Sake with Anthony Brown and anxiety with Ian Carey

Berkeley drummer, composer, bandleader and sake lover Anthony Brown performs Saturday at the Takara Tasting Room. Photo: Stuart Brinin

For better or worse, jazz and alcohol share a long and intimately entwined history. But amidst the countless bibulous connections flowing between booze and swing, there’s nothing quite like Anthony Brown’s intermittent but ongoing relationship with Berkeley’s Takara Sake.

The drummer, composer, and bandleader performs Saturday at 5:30 p.m. in the Takara Tasting Room with a stripped-down quartet version of his Grammy-nominated Asian American Orchestra featuring koto expert Shoko Hikage, Masaru Koga on saxophones, flute and shakuhachi, and bassist Mark Izu, who like Brown played a key role in building the Asian-American jazz movement.

A longtime Berkeley resident, Brown first connected with Takara back in 1987 when he and his bride held their wedding reception in the Tasting Room. Years later, Takara Sake sponsored the Asian American Orchestra’s 10th-anniversary celebration at Yoshi’s SF/Jazz Heritage Center in 2008, which led to Brown’s permanent installation in the Tasting Room. To be more precise, Brown’s music became the house soundtrack, a fact he only discovered a few years ago.

When he’s not leading his orchestra or teaching, Brown is an associate scholar for the Smithsonian’s Jazz Oral History Program. After conducting an interview with legendary jazz drummer Louie Bellson in San Jose, he and Smithsonian colleague Ken Kimery decided to visit the Takara Tasting Room to chill out.


“All the sudden I realized, wait a minute, that’s my music!” Brown says. “I asked the host and he gets out my CD Ten. Apparently, ever since they sponsored my event at Yoshi’s, they’ve been using my music for the tasting room.”

Brown’s Saturday performance is part of Takara’s ongoing Tasting Room music series that started about two years ago with a classical koto performance by Oakland’s Shirley Muramoto. Most of the concerts have featured artists with a connection to Japanese culture, but according to Takara Marketing Manager Izumi Motai, the brewery is hoping to “eventually expand to mainstream music as much as we can. We like to do one concert per season. It’s a good way to open up the Tasting Room. It’s intimate, only about 60-70 people maximum, and it’s a very unique event each time.”

While Brown has toured recently with Koga and Izu, this is the first time he’s presented this lineup in the East Bay. Since founding the Asian American Orchestra, he’s created large-scale works for an ensemble that artfully blends the traditional Asian instruments with jazz orchestration. This past spring, the San Francisco International Arts Festival premiered Brown’s Down By the Riverside: Requiem for a King, an epic multi-movement jazz suite featuring the Asian American Orchestra, the gospel vocal ensemble Voices Of A Dream, and text delivered by Angela Davis.

Commissioned by InterMusic SF (known until recently as SF Friends of Chamber Music), Riverside featured jazz horns and rhythm section seamlessly integrated with classical Asian instruments, including special guest collaborator and traditional Vietnamese master Vân-Ánh Võ on the zither-like dan tranh. With a cast of about 20, the piece left Brown feeling triumphant but spent.

“It took the wind out of my sails,” says Brown, 65. For the quartet, he’s had to reconceive a lot of his material “without the full palette of the orchestra. The main thing that I wanted was for the programming to be unique and attractive to people used to hearing us play. Shoko has got a vast repertoire of traditional pieces but people rarely get to hear koto in a jazz context. She’s an amazing improviser.”

And as I can attest after countless experiments at Yoshi’s, everything sounds better with sake.

Recommended gigs


Here's a sneak peek at part of "Fire In My Head." Come hear the whole thing Sunday at The Back Room! (with Kasey Knudsen, Adam Shulman, Fred Randolph, Sheldon Brown, and Jon Arkin.)

Posted by Ian Carey on Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Richmond trumpeter/composer Ian Carey premiered his Chamber Music America-commissioned Fire In My Head (the Anxiety Suite) at SFJAZZ last month, and he presents the East Bay premiere at The Back Room on Sunday, 5 p.m. with his superlative band featuring Kasey Knudsen (alto saxophone), Sheldon Brown (bass clarinet), Adam Shulman (piano), Fred Randolph (bass), and Jon Arkin (drums). With its couches, BYOB policy and living room vibe the venue is an ideal spot to experience Carey’s “attempts to wrestle with themes of personal and community anxiety,” he writes. “The movements (‘Signs & Symptoms,’ ‘This Is Fine,’ ‘Thought Spirals,’ ‘Internal Exile,’ and ‘Resistance’) range from straight-ahead jazz to chamber music to free improvisation, and represent some of the densest yet most personal composition I’ve ever done.”

In the realm of non-metaphorical conflagrations, there are numerous events happening around the Bay Area to help people dislocated by the Camp Fire. On Sunday afternoon the Berkeley Choro Ensemble holds a fundraiser at the Monkey House. Featuring clarinetist Harvey Wainapel, flutist Jane Lenoir, Rio-born guitarist Ricardo Peixoto, and Brian Rice on the frame drum pandeiro, the group will be joined by various special guests, and all proceeds will go to the Camp Fire Relief Fund. For reservations email berkeleychoroensemble@gmail.com.