Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

Pounding sweet sounds with The Lemonhammer

The Lemonhammer
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As a singer/songwriter with a folky bent, Alexis Harte spent about a decade leading his own bands and taking care of all the details that entails. These days, the Berkeley-reared guitarist and vocalist has found an ideal partner in Oakland’s Damond Moodie, a soul-steeped singer/songwriter who’s also co-director of Pumpkin Seed Childcare.

They’ve effectively combined their complimentary sonic sensibilities in The Lemonhammer. The quartet celebrates the release of a new EP Made In A House 1 p.m. Sunday at Freight & Salvage on a double bill with Judea Eden Band as the opening act. The ticket price includes a copy of the EP. … Continue reading »

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Exposing a tumultuous era: Photographer Ken Light

©Ken Light-60's Whats Going On16
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Drawn to documenting the burgeoning protest movement in the late 1960s, Ken Light came to photojournalism as an extension of his anti-war activism. He started by shooting marches and demonstrations, but it wasn’t until the Nixon administration’s secret bombing of Cambodia came to light in late April 1970, and campuses exploded, that he truly found his calling. Hitchhiking from Ohio State in Athens to the flagship Ohio State campus in Columbus, he captured clashes between students and the National Guard shortly before four students were killed at Kent State in similar demonstrations. Arrested despite his press credentials, Light retrieved his undeveloped film when he got out of jail, and “those photos were published in newspapers and magazines all over the world,” he says. “I was struck, you can really have a voice. I could look around at my generation and tell stories about what’s happening.”

On faculty at UC Berkeley since 1983, Light is a longtime professor at the Graduate School of Journalism and curator of the J-School’s Center for Photography (where there’s now a fantastic exhibition of work by the legendary chronicler of rock, jazz and blues musicians Jim Marshall). Over the years, he’s earned numerous awards and published books examining the lives of farm workers–With These Hands (Pilgrim Press) and To The Promised Land (Aperture); impoverished African-Americans in the deep South — Delta Time (Smithsonian Institution Press); and Appalachia — Coal Hollow (University of California Press). … Continue reading »

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Getting low with Cornelius Boots and Joëlle Léandre

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From his earliest stirrings as a musician, Cornelius Boots has always gravitated to low, rumbling tones. Since moving to the Bay Area about 12 years ago, he’s created a series of darkly dramatic ensembles, such as Edmund Wells, an unprecedented bass clarinet quartet, and the texture-minded duo Sabbaticus Rex.

In recent years, Boots has focused on mastering an array of bass shakuhachis, and he celebrates the release of his quietly enthralling album Mountain Hermit’s Secret Wisdom with a solo recital 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the Trinity Concert Concerts series, at the Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. The “Heart and Blood” concert is a double bill with a Boots’ frequent collaborator, Mark Deutsch, who performs on his patented Bazantar, an upright five-string contrabass with dozens of sympathetic strings. He invented the instrument to accommodate his passion for new music, free improvisation and North Indian classical music. … Continue reading »

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The 88 keys: Tammy Hall plays Berkeley on Sunday

Tammy Hall
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Piano lovers take note: there are some great players hitting Berkeley this weekend.

Tammy Hall can usually be found accompanying some of the best jazz singers in the region and tenor sax greats like Houston Person, who described her as “one mighty soulful lady.” But she makes a rare solo outing 5 p.m. Sunday at R. Kassman Fine Pianos in Berkeley as part of Barbara Higbie’s monthly solo recital series Sunday at the 88s, a repeatedly rewarding showcase for exceptional pianists.

Possessing an uncluttered, telegraphic style marked by her conservatory training and deep roots in gospel, Hall gracefully combines elegance and grit. Her enticing blend of soul and precision has made her an invaluable collaborator for vocalists such as Etta Jones, Kim Nalley, Denise Perrier, Rhonda Benin, Linda Tillery, Frankye Kelly, and Veronica Klaus, who have all availed themselves of Hall’s keyboard services. … Continue reading »

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Berkeley’s Theresa Wong: Have cello, will travel

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Theresa Wong calls Berkeley home, but she forged her artistic identity via a long and winding journey abroad, soaking up creative currents in Salzburg, Vienna, Venice and beyond. A cellist, vocalist, composer, and graphic artist who can often be found enmeshed in gripping multi-media productions, Wong joins forces with guitarist/vocalist Fred Frith at the Berkeley Art Festival space 8 p.m. Saturday for a set of duo improvisation (a double bill with the electronics, piano and percussion trio Dapplegrey benefiting Doctors Without Borders).

In many ways, Frith has played a central role in Wong’s unlikely transformation from Stanford University-trained product designer to performance artist responsible for riveting works like The Unlearning, a multi-media collaboration with violinist/vocalist Carla Kihlstedt inspired by Goya’s disquieting Disasters of War etchings (the album was released on John Zorn’s Tzadik label).

