Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

From Brazil to Berkeley and back: Ian Faquini’s journey

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Ian Faquini’s Brazilian identity was never in doubt. Born in the nation’s futuristic capital Brasilia, he moved with his parents to Berkeley just in time to finish second grade, and grew up speaking Portuguese at home. But it wasn’t until the revered Brazilian guitarist/composer Guinga took him under his wing that Faquini immersed himself in the music of his homeland. In recent years he’s emerged as one of the most gifted young guitarists and songwriters working in Brazilian music, and he celebrates the release of his debut album Metal na Madeira (Ridgeway Records) with Rio de Janiero-based vocalist Paula Santoro 8 p.m. Friday at the California Jazz Conservatory.

Even before he discovered Guinga, Faquini was obsessed with music. Interested in different instruments as a child, he found his soulmate when he got an acoustic guitar for his 11th birthday. “It was impossible for me not to practice,” says Faquini, who just turned 26. “My mom would say, haven’t you been playing too much? I had a band in middle school and would make them have six-to-eight hour rehearsals.” … Continue reading »

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Mark Summer explores life after Turtle Island

Mark Summer and Ken Cook are the duo Celloland. Photo by Silos Napa.
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Cuban reed virtuoso Paquito D’Rivera likes to call Mark Summer a barking cat, which is actually a compliment. As a cellist well-versed in improvisation, Summer is as rare as a woofing feline, though his three-decade run with two-time Grammy Award-winning Turtle Island Quartet has paved the way for several generations of conservatory-trained cellists with at least one foot in jazz. In his first East Bay concert since leaving Turtle Island in 2015 Summer introduces his new duo with veteran jazz pianist Ken Cook, Celloland, 7 p.m. Sunday at Freight & Salvage.

D’Rivera got to know Summer well while collaborating on the 2002 Turtle Island String Quartet album Danzón (Koch International), back before the group dropped “string” from its name. He was so impressed with Summer’s skills and versatility that he launched the Jazz Chamber Trio, a group “that I wouldn’t have thought possible before meeting Mark,” D’Rivera said in an interview around the time of the group’s Grammy-nominated 2005 eponymous debut album on Chesky.

Celloland offers another opportunity for Summer to explore his love of jazz and Latin American music. Cook, who holds the Jazz Piano chair in Sonoma State University’s Jazz Studies Department and has studied in Cuba, works regularly with vocalists Terrie Odabi and Deborah Winters, Brazilian guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, and Latin jazz flutist John Calloway. Together they’ve developed a far-ranging repertoire at the crossroads of jazz, European classical music and various South American traditions, with tunes by Brazil’s Egberto Gismonti and Pixinguinha, Argentina’s Nuevo tango maestro Astor Piazzolla, and jazz greats Pat Metheny and Keith Jarrett (with some Jimi Hendrix and J.S. Bach thrown in for good measure).

“Ken is a very sympathetic musical partner,” says Summer, 58, who settled in Novato after several years in Berkeley in the mid-aughts. “I heard him with his trio a few years ago and was blown away. We started talking and quickly realized we shared a love of Keith Jarrett and Latin music.” … Continue reading »

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Perla Batalla’s luxuriant House of Cohen in Berkeley

Perla Batalla returns to Berkeley for the first time in three decades, but she's still singing the songs of Leonard Cohen, at Freight & Salvage Saturday.
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The last time Perla Batalla performed in Berkeley it was July 11, 1988, she was in her early 20s, and had recently joined Leonard Cohen. His album I’m Your Man had come out in February to rapturous reviews, and he arrived at Zellerbach at the start of a North American tour with Batalla and Julie Christensen, two “stylish and mischievous” backup singers, in the words of Sylvie Simmons, author of the superlative biography I’m Your Man: The Life of Leonard Cohen.

Batalla spent several years on the road with Cohen, and with his support and encouragement she’s evolved into a captivating singer/songwriter in her own right. But for her return to Berkeley 8 p.m. Saturday at Freight & Salvage she decided to celebrate his music with her show “House of Cohen,” a project that grew out of Hal Wilner’s 2003 Cohen tribute concert “Came So Far For Beauty.”

Cohen himself recruited her for that project, and she ended up recording an exquisite album exploring his music, Bird On the Wire: The Songs of Leonard Cohen (Mechuda Music). “At first I didn’t understand that he wanted me to sing lead,” Batalla says from her home in Ojai. “I couldn’t fathom singing lead, but he was very encouraging and it was an amazing experience.” … Continue reading »

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The unforgettable Sixties at Ashkenaz in Berkeley

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Over in San Francisco, the legacy of the psychedelic era might be shrouded by severed synapses. As Grace Slick (or was it Paul Kantner?) said, “If you can remember the 60s, you weren’t there.” Well, Joe McDonald was there, and he recalls just about everything. Working with the Berkeley Historical Society, he’s busy preparing for the Summer of Love’s 50th anniversary with an October 2017 exhibition, “Soundtrack to the 60s: The Berkeley Music Scene.”

