Critic’s Choice for the week of July 4-10, 2007

Blues in Hayward, Winwood in wine country, and opera in Walnut Creek.

Back in the High Life

After sinking from sight following a decade where he sold his creative soul for beer-commercial dollars and a forgettable Traffic reunion (if you can call an album cut with only Jim Capaldi a reunion), Steve Winwood disappeared for almost seven years. And while 2003 was the last time he hit the studio for what ended up being About Time, it seems the hiatus did him good as the former child prodigy transitioned into playing Latin-jazz-flavored fare. Aside from the odd guest appearance on albums by Christina Aguilera and Sam Moore, Winwood has been focusing his efforts on touring. Given the fine return to form that was featured on his last studio outing, Winwood’s efforts should translate well in a live outdoor setting. Thursday, July 5 at Wente Vineyards in Livermore. 8:15 p.m., $79-$239. (Dave Gil de Rubio)

Big Mac Bluesman

It’s rumored that Mississippi-born stride pianist Joe Willie “Pinetop” Perkins — who’s oft-credited for popularizing the left-hand-smacks-a-bassline-while-right-hand-plays-a-fancy-horn-lick technique — still favors a carbo-loaded, trans-fatty fast-food feast any time he can get one. Specifically, says Bay Area Blues Society executive director Ronnie Perkins, his diet comprises two Big Macs with cheese, an order of biggie fries, two apple pies, and a large Coke. But before you start gagging, consider how many calories it must take to fuel the fingers that once anchored Muddy Waters’ blues band — thousands, apparently, because even on his diet, 94-year-old Perkins manages to stay thin as a rail. More importantly, the famed bluesman is still swingin’. He’ll celebrate his birthday at this weekend’s Hayward-Russell City Blues Festival, which marks its eighth year with a “From Chicago to Russell City” theme. He’ll be joined by John Primer — another emeritus of the Muddy Waters rhythm section — and other performers with names nearly as splashy as their careers, including Nelly Tiger Travis, Willie Big Eye Smith, and Big Time Sarah. The show runs Friday through Sunday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. at Hayward City Hall Plaza. $15 in advance, $20 at the door, or $30 for a two-day pass. (Rachel Swan)

Sin and Cigarettes

Festival Opera‘s summer season begins this week with a four-performance run of Bizet’s Carmen. Conducted by Bryan Nies, the perpetually popular opera about the factory worker who rolls cigarettes and men with equal disdain stars Adler Fellow mezzo Kendall Gladen (Carmen), New York City Opera tenor Ryan MacPherson (Don José), world-class baritone Eugene Brancoveanu (Escamillo), and soprano Rebecca Garcia (Micaéla). Saturday, July 7 at Walnut Creek’s Dean Lesher Center for the Arts. 8:00 p.m. (also July 10, 13, and 15), $36-$100. Tickets: 925-943-SHOW or (Jason Victor Serinus)

Cuban Dance Music

The Bay Area musicians who make up Orquesta La Moderna Tradicion got together in 1996 under the direction of Tregar Otton and Roberto Borrell to play Cuban dance music, especially the danzón, charanga, and cha cha cha. Possibly the only traditional Cuban dance band operating in North America, they move effortlessly from lilting passages that set dancers to swaying into sizzling descargas that show off their impressive instrumental chops. With a hint of salsa and timba in the arrangements, the band explores the entire musical history of Cuba with striking precision. Sunday, July 9 at Yoshi’s. 8 p.m., $10. (j. poet)

Red Beans and Jam

New Orleans may still be recovering from the after-effects of Hurricane Katrina, but the Neville Brothers continue to bring the party-soaked spirit of the Big East with them on the road. A continual music presence since eldest brother Art cut the perennial Crescent City anthem “Mardi Gras Mambo” with the Hawkettes back in 1954, various Nevilles have made music in different permutations including as members of the Meters and the Wild Tchoupitoulas. Expect to hear staples like “Iko Iko,” Hey Pocky Way,” and “Tell It Like It Is” pop up throughout the Nevilles’ set. No slouch in the instrumental department, Blues Traveler has gone from reigning over the ’90s thriving jam-band scene and overseeing its annual H.O.R.D.E. tours to becoming elder statesmen of a scene supplanted by emo. And while the band’s record sales have gone considerably south, John Popper and company have settled into their trademark style of incessant touring while keeping their heads down in the commercial pop world. Tuesday, July 10, at the Mountain Winery in Saratoga. 7 p.m., $50-$59.50. (Dave Gil de Rubio)

Latin-Jazz Saints

One of the greatest Latin musicians based in the East Bay and creator of the late, acclaimed Machete Ensemble, John Santos brings his current small band to Yoshi’s on Wednesday to preview music from his next CD. Santos will play various percussion instruments — congas, maracas, chekere, and guiro — and lead his tight group through music that touches on Cuban folkloric roots, Latin jazz, and son rhythms, with solos and group improvisations. Joining him are longtime collaborators Orestes Vilato (from the ’80s Santana band) on timbales and bongos, pianist Marcos Diaz, flutist and percussionist John Calloway, and bassist Saul Sierra. Wednesday, July 11. 8 p.m. ($16, all ages) and 10 p.m. ($10). (Larry Kelp)

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