Marcus Crowder

The big throwdown


For someone notoriously press-shy, composer and band leader John Zorn is really a friendly, chatty mensch. The modern-music icon brings five of his working bands to Yoshi’s next week for a remarkable residency showing off the breadth and depth of his musical interests — and he didn’t mind at all talking about it.

"I’ve been doing these kind of residencies for the past couple of years in Europe because I got pretty tired of shlepping around on airplanes, as you could well imagine," Zorn said from his home in New York City.

Touring schedules dictating performances in 12 cities over 14 days had Zorn’s body rebelling, so he decided, instead of bringing one band to many places, he would bring many bands to one place and only take two planes to do it.

"I present a wide variety of my passions to the audience, and right now that’s where my commitment is," Zorn explained. "For people to know not just one aspect of what I do, but many aspects."

The alto saxophonist has often been labeled a jazz artist, but the tag has never truly fit. "It’s completely erroneous. Jazz is one of many musics I’ve referenced and studied and paid tribute to." Though his musical influences include jazz artists as varied as avant-garde saxophonist Ornette Coleman and bluesy hard-bopping pianist Sonny Clark, Zorn’s Jewish heritage has had a strong impact on his work as well.

More than anything, though, a defiant, unencumbered personal aesthetic defines the composer — a quality cultivated amid the community of kindred musicians who grew up in New York City’s Knitting Factory scene, playing new genre-less music. Both composed and improvised, his music is sourced and referenced through world culture and structural devices alternately meticulous and random. "It’s music that falls in the gaps," he said. "It’s exciting that it’s been misunderstood, but it’s frustrating."

Once an aspiring filmmaker, Zorn relates most to experiences that are both aural and visual. "There has always been a connection to what I hear and what I see — between film and music," he said. It’s not surprising that Zorn’s most essential record, The Big Gundown (Nonesuch, 1986), comprises music by Ennio Morricone written for films by Sergio Leone and Gillo Pontecorvo. "There’s always a dramatic narrative in the work that I try to do — a kind of extra, musical layer that is very important in all my music."

For his five nights at Yoshi’s, Zorn brings his definitive original Masada quartet with bassist Greg Cohen, drummer Joey Barron, and trumpeter Dave Douglas, along with two offshoots of that ensemble, the Masada String Trio and the electric Masada ensemble. His Bar Kokhba group, which he calls a "Sephardic surf band," and his group the Dreamers, which includes keyboards and electronics, also perform. The stunning array of musicians in those lineups include guitarist Marc Ribot, violinist Mark Feldman, cellist Erik Friedlander, and percussionist Cyro Baptista.


Tues/10–March 14, 8 and 10 p.m.; March 15, 7 and 9 p.m., $20–$50

Yoshi’s SF

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600

Another pass


Distinguished bassist and bandleader Dave Holland plays as much as he wants, which tends to be a lot. Still, he’s catching his breath after an extensive tour with old friend Herbie Hancock following the success of Hancock’s Grammy-winning tribute to Joni Mitchell, River: The Joni Letters (Verve, 2007). Tour dates multiplied exponentially after the disc was surprisingly named Album of the Year by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Now after a short break, Holland hits the road again, this time leading a new band of his own. He comes to the Bay Area to perform at both Yoshi’s venues with a new full-length, Pass It On (Emarcy).

Holland’s sextet includes three horns: alto saxophonist Antonio Hart, trumpeter Alex Sipiagin, and trombonist Robin Eubanks. Pianist Mulgrew Miller and drummer Eric Harland make up the rest of the group on record, two musicians Holland specifically wanted to record with. "One of the reasons we put the project together was for me to have a chance to play with Mulgrew Miller," Holland said over the phone from his upstate New York home. "We had done a few things together, but not nearly enough to satisfy me."

Miller won’t be on the tour, though. Longtime Holland colleague and vibraphonist Steve Nelson joins the ensemble instead. Both the record and the band highlight Eubanks, who joined the SFJAZZ Collective last year. "He’s a great asset to have in the band, not only as a trombonist and musician, but also as a composer and arranger," Holland said. Eubanks contributed two originals to Pass It On.

The bandleader reorchestrates several compositions from earlier records, including "Lazy Snake," "Rivers Run," and the haunting ballad "Equality." "The piece originally was written as a musical setting for a wonderful poem by Maya Angelou with Cassandra Wilson singing the words," Holland said. "When I was thinking of music for this band, I thought it would be a nice vehicle for Antonio, and he really plays it with great feeling."

The musicians played Pass It On‘s music live before going into the studio, which Holland thinks might explain the album’s consistently dynamic pulse. "We’re trying," he said, "to record projects that are actually happening."


Wed/24–Thurs/25, 8 and 10 p.m., $20


1330 Fillmore, SF

Also Fri/26–Sat/27, 8 and 10 p.m.; Sun/28, 2 and 7 p.m., $5–$22


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.

Seasonal cool


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Brian Blade will say he’s just the drummer in the band. But Blade isn’t just any player, having credits ranging from Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell along with Joshua Redman and Wayne Shorter. His understatement neatly fits the carefully nuanced improvisation on his new record with the Fellowship Band, Season of Changes (Verve). Group founders-leaders Blade and pianist Jon Cowherd wrote all the material on the new record, which they’ll feature in performance at the Monterey Jazz Festival Sept. 21 and at Yoshi’s SF Sept. 22.

Season stresses the cool, cerebral resonance the ensemble has forged throughout their decade of playing together. "The core of the sound comes from Jon’s writing and his expression at the piano," Blade says by phone from Portland, Ore. Blade and Cowherd have been friends since meeting at Loyola University in New Orleans. "Somehow our songs fit together," Blade explains. "I think that has to do with our relationship and a bond we have that gives the music a cohesiveness as a listening experience."

Humility becomes Blade — and once again, he stresses that he’s simply the drummer with the Wayne Shorter Quartet. But that notion would minimize the amazing collective musicianship of the band led by the saxophonist-composer: It’s been together for eight years now with Danilo Pérez on piano and John Patitucci on bass. Shorter and the outfit make a series of rare club dates at Yoshi’s in Oakland beginning Sept. 30.