Looking to raise awareness of the project, Country Joe and the Electric Music Band performs songs from the Country Joe and the Fish repertoire at the Berkeley Boogie benefit Saturday at Ashkenaz. The program also features a rare reunion of three original members of another signature Berkeley ensemble, Joy of Cooking (with Terri Garthwaite, David Garthwaite and Fritz Kasten), as well as activist singer/songwriter Hali Hammer, Peter Krug and others. Funds raised by the event will go to support Ashkenaz and the exhibition, but the concert is also an effort to glean support and memorabilia. … Continue reading »

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It all comes together in Darren Johnston’s Broken Shadows

San Francisco trumpeter Darren Johnston's Broken Shadows plays the Starry Plough Friday night. Photo by Julie Caine.
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Any Bay Area music fan with adventuresome ears has likely come across trumpeter Darren Johnston some time in the past two decades. Maybe he was playing celebratory Balkan music with Brass Menažeri. Or rough and tumble free jazz with the collective quartet Cylinder. Or Ethio-soul with singer/songwriter Meklit Hadero, chamber world jazz with the Nice Guy Trio, or straight ahead post-bop with Erik Jekabson’s Electric Squeezebox Orchestra. He’s the kind musician who elevates any situation he finds himself in, and for the past several years the Canadian-born Johnston has honed a poetic program of original songs in Broken Shadows, which draws from an unlikely array of traditions and styles.

Johnston preforms with Broken Shadows Friday at the Starry Plough on a double bill with guitarist Alex Hand’s Gypsy jazz-influenced combo. Featuring Johnston on trumpet and vocals, Berkeley violinist Matthew Szemela, pedal-steel guitarist David Phillips, guitarist Jordan Samuels, Miles Wick on bass and vocals, and drummer/percussionist Jordan Glenn, Broken Shadows in less a specific ensemble than a community of players who have embraced Johnston’s supremely catholic sound. … Continue reading »

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Reeling in the tears at the Starry Plough with Crying Time

Myles Boisen, Jill Randall, Tim Rowe and Peter Garellick play heartbreaking music in Crying Time, Saturday at the Starry Plough. Photo by Jenya Chernoff.
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Sometimes a band’s name tells you everything you need to know. With a moniker cadged from Buck Owens’s oft-covered 1966 country standard, Crying Time is an East Bay combo devoted to the gloriously rhinestoned collision between Nashville country and Los Angeles pop. The band celebrates the release of its second album, Linda, 9 p.m. Saturday at the Starry Plough as part of a triple bill with Bear Flag Trio and Danny Allen’s High Diving Horses.

Featuring North Oakland vocalist, guitarist and songwriter Jill Rogers, her younger Berkeley-based brother Peter Garellick on bass and vocal harmonies, drummer Tim Rowe, and Myles Boisen on guitar, lap steel and vocals, the quartet has honed a lachrymose repertoire of Glen Campbell, Freddy Fender, and George Jones and Tammy Wynette, along with excellent originals that powerfully evoke the same era. Pedal steel guitar legend Bobby Black contributes to a few tracks on the album, but won’t be joining them at the Starry Plough.

The band released its debut album Ten Golden Hits, last year on vinyl and for download. Like that project, Linda was recorded at Boisen’s Guerilla Studio with analog sound akin to the classic country music from which Crying Time draws inspiration. The title can be understood in several ways, referring to Linda Ronstadt and in Spanish it means“pretty,” which “definitely applies to these beautiful sad songs,” Boisen says. … Continue reading »

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One guitar. One week. One song. The Acoustic Guitar Project comes to Berkeley

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If the Acoustic Guitar Project demonstrates nothing else, it offers a potent reminder that no matter where you live there’s nothing like an impending deadline to provide motivational power. A global concert series that’s taking place in 43 cities around the world, the AGP proceeds with a simple conceit. Every selected artist gets a guitar for one week and a commission to compose and record one song on the instrument in that time period, no editing allowed.

What started as a one-instrument lark in New York City in five years ago has quickly ballooned into an international undertaking, with the second Bay Area installment premiering next Saturday Aug. 27 at Freight & Salvage. Curated by Berkeley musician Steve Gallup, a guitarist who spent years touring with the roots rock band Hipshakers, he tapped five local singer/songwriters for the project, including Jessie Bridges, Steve Meckfessel, Jeff Desira, DB Walker, and Jill McAnally. The videos that each artist recorded of themselves playing their song are posted on the project’s website.

