Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

Gillian Margot brings Black Beauty to Berkeley (and Geoffrey Keezer)

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The musical partnership of vocalist Gillian Margot and pianist Geoffrey Keezer is still in its infancy, but the two extraordinary musicians have already forged a creatively charged connection. The San Diego-based duo make their Bay Area debut 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory, though Keezer has performed dozens of times in the East Bay, from his teenage stint in the hard bop cauldron of Art Blakey and the Jazz Messengers to his well-documented three-year run with legendary bassist Ray Brown (Margot and Keezer also give a CJC workshop Saturday afternoon “The Art of Accompanying a Vocalist”).

One of the most celebrated pianists of his generation, the 45-year-old Keezer even lived in San Leandro briefly about a dozen years ago, in the midst of a Grammy Award-winning stint with bass maestro Christian McBride’s electro-acoustic band. These days he spends much of his time writing music for various projects and commissions, and can be found on stage working as an accompanist for masterly jazz vocalists like Dianne Reeves, Denise Donatelli, and Oakland’s Kenny Washington (who joins Keezer’s trio as a special guest Sunday afternoon at Jazz at Filoli).

“One thing musicians like to do is keep working,” he says. “As a pianist, I like working with vocalists, and singers value what I bring to the table. I’m not much of a singer myself, but I like writing songs, and with my own trio gigs I’ll invite Gillian or Kenny to come up.” … Continue reading »

Kalil Wilson and Love in Berkeley; other recommended gigs

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Walking down Shattuck a few weeks ago during the Bay Area Book Festival I came across a young man on the corner singing “A Foggy Day” ably accompanied by a keyboardist. Possessing a lithe and soulful sound, he swung effortlessly while imbuing Ira Gershwin’s epiphanic lyric with a true sense of surprise. I wasn’t the only pedestrian halted by his fine-grained tenor and graceful presence, and, despite running late for a coffee date, I lingered to hear three more tunes. This was my introduction to Kalil Wilson, a tremendously gifted vocalist who performs Sunday afternoon at the California Jazz Conservatory with his band, Love.

I’d been seeing his name around for a while, but hadn’t made it to one of his gigs yet, so catching him unexpectedly on the street, with no preconceptions or forewarning, was particularly pleasurable. Note to self: it’s good to get out of the house. … Continue reading »

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DIY in Berkeley, with pianist Caili O’Doherty Trio and The Miscreants

Caili O'Doherty's trio performs Friday at Jupiter and Sunday afternoon at the California Jazz Conservatory
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New York City pianist Caili O’Doherty has found cool blue waters in the Bay Area, while Berkeley clarinetist Ben Goldberg has plunged into the roiling New York rapids. What these two very different musicians share is a commitment to making their own gigs happen.

At 24, O’Doherty is already a familiar face in the Bay Area. Following the release of Padme, her heralded 2015 debut album, she performed widely around the region last year, making a powerful impression with her lyrically charged original compositions. She returns this week with a lustrous body of new music for her New York City trio featuring drummer Cory Cox and Israeli-born bassist Tamir Shmerling.

“I always like the idea of creating your own opportunities,” says O’Doherty, who plays Jupiter on Friday, Webster Haven Presents house concert in Berkeley on Saturday, (email jsteere@igc.org or call 510-849-1969), and a Sunday afternoon California Jazz Conservatory concert with special guest Steven Lugerner on alto saxophone and bass clarinet (she also gives a workshop Sunday at the CJC 11:30 a.m.-1:30 p.m. on “Using Language as a tool for Improvising”).   … Continue reading »

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The first family of Cajun music at Freight, Ashkenaz

The Savoy Family Cajun Band performs tonight at Freight & Salvage and Friday at Ashkenaz
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Ann and Marc Savoy have been performing in Berkeley for some four decades, since the dawn of the Cajun music renaissance they helped to spark in the mid-1970s. Whether touring with the Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band (their long-running collaboration with BeauSoleil fiddler Michael Doucet), or the Savoy Family Cajun Band with their sons Joel and Wilson, the couple embodies the joyous and earthy pleasures of Cajun culture.

