Concert Reviews: 

World Festival of Harps

Spreckels Performing Arts Center, Rohnert Park CA
Nov. 12,2005    2:30PM

  The 16th annual Festival of Harps isn't what you'd expect from hearing the word 'harp' : it's not classical and not new age, but a fine representation of international influences, belaying the image of the harp as a classical instrument alone. 

 With longtime harpist/humorist Patrick Ball at the helm acting as MC and injecting fun and information into the ceremonies, the 16th Annual Festival of Harps was simply outstanding.

 First on is Geist, a trio led by Venezuelan harpist Diana Stork joined by Teed Rockell on Chapman Stick (a glorified blend of bass and guitar in one) and Mika Scott on percussion, with special guest Portia Diwa on lever harp on several songs.

 Stork is founder and promoter of the Festival of Harps: the ensemble she leads features a range of world music styles: her gentle harp, the appropriately subdued percussion, and the accents on Chapman Stick are haunting and subtle. The Chapman Stick adds much to the sound, rounding it out without overwhelming.

 The next performer is harpist Kim Robertson. Kim plays alone with no ensemble backing her: her Celtic harp and its traditional tunes are presenting in a series of uplifting tunes played on deft fingers which even includes her crystalline vocals: ethereal matches to her harp's precise notes. 

 Alternating vocals with instrumental works, Kim works in different styles and even has one song presenting a light percussion backup with her archaic French vocals entwining the effort in the fullest-bodied harp song of her repertoire. Kim is at hr best when combining her lilting soprano vocals with a hint of percussion, her harp fueling it all.

 Intermission isn't just for refreshments: it features a rare opportunity to touch and play a harp - one of the newer, lighter harps - plus a short concert by the Bay Area Youth Harp Ensemble, lead by some of the teacher/performers in the show. There's lots to do and see during the 20-minute intermission - but the show must go on, and the second act begins with the Aryeh Frankfurter Ensemble, who takes 'neo-Celtic harp' to new heights.

 A 'Neo' harp is strung with nylon strings, and Frankfurther plays Northern music, backed by an ensemble which includes guitar, percussion and a second Neo-Celtic harp.

 Aryeh introduces his tunes, providing important information about their origins and harp playing, following with a Norwegian tune which adds an original sound to the mix.

  His next two tunes produce a jazzy, O'Carolyn/Irish tune: guitar joins in and the two harps are exquisite in their interaction.  Aryeh turns to violin mid-song, leaving the lead to his second harp and accenting its sound with a foot rattle percussion on the next song, a lively Swedish tune which sounds somewhat like a cross between a Celtic jig and a classical piece.

 The final group to grace FESTIVAL OF HARPS is Carlos Reyes, whose ensemble features a full trap drum set, percussion and a guitar.

 Reyes' group is the perfect concluding act: his harp is loud and vibrant, his act and approach flamboyant in strong contrast to the delicate precision of some of the preceding acts.

 His soul jazz/lounge jazzy group rocks in strong contrast to your usual classical harp style: the guitar and harp stage a playoff at one point in the show, taking equally powerful solos.

 Carlos is from Paraguay and plays the Paraguayan harp - but don't expect much South American strains here; his music is loud, packed with beats, and very danceable - rocking down to a wild drum solo.

 A drum solo in a harp concert? Expect the unexpected: everything is here, and the diversity of sound from all the harp efforts is exquisite - and the strength of the 16TH ANNUAL FESTIVAL OF HARPS.


McNear's Mystic Theatre, Petaluma CA 9/18/05

 If you think Hawaiian music consists solely of gentle acoustic guitar or sometimes-sappy lyrics, Hapa has a surprise for you: it can be vivid, lively, and as passionate as flamenco: their concert at McNear's would knock the socks off any who equate the 'Hawaiian sound' with Don Ho alone.

 Upon entry rock music fills the auditorium before Hapa: hardly the introductory atmosphere appropriate to preceding a Hawaiian concert.

 McNear's seating offers several comfortable options: theatre-style plush side seating graded so each row has clear view, and folding chairs in center. There's a uninterrupted view of the stage from all angles - in other words, there's no 'bad seats' at McNear's; a big plus for this venue - and the drinks are appropriated on a self-serve basis in back, eliminating the interruptions of a waitress during the concert.

 Hapa is basically a new band, as one of the original two founding members retired and the remaining member obtained two others to continue Hapa's work. Hapa today is two guitars and a drummer/chanter, and opens with a resounding Hawaiian chant, melting into two guitars, then English lyrics blending with gorgeous harmonies in their signature tune 'In the Name of Love', which is as powerful as in their first cd.

 The effects of the chanter and the two harmonies together is even more compelling than the two original group members alone.

 Each Hapa song features the lively guitars and flow seamlessly from one to another: don't expect gentle acoustics: Hapa's hard-driving Hawaiian, bordering on Hawaiian rock but never leaving out its Hawaiian roots.

 On one song the trio wished to use steel drum - but it was too expensive. What to do? They opted for a twenty-five cent pick and a special guitar riff: the trick totally changes the guitar to a quasi-steel drum sound. Brilliant! Having the explanatory introduction makes the results even more amazing.

 A Hawaiian dancer, Lilia, appears from song to song, adding immensely to the visuals and songs alike.

 Bob Marley's 'Redemption Song' couples with a Hawaiian traditional song for a haunting reflective result: the Hawaiian portion is a song written in protest for the Hawaiian people concerned with civil rights in the 1800s (they didn't want to see Hawaii annexed to the US). The exploration brings the despair and sorrow of the Hawaiian nation to life, and blends perfectly with the reggae-born 'Redemption' classic:  the chanter's booming Hawaiian chant blends with the Redemption Song's harmonies for powerful results.

 Jokes permeate the concert, which always explores Hawaii's history and more, creating an 'insider' atmosphere by explaining Hawaiian culture and humor alike. This lends a rare intimate atmosphere not usually seen in a theatre performances, involving the audience in fun. 

 THIS is what makes a concert worth going to; not just a rehash of published music, but the added personalities, commentary, education, and visual flairs only a concert can give.


Cotati Accordion Festival 2005


Cotati, CA: 8/27 and 8/28, 2005
All Day!

  Who could believe that from its beginnings in the 1990s to present, the Sonoma County Cotati Accordion Festival would grow to such heights so as to encompass two jam-packed days of accordion performances beginning at 9:45AM and continuing into the evening hours?

 2005's 2-day extravaganza celebrates the accordion - and if you think that means non-stop polkas, you're in for a surprise. 

 The accordion is a featured instrument around the world, as the Accordion Festival illustrates: it's prominent in Irish, Italian, Cajun, and even Latin music - and, of course, in German polkas.

 The performers at the Accordion Festival present a diverse line-up of acts designed to illustrate the instrument's versatility as much as the bands' talents, and the 2005 festival was no exception. (It's a credit to the selection committee who reviews band demo tapes  that the players remain so diverse in sound and approach.)

 The accordion is noted for non-stop lively playing - and the Festival features this with back-to-back performances all day long. While the average performance time was 20 minutes, players performed for as little as 10 minutes or as much as an hour or more.

 The variety of line-ups meant that listeners never grew tired of the experience: again, if you think accordion 'sounds the same', you have only to attend a day at the festival to enjoy acts which, when placed back to back, illustrate the very different approaches and sounds the accordion can reveal.

 But it's not all about sitting on the lawn listening to music on a beautiful day, either: there are booths galore selling everything from unusual accordion cds from around the world to food, there's dancing, there are entire families out enjoying the day and the music, and there's a casual and spirited atmosphere most outdoor festivals long for but which requires plenty of behind-the-scenes organization to achieve. Kids 15 and under are free, when accompanied by an adult, which gives a kid-friendly nod to families who are usually hard-put to come up with entry fees for all.

 Tickets were available for either day; each day holding one  major act draw plus numerous other blends of big names and lesser-knowns.

 Saturday's big draw was Queen Ida, a Zydeco musician who has produced many cds and toured extensively with her band. Queen Ida used to play the Bay Area regularly but these days her performances are more limited, so it's a treat to note her attendance.

 Other Saturday draws included Sourdough Slim, Those Darn Accordions (they appear at most Cotati fests, yearly), the local Golden State Accordion Club, and many more.

 Sunday's big-ticket draw was perhaps most unusual of all: Flaco Jiminez, a major player in Latin circles who doesn't tour as widely, and is thus of even more interest. Sunday's venue also featured Los Compas and Ramon Trujillo and his Mariachi Los Caporales, lending more of a Latin feel to the day's line-up of acts.

 The Accordion Festival is one of California's most successful venues: year after year it draws a fine family-oriented audience and this year's performances seemed the best yet.

 If you attend only one outdoor summer music fest in the state, be sure the Cotati Accordion Festival is on your calendar. At $17. per head for an all-day, non-stop set of acts, it's a bargain.

Olinda Duo

Cinnebar Music Festival, Petaluma CA, 8/14/2005 7:30PM

 Olinda Duo is vocalist Silvia Lazo with Paul Grove on guitar, and it's part of the former Petaluma 'Music in the Mansions' series, here playing in a private Victorian home in West Petaluma which offers a vintage oversized living room for an unusually intimate, effective atmosphere.

 Olinda Duo presents a lovely blend of classical guitar and Spanish vocals: each song is Latin, the majority packed with trills and lovely soaring soprano accents, along with the classical guitar's crisp, precise and occasionally flamboyant Latin accents.

