Tag Archives: Berkeley Arts Festival

David Wessel: Musical scientist/scientific musician

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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 »

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Getting low with Cornelius Boots and Joëlle Léandre

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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 »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Student volunteers serve low-income and homeless residents at the 2013 Holiday Meal. Photo courtesy of BUSD
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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 johnvillavicencio@berkeley.net or (510) 644-8990 with questions. … Continue reading »

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Audrey Martin: A dream fulfilled, plus more Berkeley gigs

Audrey Gilbert. Photo:  Irene Young
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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 »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Students register for classes at Vista College during its earliest years. Now called Berkeley City College, the institution is celebrating its 40th anniversary. Photo: www.berkeleycitycollege.edu
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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 »

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Great sounds from Africa at Afropop Spectacular

Krar Collective
(credit: Jacob Crawfurd)
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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 »

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Berkeley concert marks free speech movement’s birthday

Jo McDonald
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As a brief catalytic blast of energy, the Free Speech Movement achieved its primary goals so quickly that it didn’t have much time to inspire enduring songs and anthems. But music played an important role in those heady fall months of 1964, when students forced UC Berkeley’s administration to drop campus restrictions on political speech. Saturday’s concert at Ashkenaz celebrates the 50th anniversary of the FSM, while connecting the musical threads between the FSM and earlier progressive struggles.

See other events to mark the anniversary of the free speech movement

Hosted by Lynne Hollander, an FSM founder and the widow of movement icon Mario Savio, the evening opens with a song circle led by singer-songwriter-activist Hali Hammer, followed by brief sets by Country Joe McDonald and Nancy Schimmel, a veteran of the folk and women’s music scenes who sees many connections between the FSM and today’s Occupy movements. She’s likely to sing “Billy Boy,” a song by her mother, Malvina Reynolds, about the 1960 San Francisco protests over the House Un-American Activities Committee hearings, an FSM forerunner. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Berkeley based singer/songwriter and youth mentor Austin Willacy will perform at the Subterranean Arthouse on Saturday. Photo: www.austinwillacy.com
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THREESOME: ARTISTS FOR SOCIAL CHANGE The eye-catching title refers to an artistic trifecta — performance, visual, and literary. All three modes of expression will be squeezed onto one bill at the Subterranean Arthouse on Saturday, August 30. Berkeley based singer/songwriter Austin Willacy will perform, as will performance poet Graham Hackett, who goes by LoosiD. East Bay artist Laura VanDuren’s sculptures will be on view.  The show begins at 8 p.m. at 2179 Bancroft Ave. Tickets are $15-20. … Continue reading »

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The It List: Five things to do in Berkeley this weekend

Photo: Elaine Miller Bond
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RESOURCES ROUNDTABLE California has been quite dry this year — but Friday’s roundtable on the drought will be anything but. The Berkeley Energy and Resources Collaborative is hosting its annual day of panel discussions and lectures on April 18. This year’s Resources Roundtable is titled “California’s Drought: Challenges and Opportunities.” Speakers — including several UC Berkeley professors — will trace the deep history of dryness in the state, and consider the current obstacles to, and potential for, addressing drought. The $10 tickets provide access to all events from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at the David Brower Center at 2150 Allston Way. … Continue reading »

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Pianist Sarah Cahill plays Berkeley Arts Festival

Berkeley pianist Sarah Cahill will play at the Berkeley Arts Festival on Sunday Sept. 22. Photo: Christine Alicino
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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 »

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Long journey back for Berkeley bassist Kurt Ribak

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A reoccurring gig is rare enough to inspire a musician’s gratitude these days, but Berkeley bassist/composer Kurt Ribak feels particularly fortunate that he’s playing at Jupiter in downtown Berkeley every Tuesday in September.

Still on the mend after a cataclysmic car crash 14 months ago, he’s painstakingly toiled to regain full use of his left arm. The Jupiter residency offers an invaluable opportunity to put his reconstructed hand to work and to connect with some longtime collaborators before his ninth round of major surgery in October takes him off the scene again for some weeks.

“It’s been a real challenge,” says Ribak, who also performs Sept. 4 at the Berkeley Arts Festival performance space with the volatile Reckoning Quartet
, and Sept 14 at the Albatross with drummer Bryan Bowman, keyboardist Greg Sankovich and his Times 4 bandmate Lincoln Adler on tenor saxophone. “I want to do as much playing as I can for my spirit and to remind my body of what it can do.”

For his month-long Jupiter “Tuesday Jazzidency” Ribak is joined each week by Sankovich and Adler (except for Sept. 17, when Tom Griesser takes over the saxophone chair). Various drummers round out the quartet, including Rob Hart this Tuesday, Matt Willis on Sept. 10, and Randy Odell on Sept. 17 and 24. … Continue reading »

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Steven Emerson steps out of the studio… other gigs

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Some three decades ago Steven Emerson got a taste of the rock ‘n’ roll lifestyle when he joined True West, a San Francisco band at the heart of the West Coast’s then-thriving Paisley Underground scene. On a circuitous creative path ever since, he’s honed his skills as a singer/songwriter in New York City, worked as a filmmaker, published as a poet, and, for much of the past decade, toiled as a composer in his North Berkeley home studio, writing music for commercials, films, television shows and video games.

But he’s still following his muse as a songwriter and performing occasionally in the East Bay, including a gig Friday at Jupiter with a band featuring Berkeley saxophonist Joshi Marshall (who also plays some keyboard and organ).

“I started writing in True West, and then I discovered Nick Drake and he kind of blew my mind,” Emerson says. “I’d never heard anything like him, and that solidified moving in that direction. I experimented with playing solo, or playing with a cellist for a couple of years. I also started playing with jazz musicians, upright bass and jazz drummers, inspired by Van Morrison and Rickie Lee Jones. There’s something about that sound that I was waking up to.” … Continue reading »

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A long time coming: John Ettinger plays Berkeley

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Despite releasing three acclaimed CDs over the past decade featuring some of jazz’s most accomplished improvisers, John Ettinger is one of the East Bay’s best kept musical secrets. The El Cerrito violinist gained a good deal of attention in 2006 with “Kissinger In Space,” an album as strange, wondrous and amusing as its title. He’s mostly been out of sight since the release of his last CD, 2008’s beauteous “Inquatica” with Pete Forbes on drums, piano, and banjo, a multi-tracked improvisational duo session marked by his judicious use of space and a haunting version of Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust.”

Ettinger presents a program of music drawn from his three albums for the first time Saturday at the Berkeley Art Festival space on University Avenue with a quintet featuring bassist Todd Sickafoose, drummer Lorca Hart, guitarist John Preuss and tenor saxophonist Tony Malaby. He never intended to keep his music on the down low, but with a day job at Ifshin Violins and a growing family, Ettinger put hustling gigs on the back burner. … Continue reading »

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