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Recent Stories

  • The utopian vision of the Ben Goldberg School

    Interviewing choreographer Twyla Tharp for an upcoming story about her 50th anniversary tour I was struck by her description of her new dance “Preludes and Fugues” set to J.S. Bach’s The Well-Tempered Clavier as belonging to a utopian streak long at the center of her work. “You take a huge responsibility in imagining the world as it should be,” she said.

  • Eddie Marshall: More than a drummer

    Some three years after the death of the beloved San Francisco drum maestro Eddie Marshall the loss still stings. Whether serving as a sideman or leading his own inventive combo, Marshall made the trap set purr and roar, generating tremendous swing with a minimum of fuss. His presence in the Bay Area felt particularly felicitous as he moved west after establishing himself as a top-shelf New York player, known for his work with Toshiko Akiyoshi, Stan Getz, and Sam Rivers. As the house drummer at Keystone Korner in North Beach, he provided impeccable rhythmic support to steady rotation of masters, while generously mentoring several generations of young Bay Area musicians.

  • Beth Custer re-issues album about U.S. foreign policy

    When Noam Chomsky is asked to provide the topic for a speaking engagement many months in the future he’s said to suggest “The Conflict in the Middle East.” Perhaps the story is apocryphal, but the re-issue of clarinet/composer Beth Custer’s 2005 album “Respect As A Religion” provides a similar reminder that some topical themes sadly never seem to go out of date. With the US entangled in numerous hotspots and unstable regions, Custer figured the time was ripe to break out her underground hit “Empire of the United States,” the scathing, funk-laden bebop-informed denunciation of American foreign policy that opens the album.

  • Out in Berkeley: Ben Goldberg’s Orphic Machine

    The best educators don’t just impart information, they provide intellectual tools that can be applied far from whatever topic they’re ostensibly teaching. For clarinetist/composer Ben Goldberg, the experience of taking several undergraduate courses at Brandeis with poet and essayist Allen Grossman in the early 1980s has continued to reverberate, gaining amplitude rather than fading through the years. Grossman’s cryptic writing is the source of inspiration for Goldberg’s most ambitious work yet, “Orphic Machine,” a song cycle that premieres on Sunday at Freight & Salvage as part of the 27th Annual Jewish Music Festival (which commissioned the piece with Chamber Music America).

  • Myra Melford’s alluring melodies and lapidary textures

    When pianist/composer Myra Melford left New York City for Berkeley in 2004, she was in thick of the jazz action, a mid-career master with a tangled skein of creative relationships linking her to at least a dozen of the Downtown scene’s most formidable improvisers. For many jazz musicians, relocating to the West Coast from the Big Apple would put a serious crimp in their career, but, coaxed to Cal by a tenure-track position in the music department, Melford hasn’t missed a beat.