Author Archives: Andrew Gilbert
In Andalusia’s Jerez de la Frontera, where impromptu gatherings often burst into extended flamenco sessions, the holidays offer numerous opportunities for celebrating the season. In another sign of Bay Area Flamenco’s steadily expanding footprint, the decade-old organization presents its first ever Zambomba Gitana, an evening of dance and music Friday at Brava Theater in San Francisco and Saturday at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley.
The show features a cast of Gypsy flamenco artists from Jerez, including Jose Gálvez, El Pele de los Reyes, María Bermúdez, Angelita Agujetas, Kina Méndez, Antonio de Jerez and Luis de la Tota. More than a concert, the gathering is designed to capture the energy and spirit of the zambomba, a celebration by the Gypsy community that transforms traditional Spanish carols, or villancicos, into slow burning bulerias, a flamenco form strongly identified with the region.
“There are all different ways a zambomba can happen,” says Nina Menendez, Bay Area Flamenco’s founder and artistic director (and an accomplished flamenco vocalist herself). “It emerged as a celebration at home, where people live in these buildings with rooms arrayed around a central courtyard. Families often live together in these buildings, and everyone comes out to courtyard, chips in for nice meal, lights a bonfire, and sit around and have a jam sessions on these flamenco-ized holiday carols.” … Continue reading »
Julia Chigamba had been living in Oakland for about three years when she returned home to Zimbabwe in 2003 with a group of Americans who had been studying Shona dance and music with her. Eager for them to experience her culture in context, she brought them to her family village about 10 miles outside of the capital Harare and quickly discovered that much had changed in her absence.
“My family was so excited, they killed the cow and had a big ceremony,” recalls Chigamba, who teaches dance and drumming at schools around the Bay Area. “But when we wanted to show the community dancers no one was doing it any more! In only three years, even the elder women who had led rituals for the village, they were all into Christianity. I had to really talk them into getting out their drums and costumes.”
In much the same way that American popular culture often crowds out local production in countries around the world, Chigamba has found a steady erosion of traditional Shona culture in both rural villages and the capital, Harare. But Chigamba and her family, a cultural force amongst the Shona for generations, are working to reverse the slide. On Saturday, Chigamba and her Chinyakare Ensemble perform at Ashkenaz in a fundraiser for Chigamba Cultural Center, a family compound in Harare where her family teaches traditional rhythms, dances, songs and rituals. … Continue reading »
Whether she’s improvising fearlessly on stage, teaching a master class, or raising organic produce on her farm in Hawaii, Rhiannon wants to change the world.
A legendary figure among vocalists who helped found Bobby McFerrin’s Voicestra, the former Berkeley resident returns for an all too infrequent run of engagements over the coming week, an array of events that offer rare insight into this singular and widely influential artist. On Saturday she celebrates the release of her memoir Vocal River at the Jazzschool with a discussion and performance (she also teaches a Jazzschool master class Sunday morning). On Monday she’s performing at the Jazzschool’s 5th Annual Mark Murphy Scholarship Concert, joining a glittering cast of jazz vocalists at Yoshi’s including Clairdee, Nicholas Bearde, Jackie Ryan and Laurie Antonioli. And on Nov. 25 she performs at Freight & Salvage with the WeBe3, an improvisational vocal trio with Joey Blake and David Worm. … Continue reading »
People move to Berkeley for all kinds of reasons. For Evan Ziporyn the big draw was gamelan.
Best known as for his two-decade tenure in the Bang On A Can All Stars, the prolific composer and clarinet virtuoso was an undergrad at Yale in 1979 when he became entranced by Balinese music. On the same day that he experienced his gamelan epiphany, Ziporyn heard about an East Bay ensemble, Gamelan Sekar Jaya, recently launched in a Berkeley living room by Rachel Cooper, Michael Tenzer and the great Balinese composer I Wayan Suweca.
“They had just started but to me it seemed like they were already established,” says Ziporyn, who performs a solo recital at the Berkeley Art Museum & Pacific Film Archive as part of BAM/PFA’s L@TE Friday Nights concert series. “That’s why I went to graduate school at Cal, to join Sekar Jaya, and I played with them until I left in 1990.” … Continue reading »
As a young artist coming of age in Czechoslovakia during the dark years of communist rule, Iva Bittová faced an array of stark options. She could challenge the despotic state directly and face censure and prison, or flee to the west and make her way as an exile. Instead, she choose a different path, mapping her interior landscape and the vagaries of the human heart. With her haunting, darkly sensual vocals and plangently evocative violin, she’s honed a powerful body of work that combines folkloric sources, conservatory technique and avant garde practices.