Despite their deep ties to the Bay Area, Thursday’s concert at Freight & Salvage and Friday’s dance party at Ashkenaz offer an unprecedented view into this restlessly creative clan. While they’ve toured with their sons Joel and Wilson for years in the Family Band, the Berkeley concerts mark the first time ever they’ll be joined on stage by their daughters Sarah and Gabrielle.

Sarah, the eldest, is an executive chef in Paris who also leads the Cajun band Sarah Savoy’s  Hell-Raising Hayride. She performed on 2003’s Savoy Family Album (Arhoolie), shortly before moving abroad. Gabrielle, a guitarist, photographer, and painter who has created a colorful trading-card style series celebrating Cajun heroes, has never performed with the family. Wilson is the only sibling who won’t be performing in Berkeley. … Continue reading »

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She’s the boss: Ojai at Berkeley celebrates amazing women

Tyshawn Sorey's "Josephine Baker: A Portrait" closes Ojai at Berkeley Saturday at Zellerbach Playhouse
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Tyshawn Sorey grew up hearing about Josephine Baker as a matriarch of the civil-rights movement who knocked down racial barriers around the world. It wasn’t until recently, however, when the drummer, pianist and composer started to collaborate with poet Claudia Rankine and soprano Julia Bullock, that he came to appreciate her vocal prowess. Cal Performances presents his new work Josephine Baker: A Portrait 8 p.m. Saturday at Zellerbach Playhouse as the closing event of Ojai at Berkeley.

Programmed by artistic director Peter Sellars to celebrate an array of heroines, the festival opens tonight at Zellerbach Playhouse with Finnish composer Kaija Saariaho’s oratorio “La Passion de Simone” inspired by radical 20th-century French philosopher Simone Weil. The new restaging by Sellars features International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE), the vocal group Roomful of Teeth, and Julia Bullock singing the part of Weill, a role originally created for her former teacher, the transcendent Dawn Upshaw. … Continue reading »

English majors unite! The Bricoleurs take Jupiter

The Bricoleurs under the Jupiter redwood, with guitarist René Planchon, Justin Baird, and organist Brian Ho.
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What’s in a name? For Berkeley drummer/composer Jared Baird, finding the perfect moniker for his Hammond B-3 powered trio marked a major step in uniting two distinct facets of his life. An English teacher at Marin Academy by day (he also spent six years on faculty at Berkeley High), Baird holds down Jupiter’s Tuesday Jazzidency series through the end of June with The Bricoleurs.

He lifted the band’s name from Michael Chabon’s book, The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier & Clay, in a moment of inspiration when “one of the characters discovers this artistic approach to making comic books borrowing from the French avant garde,” Baird says. “The thought hit me that it’s a great visual metaphor for what I want to do, evoking this idea of bricolage, pulling from all these different elements. Later I came to learn that in common French a bricoleur is a handyman, a tinkerer, or an amateur, and l liked the spirit of that. I approach my music like a professional, but I don’t really play music for a living.” … Continue reading »

From Cuba with love: Berkeley High Jazz at the UC Theatre

Berkeley High Jazz in Cuba. Photo by Bill Kinder.
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In jazz, timing is critical, and the Berkeley High jazz program has long demonstrated a gift for landing on just the right beat. When Fourth Street merchants decided to end its annual Jazz on Fourth event, a cornerstone of the jazz program’s annual fundraising efforts, the Berkeley Music Group’s newly opened The UC Theatre stepped into the breach. On Friday, the Berkeley High Jazz Ensemble plays an opening set at the UC Theatre for the Pacific Mambo Orchestra, which shocked the Latin music scene in 2014 by winning the Grammy Award for Best Latin Tropical Album.