Blade seems to have struck the perfect balance between working with Shorter and finding his own voice within the composer’s music. "We want to be true to Wayne’s vision obviously," he observes, "and we try to submit to that. But he wants us to take our own way."

"’Take a chance’ is what he would say," Blade concludes. "It’s challenging to suddenly be thrown out there to walk the wire, so to speak, but we’ve grown into being each other’s safety net." 2


Mon/22, 8 and 10 p.m., $10–$16


1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600


Sept. 30–Oct. 4, 8 and 10 p.m.; Oct. 5, 7 and 9 p.m., $40–$70


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl

(510) 238-9200

Spunk, funk, fusion


Pianist Chick Corea’s band Return to Forever was the last of the fusion fruit to drop from the tree of Miles Davis’ Bitches Brew (Columbia, 1970). From its early-1970s start, RTF followed the Joe Zawinul/Wayne Shorter–led Weather Report and John McLaughlin’s Mahavishnu Orchestra into the critically thorny but audience-friendly avenues of rhythm-based electric jazz. Corea fronted several versions of the band, but from 1974 to ’76, a balanced muscular quartet variation — with the leader on keyboards, Stanley Clarke on bass, Al Di Meola on guitar, and Lenny White on drums — became a popular and resonant standard of the fusion genre. RTF confidently balanced jazz, funk, and rock on three studio albums before Corea reconfigured the ensemble as a more bloated lineup that included four horn players and his wife Gayle as a vocalist. Now, after more than three decades, the definitive RTF quartet has reunited for an international tour and a two-night, four-show stand in San Francisco. And on May 27, Concord Records released a newly remastered two-CD anthology of music by the foursome, including 1973’s "Hymn to the Seventh Galaxy" with Di Meola’s predecessor, guitarist Bill Connors.

Corea modeled the band on the power of McLaughlin’s group, but his spunky RTF had more personality onstage, more subtlety in its playing, and more diversity in its songwriting. Clarke, who figured in all the RTF variations, was just coming into his own as a writer and performer with the quartet. The bassist would go on to show his versatility by playing in a number of jazz styles with George Duke, Pharaoh Sanders, and McCoy Tyner, as well as taking a rock ‘n’ roll side-trip with Ronnie Woods’ New Barbarians and sharing the stage with Keith Richards during the New Barbarians’ tour in 1979. Di Meola was just 19 when he joined the combo in 1974 and became an international star through his collaborations with fellow guitarists McLaughlin and Paco DeLucia. White, a veteran of the Bitches Brew sessions along with Corea, was playing with the Escovedo brothers’ legendary Azteca when Corea asked him to join RTF. White has since balanced drumming with mainstreamers like Freddie Hubbard, Herbie Hancock, and Joe Henderson while producing Nancy Wilson and Chaka Khan, among others.

All RTF members wrote music for the outfit, and though Corea’s compositions were prominent, the others’ contributions were integral to the quartet’s accessibility. The quartet’s first album, and RTF’s fourth overall, Where Have I Known You Before (Polydor, 1974), sports a heavy, fuzzy sound: Corea plays Moog synthesizers on a recording for the first time, and the group searches for identity in its use of electronics and its blend of jazz and rock influences. The project’s next — and best — album, No Mystery (Polydor, 1975), includes more funk as well as tunes by each band member, all while mixing electric and acoustic instruments. Clarke’s groove-driven "Dayride" leads to a rock-based jam titled "Excerpt from the First Movement of Heavy Metal" — RTF had a generous sense of humor — and eventually Corea’s elegant title tune. The pianist’s complex "Celebration Suite" closes the disc. No Mystery‘s follow-up and the quartet’s last album, Romantic Warrior (Columbia, 1976), was the ensemble’s best-selling full-length, again mixing electric and acoustic textures in ways that most fusion bands wouldn’t dare.

Three years and three albums doesn’t necessarily add up to a legacy, but this foursome always was more than the sum of its parts.


Tue/10–June 11, 7 and 9:30 p.m., $79.50

Regency Center Grand Ballroom

Sutter and Van Ness, SF

(415) 421-TIXS

Nuclear fusings


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Jazz has always been about fusing rather than fusion. But there’s a new generation of improvisational players from around the world who are effortlessly blending wide-ranging cultural and generational ideas in their music. These artists are equally conversant in Ben Webster, Kanye West, and Fela Kuti. They might cover Coltrane and Radiohead, but using contemporary Western instruments. It’s jazz with a global scope, modern sensibility, and an intimate, personal feel.

One musician who is naturally engaging a world of influences in his music is Puerto Rico–born saxophonist David Sanchez. When he brings his new sextet to the Herbst Theatre June 13 to debut music from his just-released album, Cultural Survival (Concord), Sanchez will cap an expansive run of so-called multilingual jazz artists coming through the Bay Area. Preceding Sanchez at venues across the region are saxophonist Charles Lloyd, pianist Marc Cary, bassist Esperanza Spalding, and pianist Edward Simon, who are all bringing variations on the theme of modern jazz as a genre informed by worldwide cultures.

It all starts next week with SFJAZZ’s "Miles from India" concert at the Palace of Fine Arts, a live presentation of the recent Four Quarters album of the same name. Producer Bob Belden and Indian keyboardist and co-arranger Louiz Banks reworked the music of Miles Davis and recorded it with such Davis alumni as bassists Ron Carter, Michael Henderson, and Marcus Miller; keyboardists Chick Corea, Adam Holzman, and Robert Irving III; drummers Jimmy Cobb and Lenny White; and such Indian musicians as Ravi Chari on sitar, Vikku Vinayakram on ghatam, and V. Selvaganesh on khanjira. The composer himself used sitar and tabla on numerous sessions throughout the 1970s, when he began making funkier and more layered, open-ended music.

Davis and numerous jazz musicians before him — from Duke Ellington and Yusef Lateef to Randy Weston and John Handy — integrated musical elements from non-Western cultures into their work. So it’s not surprising that a younger player like Sanchez, who is equally at home improvising with Latin jazz piano legend Eddie Palmieri as he is touring with guitarist Pat Metheny, would meld ethnic nuances of his Caribbean heritage with a postmodern jazz sensibility.


