Trumpeter Erik Jekabson isn’t among the Berkeley High Jazz Band’s best known alumni, but that says more about program’s glittering roster of graduates and Jekabson’s far-ranging musical interests than any deficit in talent or imagination.
Since graduating in 1991, Jekabson has collected several degrees from conservatories (Oberlin and San Francisco Conservatory of Music) and extensive first-hand knowledge from veteran masters in New Orleans and New York City. Equally comfortable composing chamber music or West African-inflected funk, he possesses a lustrous, singing tone and an expansive rhythmic vocabulary. He also has a knack for assembling interesting ensembles.
Jekabson performs on Friday at Berkeley’s Hillside Club (a venue with a fascinating story itself), accompanied by largely the same cast featured on his impressive 2010 CD, “Crescent Boulevard”, which he released on his own label: Jekab’s Music. Featuring ace bassist John Wiitala, pianist Grant Levin, drummer Smith Dobson V, and special guest John Santos on percussion, the band is focusing on new Jekabson pieces conceived specifically for these players.
He was already a stand out player in the mid-90s when he decided to move to New Orleans. He quickly became an invaluable part of the scene, while soaking up the city’s rich brass traditions. As the co-leader of the New World Funk Ensemble, he honed a kinetic group sound informed by an array of Afrocentric grooves. He contributed as a player and composer to the rising funk band Galactic, and performed with an array of artists, including the great New Orleans trumpeter and vocalist Kermit Ruffins, the New Orleans All-Star Big Band, and the prodigious French organist Eddy Louiss.
Since graduating from the San Francisco Conservatory, he’s become an educational force in his own right, teaching at the Jazzschool Institute, Chabot College, Cal State East Bay, and Los Medanos College.
Also Recommended: Flamenco is in the midst of a spectacular renaissance, and vocalist Diego El Cigala is at the center of the resurgence. He’s probably best known in the United States for the 2003 album “Lágrimas Negras” with Cuban piano patriarch Bebo Valdés, a Latin Grammy-winning CD focusing on Cuban boleros. He returned to his flamenco roots with his solo CD “Picasso En Mis Ojos,” which earned him another Latin Grammy in 2006 and featured collaborations with the guitar stars Tomatito, Josemi Carmona, Paquete, and Paco de Lucía, who declared that “Cigala has one of the most beautiful flamenco voices of our time, a voice of sweetness that flows over everything.”
As part of his first North American tour Cigala performs at Zellerbach Hall on Sunday as part of the 6th Annual Bay Area Flamenco Festival. His ensemble features some of the world’s finest young flamenco musicians, including guitarist Diego del Morao, who hails from a illustrious family of guitarists.
Andrew Gilbert lives in west Berkeley and covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report.
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