Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
While neuroscientists are busy trying to unravel the mysterious ties between music and memory, the women in True Life Trio are conducting their own investigation. A spin off of Kitka, TLT has expanded on that innovative all-women vocal ensemble’s powerfully evocative repertoire of traditional Eastern European and Balkan songs with finely crafted arrangements of Cajun, Appalachian and even Mexican standards. Singing gorgeous three-part harmonies, Leslie Bonnett (voice, fiddle, percussion), Briget Boyle (voice, guitar, percussion) and Juliana Graffagna (voice, bass, percussion) weave together disparate cultural currents to create an improvisation-laced sound that’s raucous, soulful and achingly beautiful.
The trio presents their most ambitious work yet, Like Never and Like Always: A Memory Project, Saturday and Nov. 15 at the Rose Labyrinth in Berkeley’s Grace North Church. A collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Gari Hegedus, Like Never and Like Always is a site-specific song cycle designed to unfold as a life lived backwards. In many ways the Labyrinth itself provided a jolt of inspiration for the project. Initially conceived as a seamless sonic journey, the piece took shape when the women encountered the rose-patterned floor design in a hall ideal for presenting unamplified string music. … Continue reading »
For a pianist who’s been at the center of several musical revolutions, Katrina Krimsky keeps a pretty low profile. Since returning to San Francisco in 2001 after two decades in Zurich she’s performed at house concerts and benefits, often collaborating with her former Mills College student Barbara Higbie. But considering her near-legendary status as an interpreter and muse for disparate composers such as Karlheinz Stockhausen, Terry Riley, and Woody Shaw, Krimsky has mostly avoided the spotlight. This makes her rare public recital Sunday at R. Kassman Fine Pianos on Gilman Street a particularly welcome development.
The concert kicks off a new monthly piano recital series presented by Higbie, Sunday at the 88’s. Each hour-long performance is followed by an artist’s reception. Given Higbie’s vast stylistic reach, it’s not surprising that the schedule announced so far features a varied cast of piano masters, including a 75th birthday celebration for composer Mary Watkins (Dec. 7), ace accompanist/producer Frank Martin (Jan. 11), and Tammy Hall (Feb. 8), a powerfully compelling improviser usually heard accompanying top-notch vocalists like Kim Nalley, Denise Perrier, Linda Tillery, and Rhonda Benin. … Continue reading »
On her 40th birthday Audrey Martin decided to sing. As a marriage and family therapist, she had spent years helping other people work through traumas, resolve deep-seated conflicts, and discover their true selves. Along the way she had set aside her adolescent ambition for a life in music, a sublimated dream that resurfaced with her midlife milestone. Martin’s long and winding creative journey resulted in the captivating debut album Living Room (full disclosure: I wrote the liner notes). She celebrates the CD’s release Sunday afternoon at Berkeley’s California Jazz Conservatory, which played an essential role in her musical education.
“This is the culmination of 17 years of planning and effort at learning the art of jazz and bringing together music that I‘ve wanted to perform and record,” says Martin, a Berkeley resident since 1998. “It also represents an integration of my musical self and my life as a psychotherapist.” … Continue reading »
Berkeley fans of the Hammond B-3 organ don’t get many opportunities to experience the mighty instrument close to home. It’s a sad state of affairs for funk and soul jazz aficionados, especially considering that Wil Blades, the Bay Area’s most prodigious mid-career B-3 player, has long called Berkeley home. He returns to Jupiter on Friday with Oakland drum maestro Scott Amendola.
After a considerable hiatus their long-running duo Amendola Vs. Blades is swinging back into action with a series of gigs, playing two nights at Duende Oct. 23-24 on a round-robin triple bill with Hammond organist Joe Doria’s McTuff, and Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey where all three bands will be rotating seamlessly every song, and Oct. 25 at the Red Poppy Art House in San Francisco. Pushing the limits of the duo format to the very edge, Blades and Amendola have honed an ambitious repertoire, including a full-scale interpretation of The Far East Suite, a late-career masterpiece by Duke Ellington and Billy Strayhorn. … Continue reading »
As a griot, Mali’s Bassekou Kouyaté traces his musical lineage back to Sundiata Keita’s expansive 13th century empire, a wealthy polity that encompassed a huge swath of West Africa. His ancestors entertained the royal court and every note he plays on the ngoni, a plucked string ancestor of the banjo, embodies a tradition handed down for generations by word of mouth. But Kouyaté is not beholden to the past. Ngoni Ba, the band he brings to Zellerbach Hall on Saturday for a Cal Performances double bill with Ethiopia’s Krar Collective, represents a radical evolution.
Determined to enhance the instrument’s visibility, Kouyaté assembled Ngoni Ba, an eight-piece combo that combines the rollicking energy a rock band with the emphatic call-and-response choruses of a gospel ensemble. Given that the ngoni is traditionally played while seated, Kouyaté’s most radical move was simply standing up.
“When I started making music with friends playing guitar and bass, I decided I wanted to be at the same level as the musicians surrounding me,” he says. “That was the first modification, not to the instrument itself, but the way to play the instrument, which changed the technique a little bit.”
Looking to expand the four-string ngoni’s harmonic palette, he added additional strings and introduced Ngoni Ba on 2007’s Segu Blue (Out Here Records), garnering tremendous success in Europe and winning a coveted BBC Radio 3 World Music Award. He refined the concept on 2009’s I Speak Fula, showcasing his ingenious orchestrations for his band, which is essentially an ngoni quartet backed by a rhythm section and the incantatory vocals of Kouyaté’s wife and creative partner Amy Sacko. … Continue reading »
Art Lande makes no apologies for being old school. A brilliant pianist, efficient drummer and influential composer, he’s played a particularly important role as a teacher who treats every classroom and bandstand encounter as an opportunity for passing on jazz’s essential oral tradition.
Lande returns to Berkeley, where he got his start as an educator, to perform a duo concert Sunday, Oct. 5 at 4:30 p.m. at the California Jazz Conservatory with saxophonist Peter Sommer (he also performs Oct. 11 at Piedmont Piano with a quintet featuring Sommer, bassist Peter Barshay, drummer Alan Hall, and Berkeley-raised trumpeter Erik Jekabson). … Continue reading »
As a brief catalytic blast of energy, the Free Speech Movement achieved its primary goals so quickly that it didn’t have much time to inspire enduring songs and anthems. But music played an important role in those heady fall months of 1964, when students forced UC Berkeley’s administration to drop campus restrictions on political speech. Saturday’s concert at Ashkenaz celebrates the 50th anniversary of the FSM, while connecting the musical threads between the FSM and earlier progressive struggles.
Hosted by Lynne Hollander, an FSM founder and the widow of movement icon Mario Savio, the evening opens with a song circle led by singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer, followed by brief sets by Country Joe McDonald and Nancy Schimmel, a veteran of the folk and women’s music scenes who sees many connections between the FSM and today’s Occupy movements. She’s likely to sing “Billy Boy,” a song by her mother, Malvina Reynolds, about the 1960 San Francisco protests over the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, an FSM forerunner. … Continue reading »
You’ll rarely get an argument on the streets of Berkeley by disparaging Los Angeles. While oft-maligned as a cultural wasteland, LA actually boasts a vast, vibrant and well-entrenched cultural scene that continues to draw the East Bay’s sons and daughters, particularly standout players from Berkeley High’s vaunted jazz program. On Sunday, several recent BHS graduates return from the Southland to perform at Freight & Salvage with the UCLA Charles Mingus Ensemble under the direction of composer James Newton.
Originally created as part of a class that Newton teaches as a professor of ethnomusicology in UCLA’s Herb Alpert School of Music (he’s arguably the most celebrated jazz flutist of the past four decades and a longtime collaborator with Berkeley percussionist/bandleader Anthony Brown), the group took on an identity of its own during a tour of Macedonia and Kosovo earlier this year. … Continue reading »