Singing about life as a series of mysterious encounters grounded in commonplace detail, Bittová makes a rare Bay Area appearance Saturday, Nov. 2, at Freight & Salvage as part of a brief North American tour in conjunction with the release of an eponymous album for ECM (a tour that culminates in New York City at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, where she joins the Calder Quartet for performances of Béla Bartók’s 2nd and 6th string quartets). … Continue reading »
Procreation has proven to be a creative boon for Ruth Moody. And she’s not even the one having the babies.
A founding member of the popular Canadian folk band The Wailin’ Jennys, Moody has established her own identity as a bandleader during the long breaks when the other Jennys took time off the road to start families. She makes her Berkeley debut under her own name Thursday at Freight & Salvage with a top-shelf quartet, celebrating the release of her gorgeous second album These Wilder Things (True North Records).
Focusing on her lustrous originals, the album showcases her working band with Adrian Dolan on fiddle, mandolin, viola, mandola, and accordion, Adam Dobres on electric and acoustic guitars and ukulele, and Sam Howard on upright bass (Moody also plays guitar, piano and banjo, and her three bandmates also contribute vocals). The songs are often, forgive me, moody and introspective, with sinuous melodies tailored for her shiver-inducing, slightly smoky soprano. … Continue reading »
History rumbles and surges through the music of Berkeley drummer Anthony Brown, a musician whose art is inextricably linked to the ongoing quest for social justice.
A pivotal figure in jazz over the past 35 years as a player, scholar, and bandleader, Brown is best known as the driving force behind the Grammy Award-nominated Asian American Orchestra, a visionary ensemble that brings a Pacific rim perspective to seminal works by Monk, Ellington, Gershwin and Coltrane. He makes a rare hometown appearance on Thursday at Freight & Salvage, where a distilled version of the AAO performs “Our Eyes on the Prize: King’s Dream Fifty Years On” with a new vocal ensemble.
A reprise of the program that the AAO presented in September at the Yerba Buena Gardens Festival, “Eyes on the Prize” puts a feminist spin on a series of interconnected anniversaries, from the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and Rosa Park’s centenary to the 1963 March on Washington and the 25th anniversary of the legislation that provided reparations for Japanese-Americans interned during World War II. … Continue reading »
From a late blooming jazz musician to a versatile flutist besotted with Brazilian music, here are two tales of very different, but equally intense creative sojourns.
Describing Oakland’s Lorin Benedict as a scat singer is kind of like calling Sherlock Holmes a detective. It’s accurate as far as it goes, but doesn’t begin to capture the singular nature of his achievement. Over the past decade, Benedict has crafted an uncanny vocal style employing words and phrases that can easily be mistaken for English, but in fact are entirely of his own invention. At first encounter, he often inspires double takes, followed by slack-jawed amazement at the exuberant but rigorous musicality of his performance.
Benedict performs two shows on Sunday, playing an afternoon Jazzschool gig with the long-running collective trio The Holly Martins featuring saxophonist Kasey Knudsen and Berkeley guitarist Eric Vogler, and an evening Berkeley Arts Festival show introducing a new collective trio with Knudsen and Berkeley clarinet master Ben Goldberg. … Continue reading »
These are big days for Balkan music. Over the past two decades the keening melodies, off-kilter rhythms and oblique harmonies of southeastern Europe’s fractured lands have spread widely around the world, finding a particularly avid following in the Bay Area. But long before Balkan brass bands started to loom large on the world music scene, pianist Larry Vuckovich had forged a potent synthesis of modern jazz and Yugoslavian folk melodies, an influential sound he revisits Saturday at Freight & Salvage.
Vuckovich introduced his radical new concept back in 1981 with the release of Blue Balkan, a critically heralded album featuring jazz greats like vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson, bassist John Heard and drummer Eddie Moore. The latest incarnation of the Blue Balkan septet includes violinist/violist Eric Golub, who played on the original recording, veteran Bay Area reed master Noel Jewkes, and world percussion legend Vince Delgado on Middle Eastern dumbek (his credits include major performances with Ali Akbar Khan, the Grateful Dead, Zakir Hussain, and Simon Shaheen). … Continue reading »
For much of his career, Oakland saxophonist Steve Heckman has worshipped at the altar of John Coltrane, with every gig a veritable quest to attain the spiritually charged intensity that defined Trane’s epochal recordings of the early 1960s. He left no doubt about his mission with first two albums, 2003’s With John In Mind and 2005’s Live at Yoshi’s. But his new CD, Born To Be Blue, finds Heckman in a more lyrical state of mind, focusing on American Songbook standards like Berlin’s “How Deep Is the Ocean,” Van Heusen’s “I Thought About You,” and Schwartz’s “Alone Together.”