A long-time member of the music faculty at Mills College, Frith first gained renown as a pioneering experimentalist when he co-founded the avant-garde British rock band Henry Cow in 1968. He’s dauntingly prolific artist who works on multiple fronts as a composer, educator, and globe-trotting musical explorer, and his path first crossed with Wong’s when she attended the Venice Biennale in 2003.

“It was the first time I heard Pamela Z, Julia Wolfe, and Fred Frith,” Wong recalls. “I still have my book of notes, trying to make sense of what makes this or that performance work. Everyone was so friendly. I’d go to talks and lectures. I heard Fred playing solo, and saw that he teaches at Mills, near where my parents live.” … Continue reading »

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Paul Hanson: Bringing the Bass(oon) to Berkeley Friday

Oon with Paul Hanson and Ariane Cap
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Paul Hanson has spent much of his life taking the bassoon into realms where the horn has never before traveled. From world jazz and klezmer to funk and rock, the Berkeley native refuses to be bounded by the irascible double-reed’s traditional symphonic role. Based in American Canyon since the end of a four-year stint with Cirque du Soleil in Japan, he returns to town for a California Jazz Conservatory performance at 8 p.m. Friday with the duo Oon featuring the inventive electric bassist Ariane Cap.

Pronounced like the last syllable of Hanson’s instrument (“just subtract the bass from bassoon,” he says), the duo released a debut album Polaris in 2013, and they’ve continued to refine and expand a surprisingly varied array of material. While the album focuses on original material by both musicians (Cap often composes with Austrian multi-instrumentalist Wolf Wein, the album’s co-producer), they’ve also devised striking arrangements of familiar songs, such as “Stella By Starlight” and “Dear Prudence.” … Continue reading »

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Eddie Marshall: More than a drummer

Eddie Marshall. Photo: California Jazz Conservatory
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Some three years after the death of the beloved San Francisco drum maestro Eddie Marshall the loss still stings. Whether serving as a sideman or leading his own inventive combo, Marshall made the trap set purr and roar, generating tremendous swing with a minimum of fuss. His presence in the Bay Area felt particularly felicitous as he moved west after establishing himself as a top-shelf New York player, known for his work with Toshiko Akiyoshi, Stan Getz, and Sam Rivers. As the house drummer at Keystone Korner in North Beach, he provided impeccable rhythmic support to steady rotation of masters, while generously mentoring several generations of young Bay Area musicians.

“Eddie was one of the great drummers in the world,” says New York saxophonist/trumpeter Peck Allmond, who graduated from Berkeley High in 1980 and leads a tribute to Marshall at the California Jazz Conservatory on Friday at 8 p.m. “Eddie chose to live in the Bay Area after a long time in New York so he could have a family, go camping, ride his bicycle. In addition to his drumming, he was a great composer. We just had a rehearsal, and every time we play his tunes we find new stuff. They make so much sense and sound so great.” … Continue reading »

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Philip Gelb: Popping up vegan in West Berkeley

Phil Gelb. bagels out of oven
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For the past decade, vegan chef and shakuhachi master Philip Gelb has combined his passion for music and food with a movable monthly series that pairs a four-course meal with a recital featuring singular musicians such as alto sax great Oliver Lake and Irish harp expert Diana Rowan. Looking to expand into new territory, he’s joining forces with Tomate Café’s Jack Wakileh, introducing a new pop-up series in West Berkeley (sans music for the time being).

Gelb kicks off the first of three scheduled events on Saturday Jan. 10 with a celebration of the culinary traditions of Southern African-Americans and the Caribbean inspired by Oakland cookbook writer/culinary historian Bryant Terry. Terry, who will be on hand speaking between courses, recently published Afro-Vegan: Farm-Fresh African, Caribbean, and Southern Flavors Remixed.

“Bryant’s a guy I have great respect for,” said Gelb, who is one of the first musicians to perform new music on shakuhachi, the ancient, end-blown Japanese bamboo flute. “I first came across him on KPFA years ago being interviewed about food politics in the African-American community. We’ve met up over the years, traded food and ideas and talked about collaborating.” … Continue reading »

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Sounds of Oaxaca: Pasatono Orquesta play Berkeley

Pasatono Orquesta
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The southern Mexican state of Oaxaca is a realm where indigenous culture continues to thrive in the 21st century. Rather than closing themselves off to outside currents, the Mixtecs, Zapotecs and other peoples of the region are constantly integrating new information, evolution that’s evident in Pasatono Orquesta, a fascinating nine-piece ensemble that makes its Bay Area debut at Freight & Salvage on Wednesday on a double bill with Cascada de Flores.