 The songs of Villa-Lobos, the most influential classical Brazilian composer, opens the set. Villa-Lobos' Modhina is the focus first: his songs were performed in Brazil and at the court of the emperor of Portugal.

 Silvia's soaring voice gives it lovely power, but as the next song shows, the crisp classical guitar plays adeptly alone as well in a fine solo piece.

 Surprisingly, one of two monologues of the evening, 'La Veleidosa' by Mexican writer Peon Contreras, follows: no music at all. The impassioned drama reflects on a love unrequited, art, and foolishness. While an introduction to the piece is provided in the program, a verbal introduction to its origins and relevance to the program would have made for a smoother transition and audience understanding, at either the beginning or end of the piece.

 More music follows: a lovely Albinez classical guitar solo with brilliant flamenco-type overtones, then one of the first carnival pieces in Brazil by an early composer/feminist, a piece by Chiquinha Gonzaga returning to warm, passionate vocals before Jobim's 'A Felicidad', a lament filled with poignancy which evolves into a reflective passion concluding with a new, uplifting tone.

 A brief intermission is followed by a Paraguayan composer's piece, creating a happy, spry aire and leading into a song from a set of twelve love songs: not as well known in the US, but famous in Brazil, where one of its major theatres is named after the composer. 

 More of Claudio Santoro's music should come to American ears, if  'Ouve O Silencio' is any example of his prowess.

 Brazil, Mexico, Chile, Paraguay, Cuba: classical composers throughout Latin America are represented by Olinda Duo, from ballads to love songs and even several based on African tribal rhythms.

 Lovely Latin classical music is hard to come by: Olinda Duo fills a void in the classical community and deserves wide recognition.


Ancient Future

Matthew Montfort+ Photo of Georges Lammam+
Photo of Salah+Picture of Doug McKeehan

Cinnebar Theater, Petaluma CA, 8/10/2005 7:30PM

 Ancient Future has been around a long time: it's constantly evolving and changing its sound, from its 1978 origins to today's unique concept of a fluid, versatile, changing group of band members.

 The 'glue' to Ancient Future is band leader Matthew Montfort, guitarist extraordinaire whose versatility ranges from Indian ragas to Middle Eastern to rock and beyond.

 More an ongoing, evolving musical project than your usual idea of a singular band, Ancient Future's lineup changes constantly and with an eye to exploring and exposing 'world fusion music', connecting many different cultures. So don't expect the band to sound the same even from concert to concert: the focus is constantly adapting to the venue with the central theme of world music fusion rooted in traditions from around the world, and Ancient Future embraces a stable and growing network of musicians around the world, all of whom contribute to a rehearsed, 'on demand band' ready to perform with a different focus as needed for each concert.

 The concert at Cinnebar was small and inviting: think 'easy parking, intimate atmosphere' fostered by Cinnebar's own lot and a lit backdrop stage of Mediterranean-style blue doors which adds character to the small stage holding a full piano, dumbek drums, and small speakers appropriate for the venue.

 Cafe tables covered with tasteful white cloth accompany red seats which are comfortable and practical.

 A violin, guitar, piano and drums comprise this Ancient Future version, which opens with a morning raga 'Dawn of Love - sans sitar, it still shines with violin and guitar doing an excellent job of replacing the traditional Indian sitar sound and keeping the Indian feel, backed by synthesizer.

 When the guitar steps aside and the violin assumes the foreground, an appealing Middle Eastern tone is added.

 After the piano takes it solo, the beat picks up with the drums entering, tapping out a more rhythmic beat and elevating the tone from Indian to Middle Eastern with a more rollicking, almost bellydance beat breaking away from the slow raga form, yet a logical, graceful step beyond which the rousing drum solo aptly concludes.

 The most haunting song of the evening is sung by violinist Georges in an Arabic song originally sung by the great Faruz. Reverting to gentle violin, Georges moves slowly with the tone of the morning raga, slipping into the vocal gently after a slow violin solo.

One wonders how the lead violin will continue when the vocal kicks in: it's not a problem, the violin continues its haunting air when vocals begin, as a backup.

 'Innocent Explorations' presents a blues raga style next, moving away from the Arabic influence with a drum-driven dance beat.

 Shakes of Shakti with John McLaughlin weave in and out of an exuberant song which is anything but slow and bluesy - and immensely more satisfying to the ear.

 The violin quickly takes the mood beyond the jazz-infused Shakti and when next the piano solos, the sound of a harmonium is imitated with precision. 'El Zafa' concludes the first set, revealing so much passion it's hard to believe there are only four players totally in sync producing such complex sounds.