He celebrates the album’s release Saturday at the Jazzschool with a stellar Bay Area band featuring guitarist Terrence Brewer, bassist Aaron Germain, drummer Bryan Bowman, and tenor saxophonist Rob Roth. Heckman credits his new direction on Born To Be Blue to his collaboration with guitar ace Howard Alden, which evolved out of a casual evening of jamming after a dinner party at a friend’s house in New York. When Alden came through the Bay Area several months later for a series of gigs they cemented the budding friendship at Fantasy Studios, with the guitarist’s beautifully calibrated phrasing inspiring a more lithe and relaxed sound from Heckman. … Continue reading »
About six years ago, anguished by America’s ongoing foreign wars, Sarah Cahill decided to take matters into her own hands. Ever since John Adams wrote his early breakthrough piece “China Gates” for her in 1977 the Berkeley pianist has specialized in presenting new music by living composers, and she launched her own anti-war campaign by commissioning a series of new works.
Cahill’s gorgeous new album A Sweeter Music (Other Minds Records) features eight of the 18 composers involved in the project. She celebrates the album’s Sept. 24 release with an Other Minds event Sunday afternoon at the Berkeley Arts Festival space on University, performing excerpts at 3 p.m. and 4 p.m. (a copy of the CD is free with any donation over $15).
The album’s title references a line from Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s Nobel lecture, “We must see that peace represents a sweeter music, a cosmic melody, that is far superior to the discords of war.” She singled out composers who share a similar light-a-candle-rather-than-curse-the-darkness outlook. While one might expect the music to reflect the horror of war and the anger of activists protesting recent US military interventions, the mood is more elegiac than outraged. … Continue reading »
Jazz musicians fomented the 1940s bebop revolution at a Harlem haven known as Minton’s Playhouse, and Gildo Mahones was in the thick of the action. He wasn’t a foundational figure in modern jazz, but as a rising young pianist he landed a plumb gig in Minton’s house trio in 1949 with bassist Percy Heath (who went on to fame in the Modern Jazz Quartet) and seminal bebop drummer Kenny Clarke, which meant accompanying a steady parade of masters, including Charlie “Bird” Parker, Coleman Hawkins, and Eddie “Lockjaw” Davis.
“I was in fast company, and I was trying to get it together,” says Mahones, 84, who makes his Bay Area debut under his own name Sunday afternoon at the Jazzschool with veteran bassist Glenn Richman and drummer Greg Wyser-Pratte, an increasingly valuable player on the Bay Area scene. “I was learning something new every day. They’d start calling songs I’d never heard of and I’d go home every night and woodshed.”
From a three-year stint with tenor sax legend Lester Young to a five-year-run with vocalese stars Lambert, Hendricks and Ross (later Lambert, Hendricks and Bavan), Mahones went on to work with jazz’s most formidable figures. His exacting taste, beautiful touch, stylistic versatility and buoyant sense of swing kept him steadily employed, but with few recordings under his own name Mahones has often been overlooked by American jazz fans (while working long stints in Japan as a leader). Sunday’s performance is his first gig in the region since he quietly relocated from Pasadena to Oakland two years ago to join his family in the East Bay. … Continue reading »
UnderCover Presents has refined a simple and winning concept. Select a savvy Bay Area musician as guest curator, choose an iconic album, and hire a stylistically diverse cross-section of artists to perform and record each reinvented track. Working with Faultline Studios over the past three years UnderCover has honed its mission with a series of sold-out concerts at various venues exploring six different albums, including The Velvet Underground & Nico, Nick Drake’s Pink Moon, and Joni Mitchell’s Blue.
On Thursday and Friday, UnderCover returns to Freight & Salvage, where they reprised the beautiful Blue production in January, to re-imagine Bob Dylan’s epochal 1965 record Highway 61 Revisited under the direction of Berkeley-raised vocalist Karina Denike (a tremendously gifted and prolific singer who is just starting to come into her own as a songwriter and bandleader). Highway 61 concludes Sunday at the Contemporary Jewish Museum in San Francisco.
In an unusual move for UnderCover, the Jewish Museum played a pivotal role in selecting the artist and the album, though Denike says she’d been considering Dylan since getting tapped as guest music director. The museum had been talking with UnderCover executive director Lyz Luke about collaborating for a while, and its exhibition Beat Memories: The Photographs of Allen Ginsberg, which closes on Sunday, made Dylan a natural choice. … Continue reading »