Tag Archives: Berkeley Arts Festival
Berkeley drummer John Hanes paid his blues dues at Larry Blake’s in the late 1970s and early ‘80s, a rigorous bandstand education in the fundamentals of laying down a sly Jimmy Reed shuffle and a searing John Lee Hooker boogie. His schooling in the crucible of Larry Blake’s “Rat Band” led to widespread work on the East Bay blues scene, and he attained the kind of authority that let him emerge at the end of a gig backing R&B legend Etta James without the salty tongue lashing she liberally bestowed on drummer’s faking the funk.
When he played with Berkeley jazz guitarist John Schott for the first time about a decade later Hanes immediately recognized a kindred rhythmic spirit. “It was a trio and Myles Boisen was playing a blues shuffle and John was playing rhythm guitar,” Hanes recalls. “I had experience playing with black blues players in Oakland, and when John started playing this blues he sounded correct. I thought oh my God, he really knows what he’s doing.”
They’ve been collaborating ever since, and kick off a West Coast tour celebrating the release of Schott’s new album Actual Trio (Tzadik) with Berkeley bassist Dan Seamans Friday at the Berkeley Arts Festival gallery and Sunday at San Francisco’s Red Poppy Art House. Schott created the group about four years ago when he acquired the musicians’ holy grail of a regular gig. The group still plays the first Sunday of every month at North Oakland’s Actual Café, and they’ve used the long-running residency to hone a loose-limbed approach drawing on postbop harmonies, graceful song forms, and quicksilver rhythmic shifts. It’s a stylistically encompassing sound that never sheds a blues sensibility. … Continue reading »
A few nights after Ornette Coleman’s death on June 11 at the age of 85, Berkeley guitarist John Schott put out the word that anyone interested in share music, memories, or thoughts relating to the iconic saxophonist should come by the Berkeley Arts Festival space for an informal gathering.
The event was warm and unscripted with musicians describing life-changing encounters with Coleman and offering impromptu versions of some of his beatific blues. Jazz lovers are almost used to the loss of our foundational artists, as the ranks of players born before World War II continues to dwindle.
But Ornette was far more than a seminal improviser who exponentially expanded the music’s rhythmic and harmonic possibilities. He embodied the playfully heroic duality-erasing ideal at the center of African-American musical innovation. Radical and rootsy, avant garde and populist, philosophical and visceral, genius and trickster, Coleman arrived on the Los Angeles scene in the mid-1950s with an utterly and insistently individual aesthetic and never strayed from his own wending path. … Continue reading »
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 Blue, Ladies of the Canyon, For 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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
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 »
In a town known for spawning visionary organizations that insistently hew to a singular path, the Center for New Music and Audio Technologies may be the most Berkeley institution of them all. And that’s because it reflects the polymathic curiosity and probing intelligence of the late founder and director David Wessel, who died suddenly last October at the age of 72. Known by its initialism CNMAT (pronounced senn-mat), it’s a multi-disciplinary research center tucked within Cal’s Department of Music where musicians, composers and leading researchers in physics, mathematics, electrical engineering, psychology, computer science, cognitive science explore the creative interaction between music and technology.
On 4-7 p.m. Sunday, several hundred of Wessel’s friends, family and colleagues from around the world will gather at the Berkeley City Club for a series of improvisation-driven performances, a fitting celebration of his legacy. Among the artists involved are violist Nils Bultmann, Berkeley guitarist John Schott and Matthew Wright on electronics, and vocalist Thomas Buckner, saxophonist Roscoe Mitchell, Earl Howard on synthesizer, and percussionists George Marsh and Jennifer Wilsey.
“We’ll have several of his closest collaborators on stage performing,” said composer and CNMAT Director Edmund Campion, who Wessel brought to CNMAT in 1996 (he became co-director in 2008). “It could go on for days with all the musicians who will be there, so we had to put some limits on it.”
While the celebration is far more geared toward musical tributes than spoken reminiscing, Campion says that there will be no shortage of text, including abstracts from the hundreds of research projects to which Wessel contributed, “an incredible legacy of published papers, at a rate and amount that’s pretty mind boggling.” … Continue reading »
From his earliest stirrings as a musician, Cornelius Boots has always gravitated to low, rumbling tones. Since moving to the Bay Area about 12 years ago, he’s created a series of darkly dramatic ensembles, such as Edmund Wells, an unprecedented bass clarinet quartet, and the texture-minded duo Sabbaticus Rex.
In recent years, Boots has focused on mastering an array of bass shakuhachis, and he celebrates the release of his quietly enthralling album Mountain Hermit’s Secret Wisdom with a solo recital 8 p.m. Saturday as part of the Trinity Concert Concerts series, at the Trinity Chapel, 2320 Dana St. The “Heart and Blood” concert is a double bill with a Boots’ frequent collaborator, Mark Deutsch, who performs on his patented Bazantar, an upright five-string contrabass with dozens of sympathetic strings. He invented the instrument to accommodate his passion for new music, free improvisation and North Indian classical music. … Continue reading »
HOLIDAY MEAL Each year, dozens — and sometimes hundreds — of student volunteers come to school on a Saturday to serve the community’s homeless and low-income families a hot meal. With Bay Area housing in crisis, plenty of people could use the extra plate of food and holiday cheer this year. The annual Berkeley High Holiday Meal is Saturday, Dec. 13, and there’s still time to help. The event depends on donations — of food, funds, clothes, books, and toys. In past years they’ve collected thousands of pounds of canned goods. Fresh food donations will also be happily accepted on Friday, 4 p.m.-7 p.m. and Saturday 8 a.m.-1 p.m. at the main entrance to BHS on Milvia and Allston. Tax-deductible monetary donations are accepted in cash or as checks written to “BHS Student Activities” with “Holiday Meal” in the memo line. Email John Villavicencio firstname.lastname@example.org or (510) 644-8990 with questions. … 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 CITY COLLEGE 40TH ANNIVERSARY Berkeley may be best known for one of its higher-ed institutions, but this week a much-deserved spotlight will be trained on the other. Although it has gone by many different names over the years, Berkeley City College has been producing scholars for four decades. BCC’s 40th anniversary celebration will kick off Friday, Oct. 17, and will continue with various events and activities throughout the coming year. Starting at noon, the day will be packed with discussion panels, live music, campus tours, and presentations by a host of officials including Berkeley Mayor Tom Bates. At 5:15 p.m. there will be a dedication of “From the Ground Up/Desde las raices,” a brand new mural created by local artists including BCC students. The college is located at 2050 Center St. RSVPs are encouraged. … 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 »