Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

New York City comes to Berkeley: Rez Abbasi’s RAAQ

The Res Abbasi Acoustic Quartet plays the California Jazz Conservatory Friday
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Born in Pakistan’s teeming commercial metropolis Karachi, and raised in the Southern California suburb of Torrance, jazz guitarist Rez Abbasi always seems to be working at the crossroads of contrasting musical realms. He performed at the SFJazz Center last year with breathtaking vocalist Kiran Ahluwalia, who draws on Punjabi folk song, love-besotted ghazels, and North African cadences. And back in 2010, he made a powerful impression at Yoshi’s with award-winning alto saxophonist Rudresh Mahanthappa’s Indo Pak Coalition, a trio playing a singular synthesis of jazz and South Asian forms.

Long based in New York City, he returns to the Bay Area for a concert 8 p.m. Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory with the Rez Abbasi Acoustic Quartet (RAAQ), a band that bridges a very different kind of musical divide (they also teach an improvisation workshop at the CJC Saturday afternoon). Featuring powerhouse drummer Eric McPherson, who spent 15 years with alto sax great Jackie McLean, and bassist Stephan Crump, a member of pianist Vijay Iyer’s celebrated trio, the band’s latest album Intents and Purposes (Enja) recasts classic jazz/rock fusion tunes in an acoustic setting. Abbas designed the project to explore an era he had largely overlooked, when acts like Weather Report, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, and Tony Williams Lifetime attained the stature of rock stars. … Continue reading »

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End of the road for Berkeley’s Subterranean Arthouse

Subt with Maya Dorn in distance- photo: Claire Duplantier
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News that the Subterranean Arthouse is closing didn’t come as a complete surprise, but that doesn’t make the loss of the inviting downtown performance and exhibition space any less disappointing.

Founded seven years ago by Claire Duplantier and Nicole Rodriguez, the intimate storefront at 2179 Bancroft Way in the Odd Fellows Building quickly became a vital hub for a disparate array of artists, teachers and organizations. But, over the past year, as the space transitioned from focusing on evening performances to daytime classes, noise complaints from other tenants in the building and rising rent led to an impasse. As of February, the Arthouse will cease to exist, and the space will be made available for other tenants.

“It’s been seven years since we started it and so much has happened in that time,” said Duplantier, who started phasing out of running the Arthouse about a year ago when she had a baby. “It’s sad that it’s closing. So many amazing people have come through, and I’ve learned and grown so much. I want to focus on celebrating the Arthouse’s contributions more than feeling angry at the Odd Fellows. We started in 2009 and people would tell us, you’re crazy, starting a business now. It was so much fun and we made it work.” … Continue reading »

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Critical creative mass: Alan Hall’s Ratatet and Thompsonia celebrate new CDs on Addison

Alan Hall's Rata-tet performs Sunday afternoon at the California Jazz Conservatory 
(photo by Alan Hall)
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Amidst the ongoing debate over development in Berkeley there’s one kind of density that everyone should celebrate. I’m talking about the critical mass of creativity that can found almost any given night within half a mile of Shattuck and University. Or even within one block. On Sunday afternoon veteran drummer Alan Hall celebrates the release of his new Ratatet album Arctic (Ridgeway Records) at the California Jazz Conservatory, where he’s a founding faculty member, and later in the evening Berkeley’s Eric, Suzy and Allegra Thompson celebrate the release of their album Thompsonia at Freight & Salvage.

Hall performs with his Ratatet, a sextet featuring Berkeley-raised bassoonist Paul Hanson, trombonist John Gove, vibraphonist Dillon Vado, keyboardist Greg Sankovich, and Jeff Denson on electric and acoustic bass and vocals. Focusing on Hall’s original compositions, the band plays beautifully textured electro-acoustic music laced with arresting sonorities. … Continue reading »

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Roger Glenn, the world’s most interesting man

Roger Glenn plays Saturday with Tony Corman's Morechestra at the California Jazz Conservatory. Photo: Laura Carbone
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If the actor who intones “stay thirsty my friends” ever gives up his Dos Equis gig, the brewery should look into hiring Roger Glenn as a pitchman. The veteran jazz musician could run ploymathic laps around that poseur who claims the title of “the world’s most interesting man.”

A pilot who serves in the Civil Air Patrol flying search and rescue missions in his spare time, Glenn is a dauntingly accomplished multi-instrumentalist who contributed to classic albums with Cuban percussion legend Mongo Santamaria (Mongo´70 on Atlantic), trumpeter Donald Byrd (Black Byrd on Blue Note), and vibraphonist Cal Tjader (La onda va bien on Concord Picante). He brings his flute, clarinet and vibraphone to the California Jazz Conservatory 8 p.m. Saturday as a special guest with Berkeley guitarist/composer Tony Corman’s 17-piece Morechestra. … Continue reading »

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Bryan Bowman and the urge to record

Bryan Bowman Quintet plays the California Jazz Conservatory on Saturday (photo by Ravi Abcarian)
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For the vast majority of musicians making an album is a money-losing proposition these days, a time-intensive undertaking that’s hard to justify looking at the bottom line. But the urge to make a statement, the call to document a particular program of music interpreted by a specific cadre of collaborators, is no less potent, which is why drummer/composer Bryan Bowman rounded up some of the region’s finest improvisers for his album Like Minds.

A smart and resourceful accompanist by night and caretaker of his three-year-old son by day, the Albany musician was determined to record a set of his original compositions. “I’m almost 50 and I have this music and want people to know who I am,” says Bowman, who celebrates the release Like Minds at the California Jazz Conservatory 8 p.m. Saturday. “I can go to all these gigs and play standards, which I love, but people don’t really get to know me. It was a bit of an act of desperation.” … Continue reading »

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Shemekia Copeland brings the blues to Berkeley

Shemekia Copeland plays Freight & Salvage on Saturday  (photo by Joseph A. Rosen)
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The child of blues royalty, Shemekia Copeland made her recording debut at the tender age of 19. Her 1998 album Turn Up the Heat (Alligator) introduced a prodigious new talent already road-seasoned from touring with her father, Texas blues great Johnny Copeland. She’s more than lived up to her promise since then, collecting awards and amassing honors with an intermittent flow of albums (2015’s excellent Outskirts of Love found her back on the Alligator label after a fruitful stint at Telarc).

“I like to take my time,” says Copeland, 36, who performs at Freight & Salvage 8 p.m. Saturday. “I don’t like to be rushed. We handpick songs, and that makes the biggest difference. A lot of people put out records so quick. Everybody’s in a hurry and that contributes to the demise of this business. I always say, what you put out into the universe is so important, you’ve got to take your time. I often wonder if these young girls who make records these days are going to be proud of what they did later on.” … Continue reading »

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Traveling to Jupiter with Planet Loop

Carrie Jahde and Michael Schaller (photo by Kathy Sloane)
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For the average patron the music at Jupiter might seem like an afterthought. Most people show up to dine and drink with no foreknowledge of who’ll be performing underneath the towering redwood at the back of the patio. But the restaurant’s longtime music policy provides an essential anchor for many East Bay musicians, giving them a friendly and easily accessible forum at home. Jupiter’s gravitational pull can even attract artists from far beyond the local constellation, like Planet Loop, who return to the patio on Saturday night.

The band’s sound has evolved considerably since the first Jupiter gig in 2008 as a duo featuring Michael Schaller on bass and Carrie Jahde on drums. Based in Boston and looking to move to the West Coast, the couple cold-called Alain Grissette, who has booked the venue since 1993, and he gave them a shot.

“I always like to get touring bands a date if I can make it happen,” Grissette says. “I think I dug the sound they were able to produce as a duo, which wasn’t the typical coffee-shop jazz.” … Continue reading »

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Susan Brand: Jazz in your head; Larry Ochs, Eric Van James

Susan Brand. Photo: courtesy Susan Brand
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At the age of 50, with her children safely out of the house and enrolled in college, Berkeley psychologist Susan Brand decided to pursue a longtime dream of learning to play jazz piano. She knew it wouldn’t be easy, “but I had no idea how difficult it was going to be,” she says. “It’s been a steep learning curve ever since then.”

She discovered the Jazzschool in its first incarnation when it was located above La Note restaurant on Shattuck and quickly immersed herself in the jazz tradition. Before long she began to see profound connections between the interplay between musicians in a combo and the give and take that characterizes a successful therapy session, connections she’ll explore in a public talk on Monday, noon-1:30 p.m. at the Alta Bates Herrick Campus in the Malfoy Room, “Jazz and Psychotherapy: An Exploration of Discipline and Freedom.” … Continue reading »

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Two for the road: Mike McGinnis and Davalois Fearon

Mike McGinnis, a composer, and Davalois Fearon, a choreographer, in a dance rehearsal studio in Manhattan. Photo: Piotr Redlinski
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I’m not going to retell the story of the brief and intense courtship of Mike McGinnis and Davalois Fearon. It would be hard to improve on the account that ran in the New York Times, which details how the fiercely creative artists quickly sized each other up on their first date. But I can pick up where that tale left off and fill you in on the next chapter, which debuts 8 p.m. Sunday at the Berkeley Arts Festival space on University Avenue.

