Editor’s Note: Music columnist Jim Ruggirello has the week off, but will be back next week.
He had rhythm. He had music.
Who can ask for anything more?
Matt Catingub returned to Long Beach Saturday night to lead the Long Beach Symphony through a POPS! concert he called Rhythms of the Night. Catingub keeps his song list a secret from everyone but the musicians, so every tune came as a surprise. The only hint in the program was the subtitle, “Songs and Rhythms from around the world.”
That journey started off pretty slowly, with a Ray Charles instrumental. Momentum began to build with the above-referenced Gershwin tune “I’ve Got Rhythm,” but stayed at a walking pace as Catingub warmed up his singing pipes on “Old Man Trouble.”
On the plus side, the orchestra was in the spotlight from the get-go, unlike other POPS! concerts that have revolved around a guest artist. A rather unusual seating arrangement put all of the strings behind a clear screen, presumably so Catingub could hear his piano when he sat down to play. But the section received its fair share of attention.
The audience became fully engaged when LBSO’s principal trombonist Alexander Iles was featured in Catingub’s arrangement of the French “C’est Si Bon.” Catingub’s musical collaborator and award-winning drummer Steve Moretti gave the audience a taste of the second half in a spritely number called “Tokada,” and Catingub took the audience to his Hawaiian home with the iconic “Hawaii Five-O” theme.
The around the world subtext played more strongly in the second half, with reggae, Jamaican, Brazilian and more. A never-to-be-repeated— and never to-be-forgotten — moment took place when the string section provided the whistle part of “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Roger Wilke doing “Don’t Worry, Be Happy.” Now that’s a real POPS! moment.
The strings also were strong in an amazingly faithful rendition of the band Toto’s mega-hit “Africa,” and were downright lush in the iconic “Girl From Ipanema.” Back to “Africa” for a moment. I don’t pretend to understand the technology, but some electronic tinkering made Catingub and Moretti sound like an entire choir. Impressive, and it brought the crowd to its collective feet.
Moretti had them standing again with a two-minute solo on a Sergio Mendes number called Bim Bom 2015. Catingub also brought in guitar player Andrew Synowiec, who got his share of applause with a couple of solos. Unfortunately, some lateness in amplifier switching had him playing to himself for the first several bars not once, but twice.
Catingub ended the night of songs and rhythms around the world by going out of this world in an arrangement called Millenium Swing that included a fair chunk of the theme from “2001, A Space Odyssey.” He literally left the crowd wanting more, with no encore.
According to the program notes, Catingub is making a name for himself by reinventing the POPS orchestral format to be more fun and accessible. He did that Saturday by allowing the LBSO to shine right along with his guest artists.
And he had rhythm. Who could ask for anything more?
Harry Saltzgaver can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.