• 05/28/2015
  • Reporters Desk

A Match Made at Alvas

By Melina Paris Music Columnist

Frank Unzueta and Aaron Blake demonstrated that when done right, jazz and opera can fit together like a hand in glove. They did this during their May 8 performance in An evening of Jazz and Opera at Alvas Showroom in San Pedro.

Unzueta, a jazz pianist and composer, has superb composition skills. His playing on piano and guitar is richly layered. Blake, an operatic tenor, has precise delivery. He is highly charismatic with a well-versed knowledge of the American songbook.

Classical and jazz musicians have similar methodologies in music composition and arrangements. Logic implies that the genres would culminate at a point. It is not uncommon to listen to classical music and at times experience the thrill of jazz elements within it.

The show is presented at Alvas annually, often at Christmas, to growing positive reception. Unzueta’s jazz trio, which includes Gordon Peeke on drums and Ernie Nunez on standing bass, started the evening performing songs from Unzueta’s CD, Thoughts Revealed. Unzueta’s music unfolds before you. It’s emotive. He simply names the title, the music begins and steadily you are deep into the ambience of the melodies.

The first set presented six beautiful numbers. “Madrid,” dedicated to Unzueta’s grandmother, and “Love Me When Winter Comes” were particularly notable. The former is a playful, sweet song with strong salsa–tinged arpeggios. The latter, which Unzueta calls a “spacey tune,” evokes the desire to just keep listening.

Beginning the second set, an animated Blake came out to perform Rossini’s “The Merry Widow,” accompanied by Unzueta on piano. Crisp and clear, Blake’s vocal elixir makes an instant impact.

Blake grew up locally in Rancho Palos Verdes. He is also a violinist and an alumnus of Julliard School, where he developed a love for jazz. This was a special night for him. His family and his first voice teacher, now 92 years old, were present. Blake shared with the audience that he just auditioned for the prestigious New York’s Metropolitan Opera with good results. He promised more on that later but never quite got to that story. Instead, he entertained us with comedic stories of high points along the road early in his singing career, which began with opera at 15 years old.

Fast forward to present day, the Los Angeles Times has called him “a vocal powerhouse.” This rising star is strong and soft at once and delivers his absolute best.

Unzueta and Blake continued with two love songs by Sir Paolo Tosti, “Aida Celeste,” by Verdi, which is known as one of the most challenging roles for any tenor, and “Ah Moon of My Delight,” by tenor Richard Crooks. Also performed were “The Prayer” by Charlotte Church, “Non Ti Scordar Di Me” by Italian pop singer Giusy Ferreri, and “Core ’ngrato composed by Salvatore Cardillo.

More jazz and show tunes were interspersed throughout the show, including popular numbers from Frank Sinatra, Judy Garland and Ella Fitzgerald. They also performed Man of La Mancha’s “The Impossible Dream,” George Gershwin’s, “Foggy Day” and the Yip Harburg-Harold Arlen classic, “Over the Rainbow.”

The finale included an operatic note with Unzueta on guitar and Blake performing a favorite, “O Sole Mio,” to resounding applause.

The pairing of jazz and opera is something for music lovers to experience. Spoil yourself with the indulgence and let the music elevate your spirit next time Unzueta and Blake return to Alvas.


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