Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert
No musical style is as inextricably linked to a particular city as tango is to Buenos Aires. So what happens when you take one of tango’s most acclaimed vocalists and plop her down in the Bay Area? For María Volonté, the result is a burst of inspiration, as she forges ties with some of the region’s finest jazz and Latin American musicians. Which isn’t to say that she’s cut her ties to Argentina. Volonté performs Sunday at the Garden Gate Creativity Center on Claremont Avenue in Berkeley, an early stop on her Wapas tour with Mavi Díaz, the founder of the seminal 1980s all-female Argentine pop band Viudas e Hijas de Roque Enroll. While steeped in different traditions, both women are intensely passionate performers who share a rare gift for self-revelation and playful self-mockery.
Accompanying themselves on guitar, they’ll perform together and separately, playing original material and exploring classic songs by grandes mujeres Violeta Parra, Chabuca Granda and Tita Merello. Volonté’s regular musical partner, harmonica player Kevin Footer, will also join the proceedings (a particularly apt accompanist as Díaz’s father is the late great Argentine harmonica maestro Hugo Díaz). … Continue reading »
Some three decades ago Steven Emerson got a taste of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle when he joined True West, a San Francisco band at the heart of the West Coast’s then-thriving Paisley Underground scene. On a circuitous creative path ever since, he’s honed his skills as a singer/songwriter in New York City, worked as a filmmaker, published as a poet, and, for much of the past decade, toiled as a composer in his North Berkeley home studio, writing music for commercials, films, television shows and video games.
But he’s still following his muse as a songwriter and performing occasionally in the East Bay, including a gig Friday at Jupiter with a band featuring Berkeley saxophonist Joshi Marshall (who also plays some keyboard and organ).
“I started writing in True West, and then I discovered Nick Drake and he kind of blew my mind,” Emerson says. “I’d never heard anything like him, and that solidified moving in that direction. I experimented with playing solo, or playing with a cellist for a couple of years. I also started playing with jazz musicians, upright bass and jazz drummers, inspired by Van Morrison and Rickie Lee Jones. There’s something about that sound that I was waking up to.” … Continue reading »
By day, Daniel Plonsey teaches geometry and calculus at Berkeley High. By night he’s a prolific saxophonist and composer who’s crafted a vast and variegated body of work that includes a jazz opera with the late underground comic icon Harvey Pekar, a madcap performance piece commissioned by the Jewish Music Festival, Daniel Plonsey’s Bar Mitzvah, and the expansive series for his ensemble Daniel Popsicle, Music of El Cerrito.
His two worlds rarely come into contact, but, on Sunday afternoon at the Starry Plough, Plonsey premieres a new project called Student Work, featuring tunes inspired by stories culled from student writing assignments. In some cases, he set their sentences to music, songs that he’ll deliver accompanied by his orchestral 12-piece band (Daniel Popsicle returns to the Plough on June 2 and July 7 for extra-credit Student Work performances).
Like many of Plonsey’s projects, Student Work emerged out of his daily routine, when he happened to pick up a pile of homework and was struck by the “telegraphic syntax of the writing, more like poetry than prose,” he says. “I just started reading them and it occurred to me that it would be fun to set to music.” … Continue reading »
Oakland percussion master John Santos has spent the past three decades introducing Bay Area audiences to Caribbean musical treasures, but he’s got something unprecedented in store for Berkeley this weekend.
Havana’s Ernesto Oviedo, the 77-year-old maestro of boleros, makes his U.S. debut under his own name at an intimate sit-down concert Sunday at La Casa de Cultura Brazilian, 1901 San Pablo Ave., accompanied by a top-shelf Bay Area ensemble featuring Santos, Marco Diaz on piano and trumpet, bassist Saul Sierra, guitarist Jose Roberto, saxophonist/flutist Melecio Magdaluyo, and percussionist Javier Navarrette.
Santos featured Oviedo last month at a sold-out SFJAZZ Center performance by his Filosofía Caribeña project, an unexpected addition to a program already brimming with brilliant artists. Although unknown to the vast majority of the audience, he earned a rapturous standing ovation with his soul-bearing renditions of the Latin American standards “Alma Mia” and “Convergencia” (performed as a duo with Diaz). … Continue reading »
Molly Holm has lived a lifetime in between starting to record her debut CD Permission and its release last February. The Berkeley jazz singer, an esteemed educator and important collaborator with Bobby McFerrin and Terry Riley, lost both her parents, ended a relationship, and married her husband in the decade or so it took to bring the project to fruition.
Concerts marking the release of a CD are often billed as celebrations, but in Holm’s case Sunday’s performance at Freight & Salvage is almost a liberation. She’s performing with a superlative cast distilled from her collaborators on the album, including pianist/producer Frank Martin, bass master Jeff Chambers, drummer Deszon Claiborne, Antonio Minnecola on Hindustani vocal percussion, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and reed expert Melecio Magdaluyo. … Continue reading »
In the world of sound sculptor Pamela Z, words are elusive and elastic, wriggly agglomerations of sound always threatening to devolve into their constituent syllables. In a rare East Bay performance she presents the premiere of her new work Carbon Song Cycle, an immersive collaboration with video artist Christina McPhee, at the Berkeley Art Museum/Pacific Film Archive as part of the L@TE Friday Nights series programmed by Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill.
Featuring a talent-stocked chamber ensemble, with Theresa Wong on cello and vocals, bassoonist Dana Jessen, violist Cherith Premawardhana, and percussionist Suki O’Kane, the piece is inspired by carbon’s impact on global warming, though the song cycle is anything but an environmental polemic.
“The last thing I want to do is ‘An Inconvenient Truth: the musical,’” Z said from Cambridge, where she was performing a solo work for voice and electronics as part of the MIT/Center for Arts Science and Technology Marathon. … Continue reading »
Connie Field can usually be found on the front lines of social struggle. From her classic 1980 documentary The Life and Times of Rosie the Riveter to last year’s seven-part PBS series on the global movement to end apartheid, Have You Heard From Johannesburg, the Berkeley filmmaker seeks to ensure that history doesn’t forget the citizens and activists behind world-shaking movements for social justice.
Her latest project, Buchla, for which she’s seeking initial funding via a Kickstarter campaign that concludes on April 15, explores a different kind of untold story. Working with her longtime editor, Gregory Scharpen, she’s delving into the fascinating world of electronic music pioneer Don Buchla, the ingenious Berkeley inventor and theoretician who has played an essential role in shaping the way humans interact with electronic devices.
While his late East Coast contemporary Robert Moog gets the lion’s share of the credit as the forefather of electronic instruments, the 75-year-old Buchla preceded him. After earning a degree in physics from UC Berkeley in 1960, he collaborated with avant garde composers Morton Subotnick and Ramon Sender, who were both associated with the San Francisco Tape Music Center, which led to the invention of synthesizers controlled by touch sensitive plates (a concept that turned out to be decades ahead of its time). … Continue reading »
As a career choice, playing the bassoon outside of orchestral settings is bound to take a musician to some unusual places, but Paul Hanson’s musical journey has often leapt into the surreal. The Berkeley-raised double reed master has spent much of the past decade performing internationally with Cirque du Soleil, including a four-year run in Japan that ended prematurely when the tsunami and Fukushima nuclear power plant meltdown put a damper on diverting spectacles.
Hanson makes his first East Bay jazz performance in nearly a decade Friday at the Jazzschool with a sensational band led by capaciously inventive guitarist/composer Joel Harrison, a former Berkeleyan now based in Brooklyn. Also featuring Pat Metheny Group trumpeter Cuong Vu, bassist Kermit Driscoll, and drum star Brian Blade, the quintet is loaded with world-class improvisers, but designed for Harrison’s singular compositional blend of folk-like melodies, lapidary textures and expansive harmonies.
“Joel’s a really good writer,” Hanson says from his home in American Canyon. “He knows how to blend instruments well to get an ensemble sound. It’s not just about the soloist, where you play the head and then everybody goes off and burns. Melodies are very important in his music, and for some reason guitar and bassoon seem to work really well together.” … Continue reading »
Berkeley guitarist John Schott doesn’t always write for large string ensembles, but when he does he’s aiming to capture the capabilities of a new generation of adventurous musicians.
An erudite composer with catholic taste who’s equally at home playing country blues, funk or free jazz, Schott premieres his latest project, the Creative String Orchestra, Friday, Mar. 29 at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space, 2133 University Avenue. The startlingly talented ensemble includes violinist Rachel Durling, violist Tara Flandreau, cellist Theresa Wong, and bassist Kim Cass.