Sanchez’s Cultural Survival is a cycle of seven original songs and one Thelonious Monk ballad. The disc culminates in the 20-minute "La Leyenda del Canaveral," inspired by a poem written by Sanchez’s sister Margarita about African and Caribbean sugar cane plantation workers. It’s a relatively new and spare, though lyrically rhythmic, sound for Sanchez, forged during a three-year immersion in African folkloric recordings from Tanzania, Cameroon, and the Congo, and his impromptu tour with Metheny. "Doing the tour with Pat was really a confirmation for me that there are different sounds out there," Sanchez said from his Atlanta home. The saxophonist has mainly played with a pianist but now works with guitarist Lage Lund in his band.

"In some ways there is more space for me there," he added.

Also exploring new concepts is veteran saxophonist Lloyd, who performs at the Healdsburg Jazz Festival May 31 with his Indian-music–inspired Sangam Trio, which includes percussionist Zakir Hussain and drummer Eric Harland. The band uses its ethnic edges as stepping stones. "It’s really what propels the music," Harland said of the intuitively improvisational trio during an SFJAZZ rehearsal in the city.

Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon also mixes new and old approaches: he studied classical piano at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia and jazz at the Manhattan School of Music before joining trumpeter Terence Blanchard’s band. His new Ensemble Venezuela, which plays the Herbst Theatre June 8, is a sterling gathering of major young players including Mark Turner on saxophone, Marco Granados on flute, Aquiles Báez on cuatro, Ben Street on bass, and Adam Cruz on drums. Báez will also perform with his own band while the local VNote Ensemble (formerly the Snake Trio) offers its take on jazz and Venezuelan traditional sounds.


Such explorations vary conventional presentations and inject unexpected aural flavors. "Jazz is one of the most immediately gratifying art forms there is because it’s spontaneous development," pianist Marc Cary explained from New York. "It documents a moment, and that’s the moment you want people to hear."

Cary’s Focus Trio performs in Healdsburg June 5. His partners onstage are Bay Area musicians Sameer Gupta on drums and tablas and David Ewell on bass. "Sameer is from India and David is from China," said Cary. "I didn’t pick them because of that. I play with them because they’re good, but they’re bringing that too." On his 2006 album Focus (Motema), Cary wanted to get out of the standard chorus-solo-chorus cycle that has sometimes straitjacketed jazz. "I like continuous movement, a straight line, and I like to color that line," Cary mused. Gupta cowrote one song with Cary and contributed the reflective ballad "Taiwa," and his tablas close out the last three Cary originals with a distinctive flourish.

Cary played behind the übervocalist and band leader Betty Carter and has toured with hip-hop vocalist Erykah Badu, whose influences find their way into his work. "If you’re really going to play this music in today’s times, you have to bring in elements of the past, the present, and what you consider to be the future," Cary said.

That future is now with 23-year-old bassist Esperanza Spalding. The Portland, Ore., native, who graduated from and now teaches at the Berklee College of Music in Boston, recorded her 2006 full-length Junjo (Ayva) with two Cuba-born colleagues from the school: pianist Aruán Ortiz and drummer Francisco Mela. Their rhythmic approaches subtly imbue the recording’s sound as Spalding sings wordless, hornlike runs in a bright, fluttery alto. Her latest album, Esperanza (Heads Up), includes flamenco guitar virtuoso Niño Josele, drummer Horacio "El Negro" Hernández, and saxophonist Donald Harrison. She brings her new band to Yoshi’s in Oakland June 12.

Why have all these players connected with sounds so far afield? The world has not gotten smaller — it’s just better connected. Through technology even the most obscure genres find new and far-flung listeners. The communal spirit informing jazz performance and appreciation also transcends differences: jazz musicians have to be open; otherwise they can’t play the music. "At the end of the day, jazz is about how you relate to things happening at the moment," Sanchez said. He heard a reality in the African tribal drumming music he listened to and wanted to bring it to his own playing. "You have this feeling when you hear it that the music is like water or air for them."


Sat/31, 8 p.m., $25–$56

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

3301 Lyon, SF


Sat/31, 7:30 p.m., $45–<\d>$70

Jackson Theater

Sonoma Country Day School, Santa Rosa


June 5, 7 and 9 p.m., $26


231 Center, Healdsburg


With Aquiles Báez Ensemble and VNote Ensemble

June 8, 7 p.m., $25–$56

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF


June 12, 8 and 10 p.m., $10–$16


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl


June 13, 8 p.m., $25–$56

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF

Big “Footprints”


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Since its inception in 2004, the SFJAZZ Collective has changed out six of its eight original members. But now in the midst of its fifth season, the band sounds and, more importantly, interacts more cohesively than ever.

"All the people we’ve had, have been very beneficial to the band," says pianist and original member Renee Rosnes, during a recent rehearsal at the Masonic Auditorium. "They just bring another color to the music." Veteran saxophonist Joe Lovano, who joined last summer and replaced Joshua Redman, now nominally serves as resident sage, the position formerly held by vibraphonist Bobby Hutcherson. Also last summer, youthful Stephon Harris took Hutcherson’s slot, and this spring trombonist Robin Eubanks was added for the San Francisco residency and both the national and European tours. Despite the shifts, the ensemble’s firepower hasn’t diminished and the members are especially eager to tackle Wayne Shorter’s quixotic music, which they’ll be playing along with their own.

Saxophonist Shorter’s career has evolved from writing and playing on the front line of hard-bop standard-bearing Art Blakey’s Jazz Messengers to a similar position with Miles Davis’s great shape-shifting quintet of the early ’60s. While playing with Davis, Shorter compiled one of the most distinguished solo careers ever with an incomparable series of albums on Blue Note (1964’s JuJu and Night Dreamer and 1965’s The All Seeing Eye) that forever cemented his stature as a major composer. Subsequent turns as the cofounder of Weather Report and now the leader of an exquisite quartet have simply embellished Shorter’s reputation.

