, for the moment at least, of concern.

From the raised stage at the southeast side of the pond, with a dancing waters backdrop, came the breezy rhythms that inspired the audience’s undulations, created by the band El Septeto Santiaguero. From Cuba. Yes, Cuba, for the better part of the past six decades one of the globe’s volatile hotspots, at least from the perspective of the United States, to the point that many times the mere appearance of a Cuban band in the states has spurred protests and hot rhetoric.

None of that troubled the Plaza waters Friday as El Septeto (an eight-man septeto, but never mind) and the charming and dazzling a cappella quarteto Vocal Vidas (also hailing from the headliners’s hometown Santiago de Cuba) provided what will certainly stand as a highlight of the summer’s highlights-filled Grand Performances series of free shows at this locale. That says something about the distressing state of the world, but also about the progress regarding Cuba, not to overlook any continuing issues there. But the only explicit message, and the only English spoken from the stage during the performances other than a “thank you” or two, came when singer Giraldo “El Flaco” Bravo said, “Please stand up.” Those in the very diverse crowd who hadn’t already been standing, gladly accepted the invitation.

El Septeto’s brand of son is tied to the trova (troubadour) traditions running back in Santiaguero culture long before the Revolution, as far back as the 19th century, learned by these musicians from generations of mentors and reshaped and enlivened through the band’s own 22-year history. It’s a vibrant and vibrating sound built around the slinky sting of group founder Francisco Dewar’s tres, the guitar relative with three pairs of strings at the core of much Cuban music, with guitar, trumpet, bass, congas, bongos and other percussion and the personable vocals and presence of Inocencia “Chencho” Heredia and Bravo. It all wove together in shifting, intersecting patterns, the rhythms sparkling and persuasive. It’s perhaps a more rustic sound than that heard by so many via the Buena Vista All-Stars (whose global success did so much to bring Cuban music to new generations and, arguably, help pave the way for the new openness between Cuba and the U.S.). But then Santiago de Cuba is 500 miles east of, and one-fifth the size of, Havana.

That’s not to say it’s “old” music. El Septeto has brought new touches to the styles, delightfully so in such moments as the whistling-and-hoots break in “Hay Un Run Run…,” sounding like a Caribbean calliope and drawing cheering hoots in return from the fans. (See video below.) Of course, that song originated decades ago, and their version was the lead-off track on El Septeto’s 2014 two-CD set “No Quíero Llanto,” a tribute to the influential Santiago de Cuba band  Los Compadres, the album winning the younger group a Latin Grammy Award. But nothing about the Friday performance felt the least-bit outdated.

Same for the four women of Vocal Vidas, who presented a perfect blend of sophistication and playfulness, impressive chops and engaging personality, a Santiaguero spin on the Swingles Singers’ sound, sorta, reworking son rather than Bach into weavings of jazzy counterpoint. Both of the night’s acts seem poised to become favorites on more U.S. stages, but the setting here couldn’t have been better. Nor could have the timing, taking us away from all that, at least for a few hours.

By the rivers of my memory…

 

Glen Campbell sits on the edge of a pool table in his Malibu home, a lot of activity buzzing around him, cameras and lights being reset in a break from filming interviews to be used for promotion of his upcoming “Ghost On the Canvas” album. Someone in the room asks him about, “Uncle Boo,” the first song he ever learned to play back in his Arkansas childhood. Campbell strums the basic chord pattern, stops to tune up the low E string, goes back to strumming, then pauses for a second, seemingly lost in thought. Then he casts his gaze to the fretboard and sort of aimlessly starts noodling around and then…. peels off a blistering run of jazz licks as if it’s nothing. He pauses, thinking a comment aimed at a lighting guy was meant for him, and then resumes, fashioning a set of complex chords. Again, nothing to it. See for yourself. I shot a short video on my phone as it happened, shared below.

This is the most lucid, the most focused, the most clear-headed he is this day. It’s April 14, 2011, and it’s a month or so before the public will learn that he is suffering from Alzheimer’s disease via an announcement in conjunction with the album release and related tour plans. I’d been told, though.

I’d been hired to do the interviews with him this day, to get him to talk about the movingly personal album, essentially a look at his life told through songs that producer Julian Raymond wrote, the words drawn from many conversations with Campbell, plus a few written by others, including Paul Westerberg’s touching title song. With that as the vehicle, we were also to explore the remarkable contours of his life from its dirt-poor start through stardom and scandal, peaking when he was the countrypolitan king of radio and TV in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, through his fall into drugs and drink, mugshots and mockery, and then his glorious renewal with the love and support of his wife Kim and his kids, several of whom now made up the core of his touring band.

It didn’t work out the way we’d all hoped. Memories eluded him, names and even just simple words were locked in his brain, and he could not access them. He’d tell an anecdote — Ray Charles’ appearance on the hit CBS-TV variety show “The Glen Campbell Goodtime Hour, clearly a favorite — with boyish glee, eyes a-sparkle. Fifteen minutes later, he’d tell it again. Ditto for talking about how John Wayne took him under his wing and cultivated the actor in him when they co-starred in the original “True Grit” movie. He’d make a little joke or quip, and make it again. And again. And again. Even with Raymond next to him some of the time to help draw out stories, things they’d talked about in the course of making the album, the results were negligible. I’m not sure how much footage was shot that day, but only a tiny amount made it into the EPK. And none of the transcript was usable for the bio I was asked to write to be sent out to press with the album, so instead I wrote an essay with no quotes from its subject.

But someone suggested that having a guitar in hand might center him, ground him, and it did. The change was immediate and dramatic. It didn’t help the interview, but here, now was the Arkansas kid, the barnstorming hotshot playing southwest dives, the L.A. studio cat who Sinatra told to get a haircut (but didn’t fire) and who Phil Spector, Brian Wilson and many others counted on as a key player in the famed Wrecking Crew. Here was the guy who inspired Jimmy Webb to his greatest achievements as a songwriter in a pen-and-voice partnership that dominated its era with songs that transcend the years — “Wichita Lineman,” “By the Time I Get to Phoenix,” just to start. Here was the effortlessly appealing, telegenic good guy who somehow not only found comfort alongside the intellectual, edgy satire of the Smothers Brothers but was given charge of the summer placeholder for their groundbreaking franchise and then his own spin-off show.

This was Glen Campbell. And this was Glen Campbell when he stood in the kitchen later, talking with his wife and a couple of his kids, conferring with Raymond and others who had helped make the album. Yes, he was still at times lost, even in his own house. But he was eager for the company, genial to a fault, and with his family so clearly surrounded by love, so readily, joyously returning it.

And this is the Glen Campbell that people who saw his farewell tour shows will remember, a man failing and lost in some ways, but still finding sublime heights in song and in his phenomenal playing, finding himself there. This is the Glen Campbell seen in the film “I’ll Be Me,” which chronicles that tour and the increasing challenges faced by him and his family as the disease took more and more of him away. A lot has been said about how brave Kim and the kids were to share this, to be so open about something so painful and personal, about what a great service they did with the honesty and openness. It was all that. But that very bravery allowed Campbell to be surrounded by the love of his family, and his many fans, in his last years.

For all the words he sang over his singular career, ideas and emotions given flight in song, none more got to the core of him than the chorus of what for me was the centerpiece of “Ghost On the Canvas,” one of the songs that Raymond wrote from Campbell’s thoughts, “A Better Place.”

I’ve tried and I have failed Lord

I’ve won and I have lost

I’ve lived and I have loved Lord

Sometimes at such a cost

One thing I know

The world’s been good for me

A better place awaits

You’ll see

Harry Taussig and Max Ochs: Together Again, For the First Time

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By Steve Hochman

In 1967, acoustic guitarists Max Ochs and Harry Taussig were each featured on “Contemporary Guitar,” an album sampler-of-sorts put out by John Fahey’s Takoma Records label to spotlight some of those in what was termed the “American primitive” form. Also featuring tracks from Robbie Basho, Mississippi blues veteran Bukka White and Fahey himself.