“The Fourth Street merchants felt like shutting down the street was too disruptive,” said trombonist Sarah Cline, who’s finishing her fifth year as director of Berkeley High’s jazz program. “We so grateful for their support. They did Jazz on Fourth for 20 years, raised more than $200,000 over that time, and they’re still supporting us. Abrams/Millikan is one of the corporate sponsors of the UC Theatre concert, and we’re looking for more.” … Continue reading »

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Raising voices for 50 years with the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra

Berkeley Community Chorus in rehearsal. Photo: Kelly Sullivan
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The competition for Berkeley’s most Berkeley organization is stiff, but you’ll be hard pressed to find an institution that embodies the city’s best impulses more fully than the Berkeley Community Chorus and Orchestra. Radically egalitarian, creatively ambitious, and committed to offering free performances, the BCCO brings together some 220 singers, many of whom have little or no musical training.

The choir concludes its milestone 50th season next weekend with performances of Benjamin Britten’s “War Requiem” at Hertz Hall at 8 p.m. on June 3, and 4 p.m. on June 4. A massive undertaking that involves a chamber orchestra and a full orchestra, the San Francisco Girls Chorus, an organ, three conductors, and three vocal soloists (baritone Efrain Solis, tenor Brian Thorsett, and soprano Carrie Hennessey), this production of staging the canonical work is the culmination of more than two years of planning. … Continue reading »

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Getting busy with pianist/composer Satoko Fujii

Pianist/composer Satoko Fujii performs at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space Friday on a double bill with Larry Ochs, and plays a solo recital Saturday at Maybeck Studio in honor of Paul Bley
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When Satoko Fujii describes herself as lazy, take it with a grain of salt. Better yet, make it a shaker-full. Since recording her first CD in 1996, the Japanese pianist/composer has left even her most prolific peers in the dust, releasing a veritable torrent of albums documenting a dizzying array of ensembles around the world. And it’s not like she’s sacrificing quality for quantity, as Fujii is widely considered one of the most consistently vivid writers in jazz.

She returns to Berkeley this weekend for two very different concerts that are part of her year-long celebration marking the 20th anniversary of Libra, the label she runs with her husband, trumpeter Natsuki Tamura (aka Kappa Maki). On Friday, Fujii plays the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space in a double bill co-sponsored by the Center for New Music San Francisco. She opens with Maki and special guest drummer Gino Robair, followed by Berkeley saxophonist Larry Ochs, bassist Jason Hoopes and drummer Jordan Glenn (with all the musicians coming together for a brief third set). And on Saturday she plays a free improv solo piano recital at Maybeck Studio, offering a tribute to the late pianist/composer Paul Bley, a mentor who joined her on the first Libra album in 1996, Something About Water. … Continue reading »

Dances with wolves: Los Lobos and Evie Ladin in Berkeley

The Evie Ladin Band with Keith Terry and Erik Pearson plays Freight & Salvage on May 19.
Photo: Gudmundor Vigfusson.
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It’s one thing for a musician to dig down into the roots of a tradition and another thing entirely to create a personal voice out those influences. Several bands playing Berkeley in the coming days offer exceptionally vivid examples of the way a love of traditional forms can serve as a launching pad rather than a straight jacket.

Well into its fifth decade as LA’s greatest active rock band, Los Lobos plays its first Berkeley show in more than a decade at the UC Theatre on Friday (the East Bay ensemble Los Cenzontles play the opening set). Featuring essentially the same cast of players who came together in East LA in the mid-1970s (David Hidalgo, Louie Pérez, Cesar Rosas, and Conrad Lozano), the band received a new jolt of energy with the fall 2011 arrival of Mexican-born drummer Enrique “Bugs” González.