Rosnes considers her time playing with Shorter a revelation. "It was such an impactful experience," Rosnes explains. "The intensity and passion that he played with literally took my breath away."

On the brief 1988 tour that took the all-star band through the United States and Europe, Rosnes played a nightly duet with Shorter on his Brazilian ballad "Diana." "There was complete spontaneity from night to night. He cherishes a lot of freedom within the music, and that really opened up my mind," she says.

Since each Collective member arranges a tune from the season’s composer, Rosnes has written the chart for "Diana" as well as Shorter’s classic "Footprints." Other arrangements include "Armageddon" by saxophonist Miguel Zenón, "Aung San Suu Kyi" by trumpeter Dave Douglas, "El Gaucho" by bassist Matt Penman, "Yes or No" by drummer Eric Harland, and "Infant Eyes" by saxophonist Lovano. Rosnes says the arrangements give the band a more personal voice, which is appropriate when considering Shorter’s considerable body of work. "He plays life," Rosnes says, "through his horn."


Sat/15, 8 p.m., $34–<\d>$52

Zellerbach Hall

UC Berkeley, near Bancroft at Telegraph, Berk.

A band apart


There’s never been any doubt pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba could play. The 44-year-old Cuban émigré has been a highly favored sideman to top-shelf jazz leaders since landing in the United States some 15 years ago. He’s also had a steady recording contract with Blue Note and leads his own trios, which he dominates with an imposing virtuosity, an exacting sense of Cuban musical history, and a tense, brooding personality.

Now Rubalcaba has an exciting new quintet with a striking potential for challenging even his outsize talent. Culled from New York City’s best young players, his combo could be one of those very special groups whose exceptional parts create an even greater whole. Together almost a year, they’ve just released their first record, Avatar (Blue Note) and are embarking on their first West Coast tour, playing at both Yoshi’s locations over the course of a week. Avatar includes three compositions by saxophonist Yosvany Terry, whom Rubalcaba knew from their youth in Havana, Cuba, and who brings a modern, angular urbanity to the jazz traditions they are both well acquainted with. Trumpeter Mike Rodriquez played with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra and has become one of the most sought-after young players in jazz. Bassist Matt Brewer had been with saxophonist Greg Osby’s group and suggested the stunning drummer Marcus Gilmore. Brewer and Gilmore are still in their 20s and bring a vibrant, youthful energy to the group that complements Rubalcaba’s old-world, old-soul vibe. Avatar nods to Rubalcaba’s Latin-classical side, closing with his arrangement of Preludio Corto no. 2 for Piano by the Cuban composer Alejandro García Caturla, but the disc also showcases Terry’s funky "Hip Side," Brewer’s meditative "Aspiring to Normalcy," and Horace Silver’s enduring ballad "Peace."

It’s a riveting recording — and the combo’s live performances promise to be equally compelling. Of late, few major jazz ensembles stay together long enough to create really unique sounds and sensibilities. This particular quintet could have that kind of staying power.


Mon/10–March 12, 8 and 10 p.m., $20–$24

Yoshi’s San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, SF

Also March 13–15, 8 and 10 p.m.; March 16, 7 and 9 p.m., $12–$22


510 Embarcadero West, Oakl.

(510) 238-9200,

Holly Cole


PREVIEW If voice has a color, Holly Cole’s gleams like rich, burnished copper. A jazzy postmodern chanteuse with a sensual, sultry bent, the Canadian performer stops into Yoshi’s San Francisco during her first United States tour in six years. Her current trio includes longtime pianist Aaron Davis, bassist Marc Rogers, and saxophonist John Johnson.

Cole has a stylish new self-titled album (Koch) in tow, recorded in New York with a nonet headed by bassist and coproducer Greg Cohen. Cohen plays music across the board, having toured with both Ornette Coleman’s free-jazz ensembles and Woody Allen’s New Orleans–style group, and he’s also worked with more eccentric pop songwriters like Tom Waits and Elvis Costello, both of whom Cole has favored on past releases like her 1995 Tom Waits tribute album, Temptation (Metro Blue/Blue Note). Gil Goldstein arranged 6 of the new recording’s 11 tunes, an eclectic bag of standards ranging from Johnny Mercer and Henry Mancini’s "Charade" to Cole Porter’s "It’s All Right with Me." At times buoyant and swinging, the record also shows Cole at her most hauntingly intimate.

Although Cole has been making outstanding records for several years, Holly Cole is the first to be domestically distributed since 1997’s pop-slanted Dark Dear Heart (Metro Blue), which included two originals, the title tune by reclusive singer-songwriter Mary Margaret O’Hara, and songs by Joni Mitchell and Sheryl Crow, among others. Cole first made her mark with savvy versions of torchy jazz standards like "Don’t Smoke in Bed," but like all great vocalists, she inhabits everything she sings: from Brian Wilson’s "God Only Knows" (off Shade [Alert, 2003]) to Stephen Sondheim’s "Loving You" (from Romantically Helpless [EMI, 2000]). Her lush, purring tones, subtle phrasing, and soulful empathy always take the songs beyond simple interpretation. Much like a great actor, Cole never lets you see the craft but reveals the shadowy dimensions of character and the essential details of the story.

HOLLY COLE Tues/4, 8 and 10 p.m., $16–$20. Yoshi’s San Francisco, 1330 Fillmore, SF. (415) 655-5600,

Love on the road — and on the page


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Dean Wareham mainly remembers his last San Francisco performance for a "botched guitar solo." Though the alleged incident was hardly a blip during the seductive show he and wife Britta Phillips delivered with their band, he promises on the phone from New York City, "It won’t happen again."

We’ll see. Dean and Britta come back to San Francisco to play Yoshi’s with French postmodern chanteuse Keren Ann in the first nonjazz performance at the tony new venue on Fillmore.

Wareham met bassist-vocalist Phillips in 2000 when he was first considering leaving Luna, a band he fronted for 10 years and eight albums. She replaced longtime Luna member Justin Harwood, piquing Wareham’s interest in keeping the group together — at least for a little while.

"I was thinking, ‘I’m just not sure I want to do it without Justin,’" Wareham recalls.

Not only did he feel his longtime friend and bassist’s departure was a sign to move on, but the music business had entered a funk that had the modestly popular but hugely respected band scrambling for a label. Wareham wasn’t really a happy camper.

"Then Britta joined the band, and I have to say if I’m being honest with myself that that made it fun again," he says.

Indeed. The intriguing, siren-voiced Phillips was already something of a cult figure when she joined Luna, having gained notoriety as the singing voice of animated TV character Jem.

Wareham thinks the last two Luna records made with Phillips, Romantica and Rendezvous (Jetset; 2002, 2004), are two of the best from the group, which mainly developed its music together.

"We would be in a rehearsal studio playing electric guitars so it was a louder thing," Wareham says. "Someone would have an idea that we would just play again and again."

Luna played their final concert at the Bowery Ballroom in New York City on Feb. 28, 2005.

In contrast, Dean and Britta make silkier, sexier pop, though their first recording together, 2003’s L’Avventura (Jetset), started as a Wareham solo project that Phillips gradually became a part of. "Neither one of us really knew what we were doing," Wareham explains. "It was going to be all covers and then, bit by bit, sort of transformed into something else." The album encompasses an eclectic batch of songs by other writers — the Doors’ "Indian Summer," Madonna’s "I Deserve It," Buffy St. Marie’s "Moonshot" — but the couple’s intimate sound became defined by Wareham’s "Night Nurse" and two outrageously seductive Phillips originals, "Out Walking" and "Your Baby," as the couple’s vocals purr through floating washes of strings and vibes courtesy of producer Tony Visconti.

Wareham concedes last year’s Back Numbers (Zoe) was more thought-out. "We probably had a better plan, and more of it was recorded at home," he says. "The record was built brick by brick in the studio. Then we have to learn to play the songs live, which makes it quite a challenge, actually." The couple took time to get married when producer Visconti left to work on a Morrissey album in England.

Indie-rock gossip hounds might be interested to know that Wareham and Phillips didn’t become a couple immediately after they met — and they kept it on the down low even after they hooked up. Wareham promises to tell all in his new memoir, Black Postcards, which will be published by Penguin in March. "The dirt is going to be out there soon," he deadpans with a laugh. The frontman seems circumspect in conversation, though he also clearly strives for as much honesty as propriety allows.

"It covers a lot of personal stuff," he adds.

The writing was difficult for Wareham, and he likens the two-year process to a "very long therapy session," albeit one in which they pay you instead of the other way around.

"Obviously I’m used to writing, but when you write lyrics they can be cryptic and you don’t really need to reveal very much of yourself. Sometimes you might, but you can pretend something’s about you or it’s about someone else. This was a different kettle of fish," he says.

He believes people may be surprised by what he chooses to reveal, particularly fans of his first band, Galaxie 500, who thought he was "such a nice boy," as he puts it. "There will probably be some people who are disgusted with my behavior, but," he says, sighing, "oh well."


With Keren Ann

Mon/18, 8 p.m., $18–$22

Yoshi’s San Francisco

1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600

Pick up the beat


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Bop City. The Blackhawk. The Jazz Workshop. The Both/And. Keystone Korner. Kimball’s.

San Francisco’s world-renowned jazz club heritage has always been a part of the city’s matchless cultural identity. But the je ne sais quoi’s been missing for decades, because there hasn’t been a jazz club regularly booking national and international touring musicians into the city for more than 20 years.

That all changes this month with the Nov. 28 opening of Yoshi’s San Francisco. There’s been a Yoshi’s in Jack London Square for 10 years, the descendant of a North Berkeley sushi bar that morphed into a restaurant and music venue on Claremont Avenue in Oakland. Down by the waterfront, Yoshi’s became synonymous with jazz and was revered as both an artist- and an audience-friendly venue.

The brand-new club and restaurant at 1330 Fillmore holds down the ground floor of the freshly minted Fillmore Heritage Center, a 13-story mixed-use development that hopes to jump-start a renaissance in the scuffling Western Addition historic area. "Truthfully, I really don’t know why there hasn’t been another jazz club in San Francisco," says Yoshi’s artistic director, Peter Williams, the man charged with making sure the music part of the business stays in business. He’s been booking the artists at Yoshi’s for the past eight years. "Jazz is very risky," he continues, "and maybe people were feeling like they didn’t want to take the chance. These owners felt there was an opportunity."

The owners are Kaz Kajimura, one of Yoshi’s founders, and developer Michael Johnson. Their opportunity is costing $10 million, with the San Francisco Redevelopment Agency kicking in a $4.4 million loan as part of the total $75 million redevelopment project helmed by Em Johnson Interest, Johnson’s company.

Their idea of a new jazz club in the Fillmore District took shape four years ago, after a series of false starts with other developers and other discussed flagship venues, such as the Blue Note. Johnson sent out requests for proposals to jazz clubs around the country; Kajimura received one, and when he met with Johnson, the two hit it off. "Michael could see Kaz’s vision, and vice versa. That made it happen," Williams says. The building, designed by Morimoto, Matano, and Kang Architects, has a performance venue of 417 seats, 317 on the ground level and 100 more on a mezzanine. The restaurant, serving a modern Japanese cuisine created by executive chef Shotaro "Sho" Kamio, seats 370 in its combined dining and lounge areas. Success on the food side is a likely slam dunk — it’s in jazz presenting, much like three-point shooting, that percentages decline.

Williams is counting on Yoshi’s reputation among jazz professionals — musicians, managers, and agents — as a starting point. "We’ve put a lot of care into presenting the music in as respectful a setting as possible," he says. "I think that’s paid off for us."


But jazz club culture has receded in the past 20 years, with the music finding support from institutions like SFJAZZ, which stepped into the developing void in the city 25 years ago. SFJAZZ executive director Randall Kline has always looked to organizational models like the San Francisco Symphony in terms of sustaining and growing the jazz art form. "What has happened is jazz has moved more into the concert hall and into more of a special-events format than a club format," Kline says. "There hasn’t been a great growth of jazz clubs in the country. But there’s a proliferation of festivals."

There are jazz clubs — Jazz at Pearl’s, under the strong stewardship of Kim Nalley and Steve Sheraton, is certainly a necessary element of North Beach, and farther north on Fillmore is Rasselas — but Kline believes there just aren’t as many live music clubs as there once were.

Still, despite the fierce competition for eyes, ears, and dollars, the fact remains that musicians need to play. Performance has always been one of the most effective ways for jazz artists to sustain themselves and build their audience. Not only is there no substitute for hearing the music live, but venue sales have also become a larger part of the overall sales picture, observes Cem Kurosman, director of publicity for Blue Note Records.

"Now, with fewer and fewer TV, radio, and mainstream press outlets covering new jazz artists, touring has become more important than ever," Kurosman says, "although there are fewer jazz clubs on the national circuit than ever before."

The Bay Area is one of the top four jazz markets in the country, and it behooves artists to gain exposure here. That wasn’t really a problem while the region was consistently supporting the music, when the music was here in the clubs and jazz seemed to swing up from the streets.

But times have changed, and no one recognizes that better than Todd Barkan, who ran Keystone Korner in North Beach. When Keystone closed in 1983, it was one of the last San Francisco clubs to regularly book national and international touring jazz groups. Barkan is now the artistic director of Dizzy’s Club Coca-Cola, the jazz club operated by Jazz at Lincoln Center in New York, and he’s also a highly regarded producer who works with numerous domestic and European jazz labels.

"The reason there hasn’t been anything in San Francisco proper for some 20 years is that it’s a new era," Barkan says. "San Francisco is not the bohemian place that it was when I started the Keystone in the early ’70s, which itself was a holdover from the psychedelic era."

While Barkan’s place could not rightly be called a dive, it was a funky little crowded club. From the stage to the bar, the setup at Keystone was significantly removed from the state-of-the-art amenities at Yoshi’s. In some ways, Yoshi’s splits the difference between the club and the concert experience, the hope being that the artists and the audience get the best of both worlds.

Barkan says the primary jazz audience now has different expectations than it used to. "It took a number of years to get the business set up to have the right kind of a club that could really be competitive and cater to a much more upscale audience, which is where the real jazz audience is now overall," he says. "For better or worse that’s where it’s at."

That audience is also spread throughout the Bay Area, which is important for a San Francisco–situated club to keep in mind. "San Francisco’s a little town," Barkan says. "With all due respect, ‘the city’ is only about 800,000. The Bay Area is 4.5 to 5 million people, but it’s very spread out." His North Beach club got a tremendous benefit from the freeway off-ramp at Broadway, which made getting into that part of the city from the Bay Bridge simpler.

But Yoshi’s San Francisco won’t survive on jazz alone, as Barkan and Williams acknowledge. "To do the kind of numbers and volume Yoshi’s needs, you have to have a diversified musical program," Barkan says.

Williams spins the challenge of putting butts in the seats as an opportunity to be creative. "I’ll have to branch out a little bit in what we do," he agrees. "I don’t think we’ll be able to do just jazz all the time." At Yoshi’s Oakland, Williams has added salsa dance nights on Mondays, and he consistently books fusion and smooth jazz performers like Keiko Matsui and neosoul acts like Rashaan Patterson.

The San Francisco spot will likely see a similar mix, though the inaugural performers are a mainstream ensemble called the Yoshi’s Birds of a Feather Super Band, which includes vibraphonist Gary Burton, saxophonists Ravi Coltrane and Kenny Garrett, trumpeter Nicholas Payton, and bassist John Patitucci. Veteran drummer Roy Haynes leads the band, which Williams created specially for the club’s opening.

Taj Mahal and the Phantom Blues Band follow, and later in December, Chick Corea, Charlie Hunter, and Rebeca Mauleón will perform. Next year will see guitarist Pat Metheny, pianist Gonzalo Rubalcaba, vocalist Cassandra Wilson, and guitarist Bill Frisell in multinight runs at the club. Williams will try various things, particularly in the early months. "December is mostly artists coming to San Francisco with one band and then going to Oakland with another," he says. Corea, Hunter, and Taj Mahal will all pull double Yoshi’s duty.

"It’s gonna be a learning experience to find out what works and what doesn’t and how the two clubs can work together," Williams says. He will also have bands play the first part of the week in San Francisco and then Thursday through Sunday in Oakland, reasoning that San Franciscans are looking for more things to do early in the week. And he wants the club to be a platform for local artists — probably early in the week as well — but says Yoshi’s will have to focus on national touring acts simply to get people into the club.

Local saxophonist Howard Wiley is bullish on the new club, hoping that, if nothing else, it brings some notice to jazz instead of more exploitative forms of expression. "I’m so tired of hearing about Britney [Spears] and strippers and all that stuff," he says. "I’m hoping and praying the pendulum will swing back and people will cherish things of value again. I always love it when more attention can be brought to the music."

Currently Intersection for the Arts’ composer in residence, Wiley put out the self-released Angola Project earlier this year. The music is based on African American prison spirituals with roots primarily in songs and stories from the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, La. While Wiley hopes Yoshi’s can bring in artists like Billy Harper and David Murray, not necessarily household names even in mainstream jazz homes, he recognizes the reality of booking the club. "I’m not so into Rick Braun, but I understand," he says with a laugh, referencing the smooth jazz trumpet icon. "I just hope the club represents the music to its fullest, because it’s the only American contribution to global art."


Former club owner Barkan hopes the new Yoshi’s anchors a reinvigorated jazz scene in San Francisco, one that can support another, smaller club as well, something with around 150 seats and less of an overhead, which a savvy veteran promoter like, say, himself might book. A smaller room certainly would make music more accessible to audiences. It might also underscore the notion that there just aren’t the headliners in jazz that there once were — the names needed to fill a room the size of the new Yoshi’s. "When the Keystone was up and running, we had Dexter Gordon, Elvin Jones, Gene Ammons, Art Blakey, Cannonball Adderly, Rashaan Roland Kirk, Freddie Hubbard," Barkan says. "The list was pretty inexhaustible.

