At one point early in the Glendale Pops Fusion program on Saturday night, conductor/artistic director Matt Catingub joked that nobody’d be having more fun than his fellow mates in the orchestra. As if anyone attending, aside from their kids, would have shown up for an evening of reinterpreted Chicago, Blood, Sweat & Tears and Steely Dan music if they hadn’t been weaned on it.
The show, the kickoff of Glendale Arts 2014 concert series at the landmark Alex Theatre, could have been a cheesy ode to dinosaur pop, or a fanciful celebration of a late ’60s/early ’70s hybrid of jazz, rock and even a certain brand of symphonic swing as practiced by the likes of Henry Mancini.
It was both, really, and some of the most dynamic takes brought fresh dimension to the material — such as a lush “Aja,” redolent with strings and even a bit of pizzicato for that Chinese-sounding bridge that leads to the song’s soaring sax solo, re-invigorating the Donald Fagan/Walter Becker classic.
Catingub, who sang the parts that David Clayton-Thomas (BS&T) or Peter Cetera (Chicago) would have, might have been called upon to do too much, only inviting poor comparisons. But as a pianist and back-up singer in the manner of Michael McDonald (vintage Steely Dan), he was in fine form, especially when relinquishing the mike to Anita Hall, who brought a simmering strength to “God Bless the Child,” from the second, and best, BS&T album.
Hall exhibits an R&B sensibility that’s more lived in than the Mariah Carey imitators on “American Idol.” Her sound is more Nancy Wilson, and she cuts an elegant silouette on stage.
These are pros at the top of their game, and a rare opportunity to what hear strings — all 18 of them — could do to a bittersweet masterpiece like “Rikki Don’t Lose That Number.” A 14-piece horn section provided the requisite punch given the evening’s theme of “Jazz That Rocks.”
So it was sad, then, that when it came to paying tribute to Chicago during the program’s second half, it was the group’s power-ballad period that held sway rather than the pioneering jazz-rock of the group’s first three studio releases. Covering material from “Chicago III,” the most experimental and hard-edged album of the group’s peak period, would have been a daring choice. But instead Catingub & Co. played it safe with candy-coated fare like “Saturday in the Park” and “If You Leave Me Now,” which is just as well since those songs never sounded better, especially with Ms. Hall front and center.
All in all it wasn’t a bad way to ring in Glendale Arts’ new season, even if the largely empty seats in the Alex’s balcony were a sure sign that there are challenges ahead. Glendale Arts CEO Elissa Glickman exhorted the crowd to help get the word out, and invited attendees to consider some of the coming attractions, including an evening with comedian Martin Short (June 21).
Visits to the gorgeous performing arts venue, which dates back to 1925, earlier in the year by the likes of the Los Angeles Ballet, the L.A. Chamber Orchestra and jazz trumpeter Arturo Sandoval suggest an eclectic approach to programming that will appeal to the usual subscriber demo, even if those who were attending Coachella a couple of hours east on Saturday night might as well have been a million miles away.