Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert

Discovering a Brazilian master: Guinga plays Berkeley

Guinga. Photo: Manfred Pollert
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Nestled in the redwoods of Cazadero, California Brazil Camp brings a remarkable collection of master Brazilian musicians and dancers to Northern California every summer. But even with a faculty featuring some of Brazil’s most esteemed artists, landing Guinga was a major coup.

Widely considered Brazil’s greatest living composer, the guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter performs 8 p.m. Saturday at the California Jazz Conservatory. He’s spending his night off between Brazil Camp’s first and second sessions on stage with several fellow faculty members, including guitarist Marcus Tardelli, who Guinga has hailed as a genius akin to “Rubinstein at the piano. There are certain musicians who are beyond mere technical judgment, who have a relationship with the unfathomable.” … Continue reading »

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Just a little Green: Green Huse performs Joni Mitchell

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Berkeley singer/songwriter Green Huse hasn’t performed a full concert under her own name for about a decade. By a strange coincidence, her last evening-length gig was not long before the birth of the first of her two kids. So think of Saturday’s show at the Berkeley Arts Festival space on University Avenue as something of a reintroduction.

Rather than focusing on her original songs, Huse has gathered a group of close musical friends to interpret the music of Joni Mitchell, focusing on material from the classic albums BlueLadies of the CanyonFor the Roses and Court and Spark. She’s never done a concert devoted to another artist’s work before, but the project served her creative needs at a time when she wanted to really challenge herself.  … Continue reading »

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Howard Alden: Seven strings, will travel

Howard Alden - photo by Joseph Boggess
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Howard Alden makes a powerful impression, even when you can’t see him. In Woody Allen’s great 1999 film Sweet and Lowdown the veteran jazz guitarist supplied the beautiful fretwork delivered by Sean Penn’s fictional Emmet Ray, a tormented musician who describes himself as “the second greatest guitarist in the world” (topped only by the very real guitar legend Django Reinhardt). At the time, Alden wasn’t particularly associated with Reinhardt’s Gypsy swing sound, but he’s a highly versatile player who thrives in just about any setting.

In the next two weeks, Alden plays numerous gigs around the region, including a solo recital tonight at Schoenberg Guitars in Tiburon, and Tuesday at St. Albans Episcopal Church in Albany with members of the Berkeley Choro Ensemble and Grupo Falso Baiano (namely flutist Jane Lenoir, clarinetist Harvey Wainapel, guitarist Brian Moran, and percussionist Ami Molinelli Hart). … Continue reading »

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Alive! in Berkeley: All-women jazz combo comes to town

Alive try
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Alive! wasn’t the first top-flight all-women combo in jazz. Going back to at least the 1940s, when the International Sweethearts of Rhythm earned the respect of their male peers and discerning audiences, excellent female musicians have come together to swing and improvise. But the women in Alive!, who mark the 40th anniversary of the band’s founding with a reunion concert Sunday at Freight & Salvage, boldly trod onto new territory when they came together in the mid-1970s.

Featuring vocalist Rhiannon, percussionist Carolyn Brandy, bassist/cellist Susanne DiVincenza, drummer Barbara Borden and the late pianist Janet Small (who passed away in 2010), Alive! captured jazz’s zeitgeist with a repertoire focusing on original compositions. Inspired by Brandy’s rapidly accelerating passion for Afro-Cuban rituals and rhythms, the band incorporated Cuban grooves at a time when more jazz musicians were exploring Caribbean cultural currents. The inimitable Tammy Hall, who can often be found accompanying the region’s best jazz singers, is the band’s new pianist. … Continue reading »

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The singing oncologist: Natalie Marshall in Berkeley

Natalie Marshall, a practicing oncologist,
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Berkeley oncologist Natalie Marshall plunged into jazz vocals to scratch her own creative itch. But as she’s gained confidence, technique and musical knowledge, Marshall has found that singing can also have therapeutic applications.

“Sometimes a patient will say ‘I’m feeling kind of bad today, can you sing me a song?’” says Marshall, who performs 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rising Stars Series. “One patient had been really sick and as she was getting better one day she said I need some music therapy. We ended up singing ‘So Far So Good’ in the hospital room together. It’s a healing moment that’s not about giving an injection.”

A longtime jazz fan, she started working with musicians about five years ago while living in Albuquerque. She was on the board of the respected non-profit Outpost Performance Space when her husband, guitarist and playwright David Weisberg, encouraged her to sign up for a 10-week course that essentially brought a group of professional and amateur musicians together for impromptu sessions.

“I had so much fun I got bitten by the bug,” she says. “From that course a few people came together and we spent nine months practicing before our first gig, which was in an Albuquerque bowling alley.” … Continue reading »

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Sparkler, or a Berkeley High reunion at the Freight?

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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 bassist 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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