"More than anything, jazz needs committed, dedicated presenters," he continues. "Yoshi’s is to be commended for what it does. They’re unsung heroes of this whole scenario."

The long-ago memories from San Francisco’s jazz club past sound like misty urban legends. Bop City, for instance, was the spot where Billie Holiday and Charlie Parker played. Saxophonist John Handy was just 18 when he joined John Coltrane onstage. Across town in North Beach, Miles Davis recorded his first live album at the Blackhawk. Charles Mingus recorded one of his best live LPs at the Jazz Workshop, and Adderly got famous from the one he recorded there. Do you remember Sun Ra’s expansive band flowing off the tiny stage at Keystone Korner? Jazz fans may have to resign themselves to the fact that it may never be like that again.

But there’s a San Francisco jazz continuum that includes those clubs, writers like the late Phil Elwood, producers such as Orrin Keepnews, and musicians including Joe Henderson, to name just a few. There have been many other forgotten heroes and great moments. And even though CD sales have slumped in recent years, reflecting the faltering music industry as a whole, there are as many good musicians around as ever, and most observers think an audience is there as well. For any live music scene to work, there have to be the players, the audience, and the venue to bring them together, and Yoshi’s hopes to do that for the Fillmore. "I just hope the Bay Area jazz community will band together, check this out, and make it work," Williams says. "It’s a huge undertaking. It’s going to be a beautiful room, there’ll be beautiful music, and if people come, it’ll be a success."


Nov. 28, 8 and 10 p.m., $100


1330 Fillmore, SF

(415) 655-5600

Living in the moment


Anat Cohen, an Israeli-born New Yorker often found working in Latin bands, seems intent on leaving no jazz style unexplored. Whether on tenor saxophone — essaying the opening melody of Cuban drummer Francisco Mela’s straight-ahead "John Ramsay" from his 2006 album Melao (Ayva) — or soloing on clarinet with the Brazilian Choro Ensemble, Cohen seems to intuitively absorb the musical language she’s engaged in. With a burgeoning reputation preceding her and two new albums in tow, she comes to Yoshi’s this week, performing alongside guitarist Vic Juris and drummer Daniel Freedman. Special guest pianist Jason Lindner, Cohen’s longtime colleague and mentor, will sit in on June 6.

Earlier this year Cohen released Poetica, a sensuous, clarinet-based album augmented with a string quartet, simultaneously with Noir, a film score–ready big-band full-length on which she played mostly saxophone. She produced both records and released them on her up-and-coming independent label, Anzic.

Cohen spoke by phone from Tel Aviv, where she was preparing for a concert with her two brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpet player Avishai. The latter sat in with the SFJAZZ Collective this spring when Dave Douglas was unavailable.

She laughed about releasing two albums at once, saying it has raised eyebrows even though that wasn’t her intent. "They’re very different, but it just makes sense to put them out together because they show different musical adventures for me," she said. "Different musical personalities on the instruments and different approaches to the music."

She began Noir almost a year before Poetica, but the big-band recording was more complex to put together. Cohen and coproducer Oded Lev-Ari, who wrote the arrangements, had gathered some musicians to try the music out. The results sounded good, and they wanted to record it, but they needed more music to complete the album.

"It’s a longer process, obviously, because it’s a 15-piece band, and it just takes longer to write everything," Cohen said. The tunes are a travelogue of cultures reflecting Cohen’s journeys that opens with Cuban composer Ernesto Lecuona’s "La Comparsa," touches on Sun Ra and Hobart Dotson’s "You Never Told Me That You Care," and closes with music by a couple of Brazilian icons: Hermeto Pascual’s "Bebe!" and Pixinguinha’s "Ingênuo." There are also American pop songs such as "Cry Me a River" and "No Moon at All."

During the making of Noir, Cohen decided she’d like to make a clarinet album and enlisted friend and bassist Omer Avitale to write string arrangements. Poetica includes the old Israeli songs "Hofim" and "Eyn Gedi," the Jacques Brel song "La Chanson des Vieux Amants," and a lush arrangement of John Coltrane’s "Lonnie’s Lament."

Cohen called Coltrane her "constant inspiration." "I’ve tried along my musical path to really be open," she explained. "I have, of course, a passion for the traditionals of the American songbook and the American art form called jazz. But I also fell in love along the way with a lot of world music."

She’s the only non-Brazilian member of the Choro Ensemble but has toured the country several times, taking the opportunity to learn its language, culture, and music.

She’s also immersed herself in the rich musical heritages of Venezuela and Colombia. "I got stuck in Colombia during 9/11, and I couldn’t come back to New York," Cohen recalled. "I stayed there for three weeks, and I learned so much about Colombian music. It was a great adventure, really living the moment."


Wed/6–Thurs/7, 8 and 10 p.m., $10


510 Embarcadero West

Jack London Square, Oakl.

(510) 238-9200

Going to town


Would you consider remixing Thelonious Monk? Pianist Jason Moran would, and he has.

He’s not playing those remixes, though, when he comes to town this week to re-create the famed pianist-composer’s Town Hall concert of 1959. This time through, Moran, along with Monk’s son, drummer T.S. Monk, will play the large-band concert relatively straight. But the performance is a primer for Moran’s newest musical exploration: a Monk-based multimedia performance titled In My Mind.

Moran says the idea stems from an SFJAZZ request that he replicate the Town Hall show. The notion wasn’t tremendously exciting to Moran until he thought about bringing in some nonjazz elements.

"I wondered what would happen if I didn’t think about this musically and only thought about it conceptually," Moran says from New York City.

That’s how young pianists think when they are influenced by visual artists such as Jean-Michel Basquiat and Robert Rauschenberg. Moran’s interests recently led him into collaboration with video artist Joan Jonas on The Shape, the Scent, the Feel of Things, a multimedia performance inspired by the writing of the German art historian Aby Warburg.

So conceptual Monk? Why not? "What I’m seeing is a way to look at Monk and this concert as an artifact. Not as music," Moran says.