Last year the group released its 24th album, Gates of Gold (429 Records), and these restless stylistic prowlers seem to be in no danger of repeating themselves. Blues and funk, R&B and cumbia, soul and rollicking rock ‘n’ roll all jostle forward on different tracks, while the tunes are as concise and well-constructed as ever. They’ll play some of the new songs at the UC, but with such a vast catalog, they’ll be drawing from numerous albums. … Continue reading »

Cheryl Leonard brings melting glaciers, kelp to Berkeley

Cheryl Leonard brings her rocks, kelp, ice, and penguin bones to the Bower Center on Wednesday for "Polar Landscapes" a program of original music with Phillip Greenlief. Photo by Cheryl Leonard.
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Cheryl Leonard followed a long winding path from the Berkeley Hills to the polar regions, but her ability to make arresting music using the sounds of melting glaciers flows directly from an epiphany she experienced hiking near Tilden.

Leonard has spent a good deal of time over the past eight years in the Arctic and Antarctic, making field recordings and collecting materials that she transforms into musical instruments. She performs “Polar Sounscapes” 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Brower Center on the closing night of the multi-media exhibition “Vanishing Ice: Alpine and Polar Landscapes in Art 1775-2012,” which examines some two centuries of artists inspired by frozen landscapes. The event is the first on an ongoing collaboration between the Brower Center and the new music organization Other Minds. … Continue reading »

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Junior Reggae bring sleek sounds of Jamaica to Jupiter

Junior Reggae (Rob Ewing, Jason Levis, and Steven Blum) play Jupiter Tuesdays in May. Photo by Eric Vogler.
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When Caribbean rhythms seduce a jazz musician, Cuba is usually the alluring culprit. But for multi-instrumentalist Rob Ewing the loping grooves of Jamaica have proven irresistible. An accomplished drummer and skilled trombonist who performs every Sunday with the Electric Squeezebox Orchestra at Doc’s Lab in North Beach, Ewing holds down the bass chair in three reggae combos, including the 10-piece Pavlov’s Band, the five-piece Reggae On the Radio, and the trio Junior Reggae, which plays Jupiter every week in May as part of the pub’s Tuesday Jazzidency series.

Featuring Steven Blum on keyboards and drummer Jason Levis, Junior Reggae is an instrumental ensemble that was born in Berkeley. Ewing and Levis have been making music together since their undergrad days in Boulder at Naropa University (where they both studied with piano legend Art Lande). Since arriving in the Bay Area in the early aughts, they’ve played in a variety of settings together, but it was reggae that forged their connection as a rhythm-section tandem. As the director of the Jazzschool Community Music School, Ewing was on hand when Levis, an associate professor at the California Jazz Conservatory, needed a bassist for a reggae class. … Continue reading »

Strings on steroids… This ain’t no chamber music

Mimi Fox plays Freight & Salvage Wednesday with the SF String Trio. Photo by Michael Oletta
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If you don’t know the players involved, the SF String Trio’s name might lead you to expect a polite new addition to the Bay Area chamber music scene. That would be wrong. Featuring master improvisers and commanding virtuosos who project the energy and intensity of a power trio, the collective with guitarist Mimi Fox, violinist Mads Tolling and bassist Jeff Denson makes its Bay Area debut 8 p.m. Wednesday at Freight & Salvage.

“We aim to disrupt people who are sipping wine,” says Fox with a wicked chuckle. “We aim to start trouble. All of us try to play our instruments to the full measure of what each can offer.”

Fox established herself as one of the Bay Area’s most formidable guitarists more than two decades ago, joining the ranks of jazz’s guitar royalty while performing and recording a multi-generational array fret stars from Charlie Byrd, Kenny Burrell, and Mundell Lowe to Charlie Hunter, Stanley Jordan and Patty Larkin. With 10 albums to her credit as a leader or co-leader, she released a definitive statement with 2006’s Perpetually Hip on Steve Vai’s Favored Nations label. A double CD, the first disc captures Fox stretching out with a stellar quartet featuring bassist Harvie S, pianist Xavier Davis and drum maestro Billy Hart (the subject of a career-honoring retrospective at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival in June), while the second disc is a solo tour de force, a format she’s made a central part of her career as a performer. … Continue reading »

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