 Georges the violinist opens Set 2 with an explanation of his violin style: it's tuned differently than Western violin" some of his solos are quarter tones.

 Percussionist Salah plays an Egyptian inlaid drum made in Turkey: it holds a bigger surface and he uses all 10 fingers to produce a range of sounds. His is the most popular type of drum in the region.

 The strong second set opens with '14 Steps', a lovely set of trills and scales, led by guitarist Michael and leading into song after song of gorgeous Arabic-influenced music. Georges' vocals are outstanding in a number of them.

 With its occasional rock injections and lots of world influence, Ancient Future's concert is compelling and outstanding.

 They have over 8 cds to their name - all very different - and even have ringtones available for their music: the fascinating history, biographies, and more are explained in detail on their web site (http://www.ancient-future.com/htmindex.html): plan on spending some time there!


Geno Delafose & the French Rockin' Boogie

OSHR Marin JCC, San Rafael CA, 8/6/2005 7 P.M.

 OSHR Marin holds the distinction of being the only music venue in Northern California - perhaps the state - to have its own children's playground right adjacent to the performance and picnic area.

 This lends to family participation, picnics, and the inclusion of kids in the magic  of Geno Delafose and his French Rockin' Boogie band, which begins with a bang on washboard, accordion, guitar and drums with danceable Zydeco music getting people on their feet immediately.   

 The French Rockin' Boogie does Cajun and Zydeco from Southern Louisiana, from two steps to waltzes such as 'Little Dark Eyes' (and even the waltz isn't your usual slow, meandering tune - not with Zydeco's infectious accordion).

 A good blend of slow and fast tunes allow all levels of dancing at the front and ample side spaces allotted for dancers.   The outdoor venue not only allows for picnics and family gatherings; it assures unobstructed views for those who remain seated.

 Geno plays the smaller, Cajun-style accordion rather than the larger, piano-type  like Clifton Chenier played: a player can get around faster on such as Geno's smaller accordion.  He varies the beat in each song so all the sounds are different, albeit all holding the classic Zydeco accordion embellishments.

 Everyone in the band plays rhythm - by the sixth song, not a single solo has been taken - this makes for a more powerful, united presentation.

 As the evening proceeds Delafose makes sure to keep juxtaposing fast songs with medium and slow, reaching every level of dancer from beginners to even advanced line dancers.

 The intermission seemed rather long, but finally Geno and band reappear and open with the family Zydeco flair: by this time the audience, tired of sitting, leaps at the chance to dance. With the band lit up by lights under the spreading oak tree, the atmosphere is perfect.

 A surprising rock tribute 'Ain't That a Shame' assumes Zydeco proportions, to the delight of the dancers. Two steps, waltzes, rock - all have that added Zydeco flair and all sound similar; yet all had different roots before Geno transformed them into compelling dances.

With Sam Cooke's 'Bring it On Home to Me', Delafose takes one of the few solos of the set: a straight melody line on  accordion.

 A perfect evening.


An Evening of African Music

OSHR Marin JCC, San Rafael CA, 7/23/2005 7 P.M.

 Where else but at Osher Marin JCC  could you find three African acts under one billing, have them show on time in an orderly progression onstage, and have a venue offering the entire family can enjoy, from babies to senior citizens?

 Having this venue outdoors mid-summer was the best possible choice: plenty of lawn space in front for picnics, chairs set up in back for the elders and those who would prefer seat backs, and even a brand new playground on the side for the kids!

 The venue began promptly at 7PM with the Nigerian Brothers, who mounted an outdoor stage graced by a soaring oak in the background for added atmosphere.

 The Nigerian Brothers seek to recreate the African village music experience with their performance - an enterprise strengthened by the warm summer day and setting - and after a brief welcome, the rhythmic drums begin: five percussion beats accented by a single vocalist, then joined by a chorus in the classic, melodic song 'Aye'Aye'.

 The next song introduces several guitars into the mix, which lead into even more powerful harmonies: the Nigerian Brothers excel in these quiet harmonies, enhanced but not drowned by tasteful percussion.

 One anticipates dance and power beats from the setup; but the Nigerian Brothers exhibit a surprising subtlety and compelling rhythms, without being overwhelming.

 Even more classic is the third song, where the guitars really shine. Each song which emerges is crisper, tighter and more compelling than the last - yet retains the subtleties of the West African sound.

 All too soon the Nigerian Brothers set is over - but not without an encore.

 Samba Ngo is next, after a brief intermission, chanting with a guttural drone which sounds like Tuvan throat singing as the instruments tune up.

 A tenor sax melds perfectly with guitar and drums, before the exuberant vocal kicks in, complete with intriguing gestures from the leader, and an occasional leap.