“I’ve always liked all kinds of music, but the curatorial process was kind of intimidating,” says Gallup, who settled in North Berkeley about three years ago after decades in Half Moon Bay. “The first person I contacted was Jill McAnally. She and her husband had a big rig they drove for 15 years out of Texas. She’s the real deal and comes by her voice and music in such an authentic way.” … Continue reading »

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Waking up to Asleep at the Wheel’s Chris O’Connell

Former Asleep at the Wheel vocalist Chris O'Connell plays her first show in Berkeley in three decades Saturday at The Back Room with her band the SmartAlleks
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Chris O’Connell was only 18 when she signed up for the ride of her life. A shy young woman with a big bold voice, she joined Asleep at the Wheel in 1970 when the incipient western swing juggernaut was still shacked up in West Virginia, woodshedding a repertoire of Grand Ole Opry standards. She spent 15 tumultuous years with the band, including nine albums and Asleep’s first Grammy Award, but largely left her performing career aside after leaving the band to raise her daughter.

Since moving back to the East Bay in 2010 O’Connell has gradually started establishing a career under her own name, and she plays her first Berkeley gig in some three decades 8 p.m. Saturday at the Back Room with her band the SmartAlecks and a special guest, pedal steel great Bobby Black.

“I’ve known Bobby for 40 years and have had the pleasure of touring with him and doing plenty of pick-up jobs with him over the years,” says O’Connell, who lives in Alameda. “He played with the Wheel for a time in the ’80s, but we met in Oakland in ’71. The Wheel’s first California demo was done at the studio Bobby and his brother Larry owned in San Carlos. I still have the recordings, including one Tex Ritter song called ‘I Can’t Get My Foot Off the Rail.’” … Continue reading »

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Suzanne Pittson plays Berkeley, and it’s a family affair

Jeff, Suzanne and Evan Pittson bring their Pittson Family Band to the California Jazz Conservatory on Saturday
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Suzanne Pittson made her mark as a jazz vocalist with a series of daring albums exploring compositions by Oliver Nelson, John Coltrane, and Freddie Hubbard. Collaborating with her husband, the resourceful pianist/keyboardist Jeff Pittson, she delivered dexterously scatted lines with her sleek soprano, or sang original lyrics crafted around the contours of surging post-bop themes.

About a year ago, their son Evan Pittson, who was finishing a degree in visual art at City College of New York, asked about sitting in on a gig the couple had coming up in New York City. He had played viola since grade school but the request “came from out of nowhere,” Suzanne says. “I had been thinking to myself I want to go in a different musical direction. We brought him up to play and the audience was mesmerized. I guess this is our new direction.”

Joined by El Cerrito bassist Dan Feiszli and New York-based drummer Dave Meade, the recently formed Pittson Family Band makes its Bay Area debut 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory. The concert is part of a rare California tour for the Bay Area natives, who moved east in 2005 when Suzanne landed an assistant professorship at City College of New York, where she’s the director of the jazz vocal program and chair of the music program. … Continue reading »

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Noah Garabedian, Democratoz are Berkeley bound

The four amigos known as Silver City Bound play Freight & Salvage on Sunday. Noah Garabedian, Sam Reider, Will Clark and Justin Poindexter. Photo by Toby Silverman.
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Noah Garabedian had no way of knowing it at the time, but his degree in ethnomusicology turned out to be ideal training for his gig in the jazz-steeped Americana band Silver City Bound.

The Berkeley-raised bassist was establishing himself as a top-shelf New York freelancer about four years ago when he got a call from a Bay Area acquaintance, San Francisco-reared pianist/accordionist Sam Reider. Reider and his musical partner, guitarist Justin Poindexter, were expanding their combo Tres Amigos, which had honed a singular sound drawing on bluegrass and western swing, Gulf Coast grooves and jazz. Now known as Silver City Bound (“We got tired of people thinking it’s a Mexican music band,” Reider says), the quartet makes its Berkeley debut at 7 p.m. Sunday at Freight & Salvage (they also perform Saturday at the Stanford Jazz Festival with special guest Ben Flocks on tenor saxophone).

In many ways the band started to fully realize its potential in 2013, when the U.S. State Department selected the Amigos as cultural ambassadors, which led to a six-week tour of China, Cambodia, Myanmar, Laos, and Vietnam. Interacting with local musicians as much as possible, the band found its wide open aesthetic made it possible to trade tunes and jam with wildly divergent artists. In Cambodia, they connected “with a classical Khmer group, these great musicians with a tradition that uses some improvisation,” says Garabedian, 31. “It was mostly strings and flutes and zithers and some percussion and vocals. Each song painted a cinematic soundscape of a bizarre western movie. We’d play a slow blues, and out of nowhere these zithers and flutes would pop up. … Continue reading »

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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 »

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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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