Last night, fifty years later, the two shared a stage for the first time for a concert at the fine new Zebulon club alongside the Los Angeles River in the area known as Frogtown. The occasion was the release of “The Music of Harry Taussig & Max Ochs” on devoted fan Josh Rosenthal’s Tompkins Square label, featuring five new recordings by the former and three by the latter, commemorating that Takoma album — they being the only contributors to it still living.

For that matter, as improbable as it may seem, this evening was the first time the two had ever met. But the rapport was natural, and their respective approaches complementary. Taussig observed that in the decades since that original album, they’ve veered in somewhat differing directions, Ochs devoted to raga-type explorations and the foundational blues repertoire (he played some Blind Willie Johnson and Charley Patton this night), Taussig taking increasing inspiration from such realms as Gregorian chant (one piece was an interpretation of such) and 20th/21st century classical music.

But there was still much overlap in their approaches, both clearly still part of the greater Fahey galaxy in which blues, old-timey, ragas, classical and sonic experiments blended together in highly personal combinations. Taking turns through the show, they passed a six-string back and forth. Ochs sang some, Taussig did not. Ochs played a few songs on another axe, Hawaiian style, with a bottleneck slide, while Taussig did about half of his on a resonant, buzzing twelve-string — which Ochs late in the set asked to borrow, re-tuning it to a different open chord than Taussig had been employing. When he handed it back, Taussig took it as a challenge and played a piece in that tuning.  (See videos of each taking a turn below.)

Obscure in legend as these two are, they brought in a nice crowd, appreciative and enthusiastic, young and, uh, not young alike. There was a brisk business for the vinyl and CDs of albums from each artist that Rosenthal has released, both archival and new. The two were going on to do three more shows in the Bay Area. And then… well, who knows? They live on different coasts (Ochs east, Taussig west). Now, though, having seen them play together, but separately (save for a closing duo with crowd sing-along on Elizabeth Cotton’s “Freight Train”), it’s tantalizing to think what they might do if they made music together together.

As for Zebulon, it’s a wonderful addition to the L.A. music circuit, the concert room in back well thought out (co-owner Mia Doi Todd, a treasured artist herself, having taken the lead in that) and the cafe/bar in front a great meet-and-eat locale with a multi-cultural menu from Fred 62’s Fred Eric, matching the eclectic roster of acts being booked.

Charles Lloyd and Lucinda Williams: Masters and Marvels

By Steve Hochman (Photos by Peggy French)

“Let me ask you one question…”

Lucinda Williams wasn’t mincing any (of Bob Dylan’s) words when she sang “Masters of War” Friday night at UCLA’s Royce Hall. Charles Lloyd took it way beyond words. And the words may not exist to adequately describe the wonders of the band, the aptly named Marvels — Bill Frisell on guitar, Greg Leisz on steel, Reuben Rogers on bass and Eric Harland on drums — that sax-and-flute man Lloyd has brought together in recent years and showcased this electrifying night, with Williams as special guest.

Questions, mysteries — the Big Questions and the Great Glorious Mysteries — are to be expected at a time that has seen a rare convergence of Passover and Holy Week. But a week with both MOAB and Easter is the opposite, a time of disconnects, of distressing questions. Of  confusion and despair.

But if you are looking for a way to connect it all, if not provide answers or make sense, you would be hard-pressed to do better than with the three-song sequence that concluded this, yes, glorious concert. “Masters of War,” with its simmering, bitter anger, provided a climactic peak to the show, Williams joining Lloyd and band for the latter portion of the set. And then, the encore brought the persistence of determination-driven faith and hard-won renewal with Sam Cooke’s “A Change is Gonna Come” and, returning to Dylan, “I Shall Be Released.” There we had it, the Seder tale and Easter story encapsulated in a, pardon the expression, trinity of song.

What came prior to this righteous culmination Friday night was no less, well, masterful and marvelous. In the hour or so before Williams joined in, Lloyd and the Marvels expounded and expanded on the genre-less explorations captured on their 2016 album, “I Long to See You.” It, too, is all about connections, even more clearly and profoundly in this concert as they all have gone deeper into their considerable, collective talents. This is a group that was able to go from the skittery joy of Ornette Coleman’s “Ramblin’” and Lloyd’s loping mid-‘60s classic “Sombrero Sam”  to the somber solitude of Thelonious Monk’s “Monk’s Mood” and, profoundly, Brian Wilson’s “In My Room” with nary a blink.