Fearon, an essential, decade-long member of the Stephen Petronio Company, is still a featured dancer, but she’s starting to make the transition to the next phase of her career. She’s taking over as the Petronio Company’s rehearsal director, and is finding, quite unexpectedly, a creative outlet as a choreographer. She opens Sunday’s performance with her piece Consider Water, which features a score by McGinnis, a reed player particularly known as a clarinetist. … Continue reading »

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Giving thanks for Laurie Lewis, playing Berkeley Saturday

The Right Hands, left to right, Patrick Sauber. Laurie Lewis, Tom Rozum , Tatiana Hargreaves, and Todd Phillips. Photo: Mike Melnyk
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Laurie Lewis has a long list of musicians she’s grateful for, and somewhere near the top are Hazel Dickens and Alice Gerrard, bluegrass music’s foremost foremothers. The longtime Berkeleyan gives a sneak peak at her upcoming album The Hazel and Alice Sessions at Freight & Salvage on Saturday with her band The Right Hands featuring her partner in twang Tom Rozum (mandolin, mandola, and guitar), Patrick Sauber (banjo), Todd Phillips (bassist extraordinaire), and Tatiana Hargreaves (fiddle).

“Tatiana is just amazing,” says Lewis, 65, noting that she’s the younger sister of fiddle star Alex Hargreaves. “I’ve known her since she was seven. She’s a little tiny 20-year-old who’s studying at Hampshire College in Amherst. I call her Hoss.” … Continue reading »

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Fred Randolph: Tales from a busy bassist

A bassist for all occasions (photo by Ruby Ray)
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A consummate musician who can be found playing jazz, salsa, samba, rock, fusion and any number of other styles, Fred Randolph is one of the busiest bassists in the Bay Area. The story of how he attained that enviable status is full of unlikely twists, with several instrumental detours along the way.

Though usually employed as a sideman, he’s released several engaging albums under his own name, most recently Song Without Singing (Creative Spirit Records), a project that showcases his rhythmic range and melodically charged compositional vision. Featuring Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson, pianist Matt Clark, saxophonist Sheldon Brown, and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte, the Fred Randolph Band celebrates the album’s release 8 p.m. Friday Nov. 20 at the Berkeley Fellowship of Unitarian Universalists as part of Jazz in the Neighborhood program (pianist Ian McArdle, a former student of Randolph’s, opens the show). He’s joined by the same exceptional cast at the California Jazz Conservatory on January 15. … Continue reading »

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Dear Prudence: The Beatles’ muse returns to Berkeley

Preudence Farrow with Ringo Starr and the Maharishi The Beatles and their wives at the Rishikesh in India with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, March 1968. Credit:  Colin Harrison/Avico
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Growing up in the belly of the Hollywood film industry, Prudence Farrow learned early on that meeting stars in the flesh usually led to disappointment. But her fateful encounter with the Beatles at the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi’s Rishikesh ashram in early 1968 left her pleasantly surprised. It also left John Lennon with a song that ended up as the White Album’s second track “Dear Prudence,” which he wrote to coax her out of the room where she retreated for endless hours while seeking solitude and transcendence.

Prudence Farrow Bruns returns to Berkeley, where she spent years studying at Cal, and eventually earned a PhD in South Asian Studies, to talk about her recent memoir Tuesday at Northbrae Community Church at 7 p.m. Titled (what else?) Dear Prudence: The Story Behind the Song, the self-published book details how and why she ended up in India at the height of the tumultuous ‘60s, starting with her family life as the fifth of seven children by Irish-born MGM star Maureen O’Sullivan and Australian-born film director John Farrow.

“At seven I was crazy about Mario Lanza and had all of his records,” says Bruns, 67, her voice a dead ringer for her older sister, Mia Farrow. “My mother took me to spend a whole day with him and his family and he was a drinker. Starting from that day, I never wanted to meet anyone I admired. So I was not looking forward to meeting the Beatles, and I was pleasantly surprised.” … Continue reading »

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Accordion time traveling with Rob Reich in Berkeley

By Eddy Joaquim
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Some of the musicians featured at the recently launched Bands at Brower series approached the performance like any other gig, presenting their usual material. But for Rob Reich the David Brower Center’s ecological mission is a feature not a bug, and he’s designed an immersive multimedia event that explores the way music and natural settings can alter our consciousness.

This Friday’s Bands at Brower show introduces Reich’s new project Thymesia, which he describes as “a meditation on time and memory. I think most people have had the experience of music warping their experience of time. I want to tap into this powerful quality.”

Playing by candlelight to create the feeling of “an autumnal meditation,” Reich says the music will be accompanied by original abstract video projections by local video artists Thomas Bates, Ben Flax, and Brett Stillo. It’s just the latest musical sojourn by an artist who can always be found keeping interesting company, like an event next year with two other Bay Area luminaries who share his name, Cal’s Robert Reich and Stanford poli sci professor Rob Reich (the debut of new Rob Reich Trio?). … Continue reading »

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