“These large ensemble projects are things that have appeared at several year cycles,” says Schott, who also performs with his trio at North Oakland’s Actual Café on April 7, a long-running monthly gig. “It has to happen at a moment when the scene is conducive to this, and I think there’s a lot happening in the string world vis-à-vis jazz and improvisation these days. There are these highly trained string players who are able to speak fluently in multiple musical languages.” … Continue reading »
Rhonda Benin knows that the music biz is unforgiving and that recovering visibility after four months off the scene can easily take twice as long. The Oakland vocalist doesn’t regret her summer-long sojourn in China, where she held down a nightly gig in Hangzhou singing soul, blues and jazz. But she knew that getting back into the groove at home might take some doing, which is why she is producing Wednesday, Mar. 27’s Freight & Salvage vocal extravaganza “Just Like A Woman,” featuring herself, Terrie Odabi, Kellye Gray and Paula Harris, all backed by pianist Tammy Hall’s Lillian Armstrong Tribute Band.
“Working six nights a week steady like that really took me to another level and brought up my live show,” Benin says. “It’s unfortunate that so many black women have got to go out of the country to work. I got offered another contract, but I wanted to come home. I was thinking ‘out of sight, out of mind,’ and that I better come up with something clever. I figured I’d pitch it to Freight & Salvage because they seem to be really open to a diverse array of music.” … Continue reading »
Rambunctious and impulsive, volatile, protean and given to musical hijinks, Wiener Kids might seem like a bad bet for a performance in a church. But Trinity Chamber Concerts, a series hosted by Trinity Chapel on Dana Street in Berkeley for almost four decades, has long presented experimental jazz and improvised music mixed in with solo and duo classical recitals, early music ensembles, string quartets, and new music masters, like flautist Robert Dick.
A trio led by the insistently inventive Oakland drummer Jordan Glenn, Wiener Kids feature two of the region’s most dependably interesting reed players, Cory Wright and Aram Shelton. No stranger to the chapel’s resonant space, Glenn has prepared a Wiener special for the group’s Trinity debut Saturday night.
… Continue reading »
Guitarist Eric Thompson has been the heart and soul of Berkeley’s old-time and American roots music scene since the mid-1960s, but he got his start down the peninsula in Palo Alto as the youngest member of the Black Mountain Boys, a bluegrass trio featuring Jerry Garcia on five-string banjo and David Nelson on mandolin. A short-lived combo that never recorded — though there’s a bootleg or two floating around — the Black Mountain Boys are regrouping for a performance Friday as part of Ashkenaz’s 40th anniversary celebration (which kicks off tonight with a talent-laden band led by Garcia’s future Grateful Dead bandmate Mickey Hart).
With Garcia unavailable due to his ongoing big gig in the sky, the banjo chair is being filled by Rick Shubb, a distinguished old-time musician who’s probably better known these days as the inventor of the Shubb Capo, beloved by guitarists far and wide. Nelson, renowned as a founder of the New Riders of the Purple Sage, plays guitar, trading roles with Thompson, who’s handling mandolin duties. Filling out the band are fiddlers Paul Shelasky and Suzy Thompson (Eric’s wife and partner in musical mayhem in the Aux Cajunals, Bluegrass Intentions, Todalo Shakers, and other rootsy bands), and bassist Paul Knight, who tours with Peter Rowan and Kathy Kallick. Wake the Dead shares the bill. … Continue reading »
Cal is a bustling world unto itself peopled by an extraordinary array of scholars, scientists and artists, which can make keeping track of campus events an overwhelming undertaking. But the creative ferment taking place in the Department of Music’s Jazz and Improvised Music (JIM) Initiative shouldn’t go unnoticed.
On Saturday March 2, JIM presents a benefit concert at Hertz Concert Hall featuring pianist Dan Tepfer, who often collaborates with alto sax master Lee Konitz, and woodwind player Ben Wendel, a founding member of the influential band Kneebody (a Q&A with the artists precedes the concert, and a reception follows). The Berkeley Nu Jazz Collective, an impressive group of JIM graduate students, opens the concert.
Pianist/composer Myra Melford, an associate professor of improvisation and jazz, connected with Wendel while performing with Berkeley bassist Todd Sickafoose several years ago, and knew that he would be a hit in the program. … Continue reading »