“Ramblin’” had Frisell and Leisz, who have become a remarkably intuitive team via recent collaborations, pushing each other in intricately interweaving lines over the rumbling thunder propelled by Rogers and Harland — this is where the Allman Brothers meet Ornette, and it’s a pretty lively place. “In My Room” started and finished with Frisell’s deceptively casual impressionism, framing the group’s collective explorations of tune and textures, led by Lloyd’s signature love of the melody and insatiable curiosity for where he can take it. Or where it can take him. (As it has been through his storied, varied career, in which he has always ignored imposed lines between musical styles — a rare mix of high-minded musicality with a naturally populist streak, fully flowering in the current Marvels projects.)

Through it all on Friday, gentility sparkled with delight, power gained strength from peace — and vice versa. Lloyd, 79, has been part of and witness to a lot of great music in his nearly 60-year career. But often this night he stood aside, watching the other players with a look of unbridled joy.

That joy went off the scale when he brought Williams out, flipping the formula of a concert at the same locale last year in which Lloyd joined Williams and her band (which, that night, also included Frisell and Leisz) for the latter part of her concert. Williams told the crowd that they had bonded over their southern roots (he raised in Memphis, she in Louisiana, Mississippi and Arkansas), but the bond is deeper than that in the music, bringing out much in each other. The gospel “Ain’t Nobody’s Fault But Mine” launched the pairing this night on a fine, fiery note.

But if the concluding three songs of the night gave us the power of anger and redemption, the song right before them made that possible — with the power of love. With a gorgeously wrenching version of “A Place in My Heart,” Williams’ nakedly, unashamedly sentimental waltz, she, Lloyd and the band fully revealed their hearts, and fully reached the hearts of the moved fans. There were tears.

And there’s your answer. There’s your connection. There’s your holy.

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“Lovers” and Friends: Nels Cline Dazzles at Royce Hall

By Steve Hochman (photo by Phinn Sriployrung)

Nels Cline stepped onto the stage of UCLA’s Royce Hall on Saturday, sporting a sheepish grin, following the 18 musicians who would accompany him this night. The lanky musician took a seat, strapped on and plugged in a Gibson hollow-body, the red of its hull more or less matching the color of the shirt he wore under a natty black suit. Conductor Michael Leonhart, center-stage and back to the audience, raised his arms as if suspending time for a second and then….

Elegant was a word heard several times a couple of hours later as the crowd filed out to the lobby post-concert.

Dazzled would be the word to describe the look on most of the filing-out faces.

And it was an evening of both elegance and dazzle, Cline and crew showcasing most of the music from “Lovers,” the sprawling and ambitious album of his released by jazz legacy label Blue Note last year, a mix of standards, originals, film music, modernisms and choice obscurities alike for, as he put it in one of his few times chatting to the audience, “a Saturday night concert almost entirely made of ballads” from, as he put it later,  “a record about romance, sex, intimacy… the pulsation of life.” That, on the record, covers a pretty sweeping landscape, with interpretations of music from such seemingly disparate artists as Rogers and Hammerstein, Henry Mancini, jazz (and beyond) innovator Annette Peacock and even New York experimental rockers Sonic Youth. It was even more sweeping, yet of a clearly conceived piece, in this concert.

With Leonhart’s arrangements and Cline’s leadership taking on whole new layers of, well, life in this live presentation, it evoked on everything from Debussy to Hendrix, Messiaen to Mancini, Stravinsky to swing, all taking the road through Ellington and Evans (Gil and Bill). Cline’s own wide-ranging virtuosity nodded to Jim Hall, Joe Pass, Tal Farlow, Gabor Szabo, John Abercrombie and countless other jazz guitar masters. One of the several trumpet solos taken by Leonart had a Chet Baker feel to it, very fitting to the romance theme.

