Critic’s Choice for the week of February 4-10, 2004

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.


John Bingham and Christopher Thomas — call them “JB” and “CT,” or just use their band name, the Soul of John Black — are a little bit country and a little bit rock ‘n’ roll, with a sprinkle of hip-hop and R&B added for urban cowboy flava. As far as the black rock renaissance thang goes, the two fit somewhere between Cody ChesnuTT and Ben Harper, although they’re too doggone good at what they do to be herded into a microgenre corral, ya heard? Their music is basically singin’, songwritin’, and storytellin’, with lots of guitar strummin,’ soul-man vocalizin,’ and punchy hooks and choruses. These two good ol’ boys received a wagonful o’ press for 2003’s self-titled debut album on SF’s No Mayo label, and guess what? The critics actually got it right this time. Now how d’ya like them apples? Chances are, you’ll like ’em just fine in your hard cider Friday night at the Elbo Room, when one of the more interesting new rock bands of the decade proves that the black cowboy legend is no mere myth. Git along, little dogie, git along. 415-552-7788 or (Eric K. Arnold)


For East Bay folks seeking moody, thoughtful, cinematic, and literary female folk-pop in the Noe Venable vein, here’s another trip down the rabbit hole for ya: Vanessa Lowe celebrates the release of her new record 57 Suspect Words Thursday night at Berkeley’s Freight & Salvage. Though not as evocatively titled as her last one, Barnacles of Joy, there’s enough beguiling lyrical imagery and crafty coffeehouse instrumentation on this one to last you a while. Bonus fact: For what it’s worth, she sorta looks like Carrie-Anne Moss. 510-548-1761. (Rob Harvilla)


Tony Williams was seventeen when he joined Miles Davis and became one of the most influential drummers in jazz. When he died in 1997 after routine surgery, he was only 51. The Tony Williams Project was created by drummer Jack DeJohnette and cohorts John Scofield (guitar) and Larry Goldings (piano, Hammond B3) to pay tribute to Williams’ freestyle rhythmic experiments. Tuesday through Sunday at Yoshi’s in Jack London Square, Oakland. 510-238-9200. (j. poet)


Trumpeter Christy Dana exudes instrumental mastery and refined compositional skill on her debut CD Merry-Go-Round. With a talented resident cast of Bevan Manson (piano), Peter Barshay (bass), Ted Moore (drums), and Mary Fettig (reeds), the UC Berkeley jazz professor showcases funky shuffle originals, steamy sambas, and honey-coated ballads. A veteran of the Montclair Women’s Big Band, Dana hosts a record release party this Friday at the Jazzschool in Berkeley. 510-845-5373. (Jesse “Chuy” Varela)


Economywise, right now is just a freakin’ fantastic time to be a small arts organization just tryin’ to get by. That’s sarcasm, but this isn’t: Scoot thee to the Freight & Salvage Sunday night as the Berkeley High School Jazz Ensemble and Lab Band both rock out for their own damn benefit. A whole raft of big shots — from Joshua Redman to a few Mingus Amungus folks — are alumni of this long-standing jazz institution, so go see tomorrow’s stars today and help fund ’em while you’re at it. 510-548-1761. (R.H.)


Berkeley’s First Congregational Church resounds with a new voice Wednesday night, as baritone Jonathan Lemalu makes his American recital debut. The much-heralded New Zealand-born Samoan, whose first CD received a Gramophone magazine Debut Artist Award, is accompanied by the gifted Malcolm Martineau in great Schubert songs, Schumann’s Liederkreis, Butterworth’s A Shropshire Lad, songs from Poulenc’s Chansons gaillardes, and Quilter’s Four Shakespeare Songs. 510-642-9988. (Jason Victor Serinus)


One of the finest violinists of our time, 23-year-old Hilary Hahn, comes to Berkeley’s Zellerbach Hall Sunday evening for her Cal Performances debut. Joining pianist Natalie Zhu (her classmate at the Curtis Institute), the remarkably expressive Hahn performs two Mozart sonatas, Bach’s Partita No. 2 in D minor, and Bloch’s Sonata No. 1. 510-642-9988. (J.V.S.)


After a slow December and January at Eli’s Mile High Club, the Bay Area’s best blues club is kicking off February with a big bang. On Friday, local legend Beverly Stovall, an old-school Eli’s alum, graces the stage with her soulful keyboard work. On Saturday, Joe Louis Walker returns for a night of high-energy electric blues guitar. Expect the heat to rise in West Oakland on both nights. 510-655-6161. (Michael Gowan)


Not from Jamaica but the Virgin Islands, Midnite, one of reggae’s most exciting bands, packed Berkeley’s Ashkenaz with wall-to-wall sweaty dancers last fall. Now the band returns to Ashkenaz on Tuesday. The quintet creates its own style with traditional rhythmic reggae dance grounding, then mixes in Caribbean and rock elements for a vibrant and fresh sound, topped with politically conscious lyrics delivered by founding brothers Vaughn and Ron Benjamin. 510-525-5054. (Larry Kelp)


When the guitar arrived in Hawaii, the locals lowered the tension on the strings and invented many nonstandard tunings for a sound called “slack key,” a style that features clean picking and bell-like lingering overtones. Slack key masters Dennis Kamakahi, Cyril Pahinui, and Cindy Combs all blend killer chops, jazz phrasing, and a deep knowledge of Hawaiian folklore into their unique stylings. Wednesday at the Freight and Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)

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