Categories: Mimi Sells, THE BUZZ

THE BUZZ: Songs, Sounds and Synergy at LJMS Summerfest Concert with Louis Cato

By Mimi Sells

August 18, 2023

Photo by Madi Nguyen

Throw together highly creative artists from different genres and what do you get? At La Jolla Music Society’s (LJMC) SummerFest, you get the “Synergy Series.” Last night, we got a taste of genre-bending supple jazz with the Louis Cato Trio. It was the first of three Synergy Series events offered during the four-week, annual concert series. SummerFest concerts are held at The Conrad Prebys Performing Arts Center in La Jolla

I asked SummerFest Music Director Inon Barnatan what he hoped to achieve with the Synergy Series. His reply absolutely nailed our experience!

Said Barnatan: “My hope is to provide…a sandbox in which to create these interesting projects that will have a life elsewhere after we launch them. But also I’d love …to push both the artist and the audience to places they will be surprised and delighted by.”

Surprise and delight was definitely the theme for The Louis Cato Trio on August 17.  For nearly 90 minutes, Cato hummed, strummed, scatted and sang both his own songs as well as classics of rock and the “American Playbook.”  

Photo by Madi Nguyen

Accompanied by drummer Otis Brown III and bassist Michael Thurber, Cato began with a jazzy rendition of “Lovely Day” where his voice became as much an instrument as his guitar.  

Many in the audience came to hear Cato because of his fame as the bandleader for Late Night with Stephen Colbert. But this multi-instrumentalist performer has many more talents than can be seen in just a few minutes of night show airtime. We experienced a range of jazz-inspired songs that showcased his deep range as well.

I loved his tender vocal riffs in their rendition of Stevie Winwood’s “Can’t Find My Way Home” and Cato’s own deeply personal song called “Back and Forth,” which is from his first album, with lines like “Each day’s a battle, I fire a shot in the night….” And I loved Cato’s generosity in giving his trio partners many opportunities for remarkable solo improvisations that extended the mood of the songs.

From smooth jazz to wild improv to a lively closing piece, “Take a Look at Myself,” with Caribbean-inflected sounds, we went on a journey that seemed to surprise and delight both the audience and the musicians alike.  And that is just what SummerFest’s Musical Director was hoping for!

There are two more concerts in the Synergy Series and they are happening this weekend! Tonight is “Carnival of the Animals”—a multimedia re-interpretation of Saint-Saëns’ original. And Saturday night, I will be back for another night of Louis Cato magic with an all-star quartet performing in “American Classic.” 

“American Classic ” will be a mashup of musicians and musical genres and influences. Co-starring with Cato are violinist Tessa Lark, clarinetist Mark Dover, and bassist Michael Thurber.  

Before last night’s concert, I reached out to Cato for some insight into his experience of SummerFest and of La Jolla. 

What’s different for you about working with your trio vs. working with new musicians on “American Classic”?

I think one of the biggest differences will be in the nature of musical exploration. In the setting of the trio, there’s a clear shared experience between the musicians that informs a collective vocabulary; it gives a certain color of familiarity to the collective improvisation. On the other hand, working with new musicians on “American Classic” invites us all to discover an entirely new shared language, and that for me is a completely different type of excitement. 

What does “American Classic” mean to you? Especially for a program that will combine musical styles together.

To me it’s simple: rather than the traditional approach of coloring within the lines of the classical music that has already been written, we have this wonderful opportunity to expound upon some of that repertoire and what it represents- whilst including our present generational perspectives and allowing them to bleed into the sonic textures.

Are you having fun in San Diego?  How is it different here for you?

I am very much enjoying my time in San Diego! As a New Yorker, we don’t typically have the brisk quality of air and temperature that allows you to be able to leave your door open and feel connected to nature…also being so close to the ocean is magical for me!

Experience the magic of La Jolla and the magic of the La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest.

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