For some, the “Lovers” album and this, one of just a handful of live presentations planned at this time, is a wonderful, if curious, side-trip from his role in Wilco, which has made him an international rock-guitar hero. Funny thing, though. For a good number of those at Royce this night, it’s quite possible that the Wilco gig is seen as the side-trip, even after 13 years now in that band. Heck, it could be that some barely know that he’s in that group at all, or at least not are particularly familiar with its music.

A lot of folks at this show go much further back with him — some to the days in the ‘70s when he was working at the Rhino Records store just down the road here in Westwood while trying to make inroads in his musical ventures, some back to high school and earlier. (This writer first saw his talents on full display in the spring of 1975 when we were both freshman at Occidental College and he did a performance leading a forcefully dynamic electric jazz-rock trio that had his twin brother Alex on drums.) Sure, he’s lived in New York for a while now, but he’s still a hometown boy to the family and friends at the core of this crowd.

And many of their images of him are in a more jazz context, and that mostly on the explorational front of the form — his part in the semi-acoustic group Quartet Music, or booking “new music” nights at the old Alligator Lounge (highlights including evenings of furious guitar shred duets with Sonic Youth’s Thurston Moore, strings beaten with kitchen implements and such) and various ongoing projects including his slyly named Nels Cline Singers instrumental ensemble.

Cline was clearly moved and grateful for this homecoming reception. His parents both went to UCLA (he wore one of his father’s ties this night, he noted proudly). His brother now works there. He saw many, many concerts at Royce throughout his life.

“This is daunting and mind-blowing and overwhelming to me,” he said. “After all the wild concerts I’ve seen here, I never thought I’d be doing this. Certainly.”

The gathering on stage included compatriots from various phases and stages of his career: winds player Vinny Golia and Quartet Music violinist Jeff Gauthier among the L.A. contingent, harp adventurer Zeena Parkins, slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein, keyboardist Yuka C. Honda (formerly of the band Cibo Matto, and married to Cline) among the NYC presence, as well as Bay Area violinist Jenny Scheinman, another long-time collaborator. And of course, twin brother Alex was on drums and a variety of percussion instruments, up to and including wrapping paper, which he crinkled charmingly for one number. (On a, uh, related note, Alex’s new album, “Ocean of Vows,” with a few of these same musicians in his Flower Garland Orchestra, is another wondrous release.)

Sometimes the music took on all the colorations of the full ensemble, other times focused on the smaller jazz combo core, with double-bassist Devin Hoff providing propulsive force. The ballads, the Rogers and Hart classic “Glad to Be Unhappy,” the Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein II musing “Why Was I Born?” (arguably the most “traditional” jazz performance of the evening) and the David Mann/Bob Hilliard-written Sinatra favorite “In the Wee Small Hours of the Morning” (the latter not on Cline’s album) among them, all sported ebbing and flowing orchestral dynamics and rich tonal colorations that mined and illuminated the deepest emotions of the songs, the muted sorrows and sparkling joys in equal measures. Not that it was all serious business. There was an engaging casualness at times, including a laugh-bringing bit when an audience member had to remind him to plug in his guitar as he was about to start one tune.

Arguably, though, it was the “almost” moments that were most arresting. “You Noticed,” one of several Cline originals, was a powerful tangent, with his soaring, elastic, electronically processed Fender JazzMaster lines calling to mind Norwegian guitarist-composer Terje Rypdal, a long-time Cline hero who has forged compelling intersections of jazz, rock and modern orchestral music. A medley of themes from scores to the movies “The Night Porter” and “Max, Mon Amour” (Cline is a big Charlotte Rampling fan) were modern classical/big-band at its daring best, with Cline engaging in some of the banging and scraping on the strings that have been part of his repertoire for ages, Parkins matching the approach on her harp. But then they all were also  able to bring out those same sensibilities and richnesses in an exploration of and expansion on a Mancini passage from the “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” score, “The Search for the Cat,” ostensibly more traditional movie music.

