One of the pleasures of living in Berkeley is that the world beats a path to our doorstep. Over the next week the city hosts a deliriously diverse array of musicians, from a virtuosic traditional Irish duo and a beloved Chilean cantadora to a new Brazilian dance band and a Near Eastern electro-acoustic ensemble.
But let’s start with the most exotic combo, Canada Day, a capaciously inventive jazz quintet led by Toronto-born drummer Harris Eisenstadt that makes its Bay Area debut Wednesday at the Subterranean Art House.
The Brooklyn-based bandleader and composer is associated with jazz’s exploratory left field. Over the past decade he’s collaborated with some of music’s most insistently creative artists, including Bobby Bradford, Butch Morris, Yusef Lateef, Wadada Leo Smith, and the recently departed Sam Rivers. He’s also soaked up far-flung rhythmic traditions through work with ensembles exploring the music of Bali, Gambia, Ghana, Morocco, Iran and Senegal. But it’s as the leader of Canada Day that Eisenstadt has truly found his voice as a composer.
The group, which performs as part of double bill with San Francisco bassist Lisa Mezzacappa’s rambunctious combo Bait & Switch, features a stellar cast of improvisers, including trumpeter Nate Wooley, tenor saxophonist Matt Bauder, bassist Garth Stevenson, and San Jose-reared vibraphonist Chris Dingman. When Mezzacappa’s combo explores the rough and tumble aesthetic that informed the 1960s free jazz movement, Canada Day has honed an almost pastoral sound, full of open spaces, transparent, dappled textures, and inviting melodic lines. The group is focusing on music for its acclaimed 2011 CD “Canada Day II” (Songlines) and an upcoming release “Octet.”
“I wanted to find a mix of people from our micro-scenes in New York who had worked together and could find new things in the music,” says Eisenstadt, who earned an M.F.A. from California Institute of the Arts in African American Improvisational Music in 2001.
“This is my first band that’s been an ongoing project over several years with several recordings. All the tunes are five to 10 minute songs, with lots of changes, sections and textures. It does sometimes come from a nostalgic place. I left Canada almost 20 years ago, and for me Canada represents that period of my life, from birth to 18.”
Martin Hayes and Dennis Cahill: distilling the essence of traditional tunes
Nostalgia also plays an important role in the music of Irish-born fiddler Martin Hayes and Irish-American guitarist Dennis Cahill, who open a two-night engagement at Freight & Salvage on Friday.
The remarkable duo has honed a ravishing repertoire by distilling the melodic essence of traditional tunes. They can play a reel that sets feet stomping, but they’ve distinguished themselves by bringing the intensity and dynamic control of chamber music to folk tunes created for community celebrations.
“It’s so obvious and transparent and simple, and that’s why it’s so difficult,” Hayes says. “The beauty of traditional Irish music is the nature of the melodies. Are you actually comfortable being vulnerable, doing something slightly minimalist and simple?”
The son of P. J. Hayes, the leader of the celebrated Tulla Ceili Band, Hayes grew up in County Claire, and his exquisