Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

Sparkler, or a Berkeley High reunion at the Freight?

Sparkler
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Did you hear about Monday’s Berkeley High reunion at Freight & Salvage? It’s listed on the club’s calendar as a double bill pairing Peter Apfelbaum’s Sparkler and Natalie Cressman’s band, but the indefatigably creative Apfelbaum has essentially assembled a Yellow Jacket conclave with his new electronica-laced band, which features a multi-generational cast of Berkeley High grads and a couple of ringers from nearby. The group released an EP of shimmering dance music last year, I Colored It In For You (M.O.D. Technologies), which includes a remix by bassist and studio wizard Bill Laswell.

For the Freight show Will Bernard, class of 1977, is out from New York with Apfelbaum to provide relentlessly grooving rhythm guitar. East Bay-based Erika Oba, class of 2004, is filling in for the band’s regular keyboardist, while Brooklyn’s Charlie Ferguson, class of 2006, is covering the drum chair (he brings his stellar Afrobeat band Zongo Junction to The New Parish on Aug. 7 with tenor saxophonist Noah Garabedian, another Berkeley-to-Brooklyn classmate).

“We have this whole reservoir of musicians,” says Apfelbaum, who belongs to the first generation that came through the groundbreaking jazz-steeped BUSD music education program that Herb Wong introduced in the late 1960s. “And not just in jazz. There are so many different style that these musicians play. Charlie had already studied with Josh Jones for three years while at Berkeley High before he studied with me at the New School. I’ll show him some rhythmic figure and he does his own thing with it. I don’t need explain a lot.” … Continue reading »

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Regina Carter: Fiddling with genius in Berkeley

Regina Carter
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Being dubbed a genius isn’t always what it’s cracked up to be. Regina Carter, jazz’s most visible and celebrated violinist, found out about the downside of the vaunted designation when the MacArthur Foundation awarded her a coveted “Genius” Fellowship, which led to good natured ribbing from her husband, drummer Alvester Garnett, and the rest of her band.

“Alvester was really excited when I told him I got the grant, then he went online and checked it out and said, ‘You know, they call this thing the ‘genius award’ and you can’t even go around the block without getting lost!’” says Carter, who makes her Freight & Salvage debut 8 p.m. Sunday. “If I do something crazy at home, he’ll say, ‘alright genius.’ I’m always getting razzed by him and the band.”

Not that Carter is complaining. Receiving the $500,000 no-strings grant from the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation has allowed her to embark on a series of musical journeys that use her ancestral roots as a point of departure. She spent years exploring music by contemporary African composers, a quest that materialized on her 2010 album Reverse Thread (E1 Entertainment). Fascinated by the fiddle’s seemingly infinite variety of permutations Carter notes that the instrument “has traveled and evolved and been part of many traditions. It seems like every music on the planet has an instrument that reminds me of the violin.” … Continue reading »

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Bluegrass in Berkeley: The family that picks together sticks together

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It might seem strange to refer to Monday’s OMGG performance at Freight & Salvage as a reunion concert, given the quartet’s average age hovers around 18, but these bluegrass musicians have already logged a lot of miles since they last performed together four years ago. The moniker stands for Obviously Minor Guys and a Girl, and the quartet brings together young players who have established themselves as fully equal to the task of performing with veteran masters.

Featuring Berkeley High junior Max Schwartz on bass and five-string banjo and his older brother Nate Schwartz, an impressive mandolin player who’s studying jazz guitar and composition at UCLA, Boulder Creek’s Marty Varner, now studying guitar at Clark University in Massachusetts, and the stellar vocalist and fiddler AJ Lee, a 16-year-old from Tracey who has been touring and recording with the Tuttles, the musicians essentially “grew up together in the California bluegrass community,” says Max. … Continue reading »

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Ellen Johnson: A jazz child’s child in Berkeley

Ellen Johnson, playing
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Is there anything that chocolate can’t do? An offering to the Mayan gods, a source of joy for children around the world, and an abiding bond between two great jazz musicians who perform 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory.

Polymathic vocalist Ellen Johnson was attending a jazz education convention in Toronto back in 2003 when she met the well-traveled tenor saxophonist Don Braden, an encounter that led to an intermittent but ongoing collaboration. Over the years they’ve conducted numerous workshops demystifying the sinuous dance between singers and horn players, performed occasional concerts, and a developed a firm friendship cemented by their love of dark chocolate. … Continue reading »

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Thomas Mapfumo kicks off Berkeley World Music Festival

Thomas Mapfumo
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The pantheon of African musicians who have put their bodies on the line while turning their music into a vanguard force against despotism and corruption includes Nigeria’s Fela Kuti and South Africa’s Hugh Masekela. But no one occupies quite the same role as Zimbabwe’s Thomas Mapfumo. His startlingly innovative musical vision, which transposed sacred Shona rhythms and cadences onto chiming electric guitars, came to fruition in the midst of the 1970s anti-colonial struggle that gave birth to his nation.

A frequent visitor to Berkeley over the past 15 years, Mapfumo kicks off the Berkeley World Music Festival 9 p.m. Friday at Ashkenaz with his longtime band The Blacks Unlimited. On Saturday the festival moves to the Telegraph corridor, with free live music at People’s Park (All Nation Singers), Amoeba (Soji & the Afrobeat Band, Georges Lammam Ensemble, and Candelaria), Remy’s Mexican Restaurant (As Tres Meninas), Cafe Milano (Riffat Sultana), Caffe Mediterraneum (Safra), and other venues, closing with a Romani Balkan brass celebration at the Village featuring Edessa and special guest percussionist/vocalist Rumen Shopov. … Continue reading »

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30 years of cutting-edge music with Machete Records

John Santos Photo: John Ehrlich
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Complete artistic freedom often comes with a cost. For Oakland percussion maestro John Santos, the price of running his own musical realm to pursue a sweeping pan-Caribbean musical vision means accepting the financial burden of producing and distributing his own recordings. On Saturday, Santos celebrates the 30th anniversary of his label Machete Records at Berkeley’s Casa de Cultura at 8 p.m. Saturday with a concert benefiting the venue and its parent Brazilian arts non-profit BrasArte.

His primary creative outlet since disbanding the celebrated Machete Ensemble in 2006, Santos’s sextet features a stellar cast of musicians, including veteran saxophonist Melecio Magdaluyo, arranger/composer Dr. John Calloway on flute, piano and percussion, bassist Saul Sierra, drummer David Flores, and Marco Diaz on piano and trumpet. The event is made possible by support from the Zellerbach Family Foundation and the William and Flora Hewlit Foundation. … Continue reading »

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Black women rock: Skip the Needle, Sistas In the Pit, and Dolorata play triple bill in Berkeley

Sistas In The Pit
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Though they’ve rarely received due credit for their contributions, black women played an essential role in building the foundation of rock ‘n’ roll, from Sister Rosetta Tharpe and Big Mama Thornton to Ruth Brown and Tina Turner. A talent-laden program at Freight & Salvage on Thursday, June 4, showcases the leading black women who are rockin’ and groovin’ the Bay Area today. Featuring the supergroup Skip the Needle, Sistas in the Pit, and Dolorata, the interlaced triple bill presents an array of musical approaches united by combustible energy, potent charisma and unapologetic genre mashing.

“When we decided to put this show on we chose June because of Pride month, and without really planning it we came up with three all-female rock bands,” says Vicki Randle, a multi-instrumentalist who plays bass in Skip the Needle. “We ended up with just about every black women in the Bay Area playing rock right now.”

With Kofy Brown on drums and guitarists Shelley Doty and Katie Colpitts, Skip the Needle brings together four women who are all bandleaders in their own right. They alternate on lead vocals, and compose collectively, creating songs that draw on funk, punk, jazz and hard rock. … Continue reading »

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A jazz convergence with Hafez Modirzadeh

Hafez Modirzadeh by Walter Wagner
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Conversations with Hafez Modirzadeh often swerve in unexpected directions. The Iranian-American saxophonist/composer is a confidant of jazz legends like Ornette Coleman and a mentor to cutting edge stars like Vijay Iyer. Always looking to expand his conceptual framework, he’s created an enthralling body of music that encompasses classical modes from Persian, Arabic and Turkish music and beyond. A longtime professor of music at San Francisco State where he’s the co-director of Jazz and World Music Studies, Modirzadeh plays an extremely rare East Bay concert 8 p.m. Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory with pianist Mark Levine, bassist John Wiitala and drummer Akira Tana.

Catching up with Modirzadeh recently by phone from his home in San Jose he was eager to discuss his recent Fulbright-funded sojourn to Turkey, but first he wanted to talk about last week’s front page New York Times story about an 11-year-old piano prodigy from Jakarta.

Reading the profile and watching the video, Modirzadeh recalled a premonition about “varieties of intonation eventually coming from our youth to advance consciousness through sound. There’s something about where he’s from, a clear inspiration from gamelan, the shimmer in the beat between the instruments. That’s a key element in a lot of the music I’ve been trying to develop, and I believe that shimmering resonance is at hand, and with it comes our humanity’s resolution!” … Continue reading »

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Jazz blooms in Berkeley with a rich choice of performers

Marcus Shelby
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On any given night one can find a handful of jazz gigs in Berkeley interesting enough to coax even a casual fan out of the house. But this Sunday offers something altogether rare with a convergence of two events that auger well for the future of the scene.

From noon to 5 p.m., the Berkeley High jazz program’s 20th annual Jazz on Fourth Street fundraiser turns the shopping district into a music-filled street party. And at the David Brower Center from 2-5 p.m., Jazz in the Neighborhood celebrates its second anniversary with a fundraiser and concert featuring the lustrous vocalist Clairdee, pianist Ken French, bassist Marcus Shelby, trumpeter (and Berkeley High alum) Erik Jekabson, pianist Glen Pearson, saxophonist/flutist Mary Fettig, trombonist Wayne Wallace, and drummer Hamir Atwal. … Continue reading »

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In Berkeley: The First Annual Rafael Manriquez Festival

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Rafael Manriquez is no longer here to sing his own songs, but the Chilean-born troubadour’s friends, family and colleagues are making sure that his poetic calls for justice continue to reverberate.

Born in Chile and based in the Berkeley area from 1977 until his death in June 2013, the composer, vocalist and master of various string instruments wrote songs that have been performed and recorded across the Americas. On Saturday La Peña presents the First Annual Rafael Manriquez Festival, an event featuring a talent-laden cast including Jackeline Rago, Avotcja, Fernando Torres, Ricardo Valdivieso, Esteban Bello, Axel Herrera, Hugo Wainzinger, and Lichi Fuentes (Manriquez’s former musical partner in the beloved and widely traveled Grupo Raíz).

The ambitious undertaking marks the release of a lost Manriquez album from the 1980s, El Pajaro Vuela (The Bird Flies), featuring Bay Area Latin jazz stars John Santos and Rebeca Mauleón. Some of the funds raised during the concert will go towards the production of a new Rafael Manriquez CD with 14 unpublished songs discovered as unfinished recordings in his archives. While many of Saturday’s performers have several of his songs in their repertoire, the festival is designed to introduce less familiar or unheard Manriquez tunes.

“All of these musicians have made a tremendous effort to incorporate a song of Rafa’s that they didn’t know,” said Marci Manriquez, who along with her brother Manuel Manriquez will also perform a song of her father’s on Saturday. … Continue reading »

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Rent Romus, and past and future Finns of West Berkeley

Rent Romus
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The determination to explore his Finnish ancestry didn’t come to Rent Romus in a sudden epiphany or a burst of inspiration. Rather, the Richmond saxophonist and composer spent years painstakingly parsing The Kalevala, a compendium of epic poetry, folklore and mythology that played an essential role in sparking Finnish national identity in the mid-19th century.

Eventually, he created a singular synthesis of postmodern jazz and traditional Finnish music in The Otherworld Cycle, an expansive suite he presents 4 p.m. Saturday as part of the Annual Vappu Spring Festival at Berkeley’s Finnish Kaleva Hall. The event, which also includes a buffet supper, a silent auction and a performance by Heikki Koskinen’s Kaleva All Stars, harkens back to a time when West Berkeley was commonly known as Finntown (more on that later). … Continue reading »

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Poetry and jazz: Surging together in Berkeley

Raymond Nat Turner
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The unassuming apartment complex at Seventh and Allston doesn’t look much like the cradle of a creative movement, but for spoken-word artist Raymond Nat Turner the West Berkeley locale provided everything he needed to launch UpSurge!

Working as roadie, manager and all-round assistant for Donald “Duck” Bailey in the 1980s, Turner started frequenting a weekly jam session hosted by the jazz drum legend at the Wellington Hotel at Seventh and University (where La Quinta stands today). With a steady flow of young musical talent from Berkeley High attending the sessions, Turner found the personnel he needed to launch the politically charged jazz/poetry ensemble that celebrates its 25th anniversary 8 p.m. Friday at the Berkeley Art Festival performance space on University Avenue, just a mile east of where the project first came together in the fall of 1990. … Continue reading »

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Five Play quintet gives Tony Corman a replay

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For Tony Corman, Five Play is all about second chances. The guitarist and composer co-leads the quintet with his wife, pianist/composer Laura Klein, and the band’s impressive track record speaks to his cussed refusal to let his body betray his passion for music. Featuring reed expert Dave Tidball on saxophones and clarinet, veteran bassist Paul Smith, and drum maestro Alan Hall, Five Play performs 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory with special guest Ron Horton, a brilliant New York trumpeter who rarely gets to the Bay Area.

When I first met Corman at the North Berkeley house where he and Klein have lived since the mid-1980s he was a formidable tenor saxophonist and I was writing the liner notes to an artfully entertaining album Deconstruction Ahead (SeaBreeze Records) by the horn-laden band Three Tenors No Opera featuring Corman and fellow saxophonists Tidball and Jim Norton. The album received glowing reviews and the band played several high profile gigs, but then Corman seemed to drop out of view, and it was several years before I ran into him and discovered that he had been forced to reinvent himself. … Continue reading »

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