Championed by artists like vocalist Lila Downs, the intermittently Oaxaca-raised daughter of Mixtec cabaret singer Anita Sanchez, the band has compiled a vivid repertoire of tunes played by the Mixeteca orchestras that traveled the region in the middle decades of the 20th century. Sounds infiltrated from the north and south, and often hung around in Oaxaca long after they went out of fashion elsewhere, like the jaunty Charleston which figures in some Pasatono pieces. But Pasatono’s latest album, Maroma, is something of a departure. Drawing on the music that accompanies Oaxacan circuses, it’s an intoxicating mix of influences such as jazz, polka, chilena and cumbia. … Continue reading »

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The Late L@TE: Terry Riley plays BAM/PFA as curtain falls

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Five years ago BAM/PFA launched L@TE, a music series curated by Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill that transformed the gallery space into a reverberant concert hall. Given Cahill’s commitment to performing and presenting new music in various forms and permutations it’s not surprising that she booked minimalist pioneer Terry Riley as the opening act. In a neat feat of closure, the pianist will be on hand again Friday for the final L@TE event as BAM/PFA makes its slow transition into its new building at Oxford and Center (which is slated to open in early 2016).

Still a creative force at 79, Riley will be joined by his son, guitarist and composer Gyan Riley, an important figure in his own right who released a beautiful improv-laced album last year, Eviyan Live (Victo), featuring the acoustic collective trio Eviyan with violinist/vocalist Iva Bittová and clarinetist (and former Berkeleyan) Evan Ziporyn. … Continue reading »

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Feel grateful (dead) for the holidays: Stu Allen in Berkeley

Stu Allen
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Stu Allen holds down one of the most consistent gigs in Berkeley. For the past three years the guitarist has led Mars Hotel, which is less a band than a revolving cast of accomplished players dedicated to the music of the Grateful Dead. While Allen and his merry crew perform around the region, his homebase is Ashkenaz, where he’s held down a weekly gig that now serves as the hub of the Deadhead community. He closes out 2014 next week with a three-night Ashkenaz engagment, exploring different facets of the Dead constellation.

The run opens Wednesday with Stu Allen and the Spike Drivers featuring Sandy Rothman, Brian Godchaux and Murph Murphy. The band formed in January to “explore the old-timey music that the Jerry Garcia Acoustic Band was doing,” Allen says. “We branch out from there a little bit and bring that sound to some other tunes.”

On Thursday, he performs with the Reflections, a group that plays plugged in Garcia Band material, and on Friday he returns to the Dead with Mars Hotel.

“Spike Drivers is the only one with a consistent line up,” Allen said. “I put the Reflections and Mars Hotel line ups together from the same pool of guys on the scene. There are about 20 bass players,” including Robin Sylvester, a longtime member of Bob Weir’s RatDog, and Reed Mathis, who gained renown as a member of Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey and now plays with Tea Leaf Green. … Continue reading »

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Swinging through Venezuela with the VNote in Berkeley

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The music of Venezuela is one of the great cultural treasures of the Americas, a fabulously verdant tradition in which the intermingling of indigenous, European and African influences has yielded a vivid array of musical forms. No-one has done more to spread awareness of these riches than Jackeline Rago, a percussion expert and master of the diminutive four-string cuatro, Venezuela’s national instrument. Her longtime band, the VNote Ensemble, celebrates the release of a beautiful new album Urbano at the California Jazz Conservatory on Friday.

A quartet featuring Donna Viscuso on flute and harmonica, bassist Sam Bevan, and percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz, VNote has honed a sumptuously syncopated body of work integrating modern jazz with folkloric Venezuelan forms such as joropo and merengue (not to be confused with the popular Dominican dance style). One reason that Venezuelan songs and grooves haven’t gotten much traction outside the country is that until recently the nation’s musicians tended to stay home.

“Venezuela is a country where people consume what they produce, including music,” Rago says. “Our artists are famous within the country, and we’re really proud of our musical roots. It’s something like Brazil or Cuba on a smaller scale. But meeting a Venezuelan musician outside of the country is rare, because there are few of us here.” … Continue reading »

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New music in Berkeley: Leaping into unexpected realms

Caption: Cal Performances and the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players present Project TenFourteen, a series of four concerts featuring world premieres commissioned from 10 different composers.

Credit: Courtesy of San Francisco Contemporary Music Players
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There’s something irresistible about experiencing a composition at its premiere, about the possibility of witnessing an imaginative leap into unexpected musical realms. On Friday, East Bay trumpeter Ian Carey reprises his new work Interview Music: A Suite for Quintet + 1 at the Hillside Club, where he’ll be recording the suite with his talent-laden ensemble. And on Sunday, the San Francisco Contemporary Music Players (SFCMP) launch Project TenFourteen at Hertz Hall, an unprecedented season-long collaboration with Cal Performances featuring 10 newly commissioned works premiering over the course of four concerts.

Sunday’s inaugural program looks auspicious indeed, with Mexican composer Gabriela Ortiz’s commission “Corpórea” for an orchestral nonet with a balance of strings and winds, and Elena Ruehr’s “It’s About Time” for a string oriented sextet. The program’s defining presence is 85-year-old éminence grise George Crumb, who’s represented by three works, including two premieres. The latest of his many settings of poetry by Federico García Lorca, “The Yellow Moon of Andalusia” features mezzo soprano Tony Arnold, Kate Campbell on amplified piano, and percussionists William Winant and Nick Woodbury, while “Yesteryear” is a radically reworked piece for Arnold and pianist Kate Campbell. … Continue reading »

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