Moran likes the way artist Fred Wilson recontextualizes images and objects, giving them a new meaning. "Once you start to experience objects like that, you have a different sensibility about what it means to you, its relationship to you," he explains. "That’s how I wanted to think about Monk and this concert — what is its relationship to me?"

Monk is the reason Moran started playing piano, and the young player has a deep understanding of the often misunderstood and misrepresented sphinx of the keyboard.

"The hard part is actually trying to unlearn what learned me," Moran explains with a laugh. "I want to reconnect with Monk, not with people talking about his ‘quirky rhythms’ or ‘off-centered humor.’ I wanted to get past all that and say this was a real human being who shaped the world of jazz and the world of music, partially because of what he did at the instrument but mostly because of the way he thought."

This first show May 19 won’t encompass the multimedia audio-mix aspects Moran will bring to another San Francisco performance this fall, but he thinks people should see both shows, saying, "I want them to understand how jazz performance can change." (Marcus Crowder)


Sat/19, 8 p.m., $25–$64

Palace of Fine Arts Theatre

3301 Lyon, SF


New pluck


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As the daughter of an international musical legend and sister to an entertainment phenomenon, Anoushka Shankar could be weighted down with baggage. But the young sitar virtuoso shows no sign of being bent or bowed. She makes music with her father and teacher, sitar master Ravi Shankar, but shares a tattoo, on the curve of the lower back, with her famous older sister, Norah Jones, with whom she is quite close, despite Norah and Ravi’s oft-reported distance. Anoushka might even be considered a bridge, maintaining strong familial bonds with both. Still, when she performs April 1, she’ll explore territory primarily her own, outside Ravi’s classical Indian sphere and beyond Norah’s pop realm.

Though the 26-year-old Shankar often performs classical Indian music based on ragas that have been played for more than a thousand years, at this show she’ll play contemporary compositions she wrote and recorded just a couple years ago. Centered on her sitar, the music can be both ethereal and beat driven. The textures and subtle grooves have as much in common with the music of such modern Indian electronic genre mashers as MIDIval Punditz as with the traditional sounds she has traveled the world playing.

"I really wanted to see what I would make if there were no boundaries, if I were just being free," Shankar says from San Diego, where she lives when not in New Delhi or touring. "I knew there was a chance it would end up like this, but I didn’t do it on purpose."

The music on Shankar’s latest record, 2005’s Rise (Angel), includes sitar, tabla, and South Indian flute and vocals and adds Western elements such as piano, bass, drums, and electronics. It’s a larger ensemble and a much different palette than the one Shankar uses for classical concerts, so she hopes people know what they’re about to see and hear at Herbst Theatre.

"Me being a classical musician, there’s always that little risk that someone’s bought a ticket thinking they’re coming to a sitar concert," she explains. "That’s the part I feel apprehensive about." Internationally known as a sitar prodigy who has already fulfilled the early promise she demonstrated as a teenager supporting her father, Shankar is now considered the present and future of Indian classical music. According to Shankar’s Web site, her father’s good friend George Harrison said in 1997, "Ravi — to me he is the music; it just happens to be that he plays the sitar. And it’s like that with Anoushka. She has that quality … she is the music."

Shankar wrote and recorded Rise while on what she describes as a sabbatical from music. She has been playing since she was a child, when she used a sitar her father had built for her smaller hands. But after performing and recording with Ravi since her early teens, the then-24-year-old Shankar was ready for a break.

"I thought it would be more about holidaying and having fun, being a kid in a certain way that I hadn’t gotten to do before," Shankar says. "But what ended up happening as soon as I had the space was I started making music. It does make sense when I look back."

This music was her own, based on the classical modes she has absorbed but influenced by everything else in her multinational, multicultural world. Rise signaled her musical independence. "It was the first project I took on where I was producing and creating," she says. "That it ended up shifting from classical music to something a little broader was secondary to me transferring from being an instrumentalist to a composer and overall musician."

Shankar references elements that have taken on a popular life of their own in the new musical democracy. Indian beats and sounds have become a staple of electronica the world over and, in the process, have liberated traditional South Asian culture. "Talvin Singh changed things for everybody," Shankar says.

Singh’s 1997 compilation, Anokha: Soundz of the Asian Underground (Fontana Island), put sitar, tabla, and South Asian vocals in a mix with drum ‘n’ bass, becoming a blueprint for releases such as Frequent Flyer: Bombay (Kinkysweet, 2004). But Shankar’s music has more of the depth and dynamics of jazz, relying on the Indian rhythms as its root while improvising with the traditional instruments rather than just using them for exotic color and texture the way much electronica does. She flips the recipe her contemporaries have developed, as the electronics become the aural ornamentation.

Shankar has obviously grown up with music all around her, but she’s had to consider several times whether she wanted it to be her life: first when she was 13 years old and began giving performances, and again five years later when she decided to commit to touring with her father. "Then it happened again around the time I started making Rise, where I reached the point where I was burned out a little on touring."

At that point Shankar decided she needed to reclaim the music for herself. Indian classical music has a structure that can seem foreign to Western ears. "Almost all Western music is based on harmony and counterpoint," she explains. "Ours is modal in structure, and at the heart of our music are the ragas, the melody form. We have thousands of those, and we can achieve all possible manner of variations in the music."

The variations are often improvised, inspiring comparisons to jazz in how masters such as her father have interpreted the music. "The goal is once one has studied a vast amount and become familiar with the ragas and their characters, their rules and notes, to know them well enough that you can just let go in your mind and play creatively," Shankar says.

Making and performing the music on Rise has far exceeded the modest expectations Shankar had for the project. On the recording she gracefully represents how naturally musicians now absorb then integrate influences. Closing Rise with the meditative "Ancient Love," Shankar picks her sitar through a dark, insistent beat that grows into an ominous groove propelled by wordless chants and pulsing tables. Then it all fades away. The music sounds current but feels timeless.

Shankar plans to do more records like Rise but remains committed to traditional forms. "After I finish this, I want to go back and rebuild that classical space again, because I wouldn’t want this to be at the cost of that, but if I can manage to balance both, it would be really amazing." *


Sun/1, 7 p.m., $25–$58

Herbst Theatre

401 Van Ness, SF