 The energy level in their next song picks up with a lively, rollicking South African-inspired beat. By the time the vocal kicks in, more people than ever are on their feet and dancing - both in back and in front of the venture: the side dance floors offer plenty of dance room without obstructing any seated views.

 The fax player really shines in this group, adding the feel of a full horn section to the rollicking bass, guitar, and drum riffs.

 Samba Ngo sounds as though he's been listening to music other than just Congolese: the next song sounds like South Africa's Juluka meets Congo music: it's not totally based on rhumba like most Congolese bands, so offers new flavors and diversity.

 Samba Ngo isn't as dance-oriented as most Congolese bands: he  has overtones of Afro-Jazz to his style and invites listening as much as dancing.

 His yodeling vocals at times remind one of Zimbabwe sounds, while his drummer plays a drum popular in Senegal and Ghana: very West African.

 When the rhythm guitar player switches to lead, it's then that the classic Congolese  style becomes evident, and after a few more songs the dance beats intensify to bring a good portion of the seated listeners to their feet.

 The West African Highlife Band concludes the event with its highlife/juju blend of dance music.

  'Let's Have a Good Time Tonight' invites the audience to 'shake your body - have a good time tonight - - and it does.

 The next song opens with a strong drum percussion beat: again, setting a compelling dance beat before the vocals and guitar kick in.

 When six percussion instruments get going, the beat is irresistible: by then the entire front of the stage fills with dancers young and old.

 Remnants of the old band Ktoja in the first and second tunes evolve to an even more danceable beat as the songs move on.

 West African Highlight Band is a pure dance band - and the evening thus concludes in an upbeat, enthusiastic note.

 Everything flows seamlessly with no delays and plenty of energy: bravo, OSHER, for another fine contribution to an outstanding summer World Music series!


Oliver 'Tuku' Mtukudzi

Yoshi's, Oakland CA   6/27/2005    8 P.M.

  African musician Tuku has dedicated fans who will show up for his concert even on a workday Monday evening: such was evident by the sold-out shows at Yoshi's which brought an unusual African flavor to Yoshi's jazz-oriented club.

  Tuku opened with a gentle instrumental, segueing into vocals spiced with lovely harmonies. Unlike most bands, The Black Spirits backing him need no warm-up period: they're tight and crisp from the first notes, and by the second song are polished and precise; a refreshing and professional change from bands which take several songs to become warmed up and professional.

 Tuku's soft, semi-acoustic guitar sound supports the warm vocals which flow seamlessly from song to song, while the addition of supporting female vocalists adds a gentle uplift to his music.

 Tuku and his group come from Zimbabwe: their second song reflects the spirit and soul of the Zimbabwean classical sound, with a more danceable and exuberant feel. Here's the energy and Zimbabwean dance music Tuku's most noted for.

 "Music is always everywhere, where I am from," Tuku tells his audience in an interlude relating his experiences with music and its importance in self-expression. It's after this explanation that the rollicking beats really set in.

 'Help Me Lord, I'm Feeling Low', one of his classic songs, sounds like it could have been a dirge - but it's not. Musician Bonnie Raitt makes a surprise guest appearance and proves she can really belt out the song; her red hair and light skin in startling contrast to the all-black band - but her brief appearance on the song is frosting on the Tuku set, which moves on to profile his powerful vocals and fine backup singers.

 Even a song explaining AIDS in Zimbabwe is lively and thought-provoking but somehow not depressing: "Whatever you have in your hand, let it go - but if it's in your blood, you die from it."

 Most moving of all is Tuku's 'Shanda', his song of parents' expectations for their children, and the subject of his recent hard-hitting video. By  this time, as much of the club as could dance in the aisles were on their feet.

 When all four vocalists - Tuku, both women, and his lead vocalist - harmonize complete with reverb, the effect is haunting.

 And Tuku's concert is just that - haunting and unforgettable. If he comes to your town, don't miss him.


Hot Club of San Francisco

Yoshi's   Oakland, CA     3/28/05  8PM

  The record release party/concert for The Hot Club of San Francisco's latest POSTCARDS FROM GYPSYLAND cd was simply wonderful: five members form the core Hot Club opened, but special guests began arriving as early as  the second song, with Clinton Baker on standup bass and Julian Smedley and Evan Price on violin joining to create a 2-violin, 2-bass lazy jazz standard.

 Members past and present appear and disappear between songs, lending a satisfying diversity to their sound.

 Guitarist and leader Paul Mehling demonstrates his finger picking prowess on the third song, playing lead throughout.

 The Hot Club of San Francisco's 'mission statement' is to preserve the music of Django Rinehart and Stephan Grappelli: they like profiling these traditional songs, but also feature new jazz cuts in the same vein, blending old with new.

 A gentle guitar opens the fourth song: an original by band leader Mehling; then sweet, melodic violin accents the quiet, peaceful, jazzy style: contemplative and nearly bluesy in its laziness.

 Following on the shirttails of this original, another follows closely: 'Lover's Leap', a swinging tune of quite a different tempo. The rhythm guitar works hard to support the lively violin and busy guitarist, while playful elements of other jazz standards creep in from time to time.

  Next comes a Paulo Conte surprise tune, bringing with it a host of violin players and former Hot Club members: guitar and one violin start out softly,  building a contemplative atmosphere with delicate interplays.

 Only after a decent interval do all four violins and a viola join in, and the magic begins with a uniform, full and lovely effort from all six players, perfectly in sync, note to note.

 Paul Mehling's guitar regularly employs gorgeous harmonics: unusual for a jazz musician; while the violin can demonstrate accuracy and speed along with crisp, sharp notes: not a single 'miss'.

 The 'Four Violins of the Apocalypse' join in on Evan Price's 'Jonsey', a bebop/swing tune. Each violin takes a solo and several add a riff of humor in the process.

 Indeed, as the set proceeds, the subtle humor moves from background to foreground as players interact and inject fun into the studious, precise jazz mix.


Marta Topferova

Zebulon's Lounge       Petaluma, CA     3/26/05  8PM

  For a taste of something different in the way of jazz fused with Latin, Marta Topferova can't be beat. Much of her music from the nuevo cancion movement of Latin America in the 1960s and 70s, similar to the folk singer/songwriters movement of the same period in the U.S. Much of it was a renewed seriousness of composition and a great deal of social conscientiousness.

 What little nuevo cancion got to the U.S. was generally of the strong left-wing bent, but there were many romantic and non-political songs which Marta brings to us in her music.

 Somehow a girl living in the Czech republic heard this music from family and friends and learned to love, sing and play it.

 After much traveling and singing she ended up living in new York City, a truly international town; there to interact with musicians from all over the world.  Her band is part of this urban musical movement.

 Marta's three-person troupe is perfect for the small Zabelon Lounge venue, even though the large Columbian harp had difficulty squeezing onstage with the small drum kit and Marta's cuatro and amplifier.

 But Marta herself is the feature, and the intimate setting truly allows her to shine.

 Her first song (she sings in Spanish) begins softly, with the lovely jazz harp in the background helping support the brushed jazz drums and fine vocals.

 From the warm 'Daydream' and 'Grain of Sand', Marta and troupe moved to a lively piece from Venezuela: here the harp moves from a softer jazzy style to a lively folk beat.

 The drummer plays maracas with his feet, the vocals kick in, and the Latin flavor leaps to the foreground.

 Marta does her own songwriting, too, as 'La Marea' demonstrates, next, her talents as a songwriter.

 Perhaps her strongest vocal feature yet, 'La Marea' (also the title song of her new album) crosses jazz and Latin with lovely South American embellishments throughout.

 Marta's vocal range isn't extraordinary: she reaches noticeably for the higher notes - but that smooth, silky alto range is deep and rich.

 Marta isn't the only composer in the group: Columbian harpist Edmar Castaneda embarks on a jazzy instrumental which ranges from soft to complex and back again, enriching the jazz overtones yet moving beyond the Latin-based rhythms while retaining their foundation core.

 Here the harp demonstrates its prowess, embarking on a series of complex finger styles which coax the most unexpected - and pleasing - moments from the harp.

 As the harp assumes deep bass riffs throughout, any need for a separate bass is eliminated, further adding depth to the trio's efforts, while the diminutive-sized drums of Neil Ochoa succeed wonderfully in supporting the trio without drowning them out, as an ordinary trap kit would have done.

 With the monitor levels perfect at last on her second set, Marta and band really swing into their full power, fusing the Latin folk and jazz atmosphere even more solidly.

 Because the harp has no pedals, it must be re-tuned when the key is changed, which allows for short interludes to re-group into new styles and songs.

 Juxtapose the exuberant harp and drum instruments with Marta's vocals, accompanied at times only by her cuatro, and you have a special diverse set jazz and Latin fans alike will relish.

Venue Review: Zabelon's Lounge
21 Fourth St., Petaluma, CA

(707) 769-7948
Open 5:00 Thu., Fri. & Sat ˇ Open 7:00 Sun. through Wed.

 Zabelon's Lounge is tiny: what looks to be a 700-square-foot venue won't seat more than 100, and there are only about 50 chairs along the wall sides and main floor; so get there early for the best seats.

 There's a bar in back, tiny tables scattered between folding chairs - all of which contribute to the atmosphere of a very intimate coffeehouse.

 Perhaps it's this small size which lends to so many smaller jazz acts attracted to the popular Zabelon's: the tiny raised stage holds no more than 3 people, while a homey atmosphere is enhanced by an unfinished, scuffed wood floor and zany papier mache fish displays along the walls, with papier mache blowfish handing from the ceiling.

 The art is by Adelle Caunce, local Petaluma resident, and if you want a sample, see her website www.biguglyfishies.com.

 It all adds a folky, fun atmosphere to a small, friendly venue with unusual ability to connect artist, musician and patron.

Ladysmith Black Mambazo &
Vusi Mahlasela

Luther Burbank Center for the Arts   February 5, 2005

  Two powerful South African musical vocal representatives on one ticket promoted a celebration of post-Apartheid life in the Long Walk to Freedom concert: hard to believe it's been eleven years since the fall of apartheid in that country, and these musicians reflected on events with two powerful performances.

 Vusi Mahlasela opened the concert: the lights profiled a lone guitar player billed as 'The Voice', and if his latest cd doesn't capture that voice, it sure shines out on stage.

 A humming, crooning opening song, almost Hawaiian between the gentle acoustic guitar and vocals, opens quickly but moves into an almost tribal growl to the click sound of many South African languages: Vusi demonstrates gorgeous vocal prowess and unexpected moments in moving effortlessly from quiet to growling and back again.

 Erupting in a series of trills and warbles, then purring, rolling throaty songs: on his records 'The Voice' doesn't come across nearly as powerfully as he presents alone, on stage.

 His first song celebrates the beauty of his country - but he also songs of South African brutality and police injustices. The lesson he teaches is one of forgiveness and peace of mind.

 His second song is in English and assumes a ballad-like quality; the third was written in a South African jail and tells of the pain of separation.

 Don't get too comfortable with Vusi's crooning ballad styles: growls alternate with near-soprano trills and warbles at the flick of his guitar string, and can change mid-tune just as you're being lulled in a quiet story.

 Vusi can't remember when he wasn't singing - and you won't remember the last time you heard such a versatile, powerful voice: he's not an act to miss.

 Act 2 was the header Ladysmith, an appropriately awesome vocal pairing to Vusi's introduction. 

 Ladysmith came leaping onstage in a wild display of color: the eight members in striking red and yellow shirts the light man ably and beautifully brought out in stage shades of red, led by a vocalist who doubled as a conductor.

 It's the hand movements and rich vocals which differ Ladysmith Black Mambazo's live performance from their cds: hand and foot movements were funny and evocative embellishments to vocals which set down a repetitive foundation, then layered variations over.

 Fancy footwork, high kicks the Zulu are renowned for, and hi-jinks accompanied droning chants in each song - and instead of wearing their uniform white sneakers, they should have worn Irish tap shoes to accent the lively movements and dance which evolved throughout the performance. 

 The comedy and interplays, even though non-English, had the audience participating and enjoying laughter - even during an audience participation song led by the lead vocalist when the group took a much-needed break.

 With encores resounding, the audience got more than its money's worth in an evening of celebration, song, and dance: another LBC world music winner.

Venue Review: Luther Burbank Center for Arts
50 Mark West Springs Road Santa Rosa, CA
The Box Office is open to take your calls at 707-546-3600 during business hours, Tuesday through Saturday from Noon - 6 p.m.

  Santa Rosa's Luther Burbank Center (LBC) is one of the best venues to host world music, between its generous free parking, comfortable assigned seating, and professional theatre.

 The comfortable venue was jam-packed with one of the largest crowds we've seen yet for world music - yet the free parking moved smoothly and the overflow parking n back was more than adequate to accommodate the crowds.

 Once inside, ushers quickly and effortlessly seated all, and the show began on time: another big plus and a real achievement for a crowded performance.

 Luther Burbank sports refreshments at intermission, plush seating, excellent quality acoustics and professional lighting enhanced by lighting arrangers who know how to get the most from the stage.

 An outstanding, highly recommended venue for world music.


January 20, 2005

  Kekele is Lingala for a Congo climbing vine, and it's also the name of a vivid all-star African group specializing in the unique blend of Afro-Cuban music termed 'Rumba Congolese'.

  The blend of Cuban rumba and African rhythms is evident from the first beat of the Latin conga drums, opening the first song before, one by one, band members join in with tight vocal harmonies and supporting instrumentation.

 Kekele has 10 members: three singers, accordion, sax, congas, trap drums, bass, and two guitarists.

 Tight, seamless rhythms flow their introductory number to a second, more ballad-like song which holds the same rumba beat - albeit a bit jazzier.

 Next, a lovely toe-tapper which got the audience moving: much more of a danceable rumba, with superb vocal harmonies and vocalist dancing. Here's where the small side spaces allotted for dancing really filled: even parents danced with small children; for Osher Marin JCC is a venue for the entire family; not just over-21 clubbers.