And while the massive, even raucous portions were breathtaking, the most profound passage was also the quietest. In the middle of a pairing of two Peacock compositions, “So Hard it Hurts” and “Touching,” the orchestra built to a massive, dense crescendo and then, suddenly, stopped. The sounds receded, leaving only an almost-subliminal high sustained note of quasi-feedback from Cline’s guitar and a steady, complementary note from a metal bowl rubbed steadily with a cloth-wrapped dowel by his brother standing at the back. Save for Alex’s steady circling of the bowl, utter stillness took the hall. Then, after a minute of this powerful hush, bit by bit the other musicians picked up the harmonics — vibes player Brad Dutz using a bow on one of his instrument’s bars, then some strings, then the winds, then brass…. and the breath that just before had been taken, now returned, renewed.

Elegantly dazzling.

 

Echolalia.

 

About 10 years ago, Mary started getting up early, 5 a.m. or so. It was no surprise that her sleep patterns were off. Nearly a decade of breast cancer treatment, what with chemo, various other drugs and unfathomable emotional/psychological stresses, can do that. Just being the partner of someone undergoing that had played havoc with my sleep patterns — I’d gone through occasional stretches of insomnia, sometimes weeks on end. So her atypical early-to-rise state was not a shock.

Then one morning a week or two later, as I was waking a couple of hours after she’d gotten up, she returned to the bedroom, plunked down a stack of paper on the bed and said, “So, I’ve written a novel.”

I believe that my reaction was a suitably erudite, “Wha?? Gaa?? Faa??”

Well, that’s what she was doing with her pre-dawn hours. She wrote a novel. Just like that. In a week or two. I was impressed and agog. And a teeny bit peeved — I’d started a novel a couple of years before that and had made only a little headway. (And here, a decade later, it is still a work-in-progress at best.) She simply knocked one out. Just like that. Easy-peasy.

“Figures of Echo,” it said on the title page. I started to read it. And it was…. good! Really good! A young adult/pre-teen tale, but one of sophistication and imagination, full of playful spirit and true emotions. In other words: It was Mary. The main character, an 11-year-old girl, was very Mary — a voracious intellect, insatiable curiosity, quick wit and easy-flowing humor and affection, tempered by, but not hindered by, accompanying self-doubts and insecurities.

Echo lives with her dad over a Manhattan tavern (and quasi-restaurant) he runs. Her mom died a few years before, but a set of regular patrons make up their extended family, and overall things are pretty fine. Until….. well. No spoilers. It’s a sweet, fun, breezy read. The characters are fully formed. The situations and drama well-plotted and plausible. And, most importantly, it has Mary’s voice in every phrase.

After a few attempts to shop it around to publishers, she wound up putting it out herself via Lulu, with copyediting by niece Bianca and a fine cover design by friend Brigid. It won the DIY Book Festival’s nod as Best Teenage Novel of 2007.

Not long after it was bought by Lifetime for a TV movie. They gave it to a screenwriter, who changed key elements of the plot, changed key things about the main characters, made up a perky/silly best friend for Echo and changed the title (“Custody,” ugh). And it was…. not good. Rob Morrow, James Denton and, as Echo, Kay Panabaker — all gave it their best in the lead roles. But, well, it was a Lifetime movie, so it was what you’d expect: dumbed-down and trite. But it aired, and for at least a few years was a regular part of the channel’s Father’s Day programming. And we had a nice viewing party with friends when it premiered in September 2007, Mary and Rick rushing home from the completion of their Plucky Survivors trip, a brand-spanking-new DVR allowing us to watch from the start though they arrived about half an hour late.

Mary wrote a lot. Her Los Angeles Times series about her cancer experiences touched and helped many others going through similar things. Her Frommer’s Guides brought insights and depth to New Orleans and, yeah, even Las Vegas. Her graduate work in theology and philosophy of religion were remarkably perceptive and illuminating — even if she was unable to complete her PhD work before she died, seven years ago today. Much of it is preserved on her web site, CancerChick.com.

But “Figures of Echo” may have been the writing of which she was most proud, rightfully. It’s a still-resounding echo of the remarkable person she was.

(This is not a sales pitch, but “Figures of Echo” is great reading for girls around the age of the title character. And for adults too. And any proceeds from it will be donated to PinkAid and Pink Fund, two wonderful organizations giving financial aid to women-in-need dealing with breast cancer. “Echo” can be purchased via Lulu.com or Amazon.)