 The accordion can finally be heard in the introduction to the fourth song, which invites audience clap participation, while the rock-solid drummer drives the songs, supporting the vocals and congas without drowning them out.

 When the accordion takes a solo, it shines: most of the time it's in the background, lending depth to the overall band's effect and supporting the sax, with the result sounding like a full brass section instead of just two players.

 Intermission allowed for purchase of the band's two CDs, refreshments in the lobby, and stretching before Act 2 opened strong with the accordion and quite a different beat, with the wailing sax helping drive the rumba Congo Afro-Latin styles.

 Allotting the side areas for dancing rather than the more traditional front of the room was quite a wise move, allowing maximum viewing for the seated audience with maximum dancing without worries for any who wished to partake - and by the second set, the dance areas were full during every infectious song.

 At one point the seated audience was invited to stand up and dance in place - and everyone who was able, did.

 Kekele's acoustic guitars were somewhat drowned out by electric bass and drums, but an encore song allowing each player a solo demonstrated the prowess of the guitars alone.

 Kekele is a powerhouse band fueled by singers and players with decades of experience: their style of rumba Congolese provides powerful vocals backed with precision playing: an experience not to be missed.

200 N. San Pedro Rd.
San Rafael, CA 94903 

bulletGeneral Information - (415) 444-8000
bulletCenterStage Tickets - (415) 444-8000
or (415) 478-2277 (tickets.com)

  By day it's an auditorium with a large stage suitable for the Jewish Community Center's school and public programs; but at night cafe tables appear with seating to turn the Osher Marin JCC into a nightclub/performance venue featuring a range of venues, from world music to lectures and more.

 There's street parking available if the JCC lot is full - as it often is - and at this show, refreshments were sold in the lobby and available to take into the auditorium.

 Osher Marin JCC's acoustics are typical auditorium: echoing, loud and spacious - perfect for a music venue or stage production, with all the special effects lighting  needed for creating any type of stage scene.

 A huge plus: the family-oriented atmosphere allows all ages to partake - you can't do this in your typical nightclub - while thoughtful seating allows generous side areas for dancing to the beat of infectious music productions.

 Osher Marin's welcoming environment provides a superior setting for its diverse shows and presentations, making it a highly recommended choice for discriminating world music enthusiasts.

Sol y Canto

Photo: ŠA.J. Alfaro

Napa Valley Opera House       February 21, 2005


 Standup electric bass, conga drums, flute, and acoustic guitar make up Sol y Canto, a dynamic group teaching and emphasizing bi-lingual Spanish/English music.

 When the band began to play, you could see why over half the audience at this venue was kids Sol y Canto specializes in bilingual educational children's songs, adding an uplifting beat to its Spanish/English songs.

 Audience participation in call and response music is a bit part of Sol y Canto, from the first 'Twice as Many Friends' to later tunes.

 The atmosphere they create is perfect for bilingual families and any interested in blending music with education: an inviting participatory approach creates songs ranging from lullabies to a 'days of the week' teaching song, and many more.

 The guitar and voice alone on the lullaby is gorgeous, with perfect harmonies unspoiled by too much instrumentation.

 The band is also truly a family affair, with 8-year-old Alyssa and Sonia joining their parents and other students from the local McPherson school on stage.

 The kids lead with numbers which join English and Spanish, from a Cuban TV puppet show song to a clapping rollicking rendition of 'Down With War, Up With Peace', blending finger moments with a Cuban beat.

 There's a circle song from Puerto Rico, an Afro-Puerto Rican song about shoes, and even a reggae song about kites exploring the different words for kite in English and Spanish.

 Sol y Canto doesn't limit its repertoire in any way: Tom Paxton's classic ' Peace Will Come' is presented in a bilingual version (also available on their new cd), and shines with little but acoustic guitar and voice to embellish it.

 A diverse range of Latin styles from various countries and traditions keep the beats diverse and the young audience attentive and avid.

Venue Review:  Napa Valley Opera House
1030 Main Street, Napa CA 94559
General Info: 707-226-7372
Box Office: 10-5:30 M-F, Same Phone

  The small second floor theatre of Napa Valley Opera House offers plush seats, a small, intimate stage, and elegant red carpeted decor: perfect for smaller groups such as Sol y Canto - though intimate in feel, the theatre seats 500, so it's anything but diminutive.

 Light rock music before the performance seemed an odd pairing for a Latin performance: maybe next time Soy y Canto can get their own cds on the speakers while audiences fill the place.

 A lovely atmosphere invites close audience attention and performer/audience interactions, making the Napa Valley Opera House the perfect venue for smaller bands who seek a more homey atmosphere - but with all the elegant touches of the opera.

Oh, and parking is right across the street in a free lot: it doesn't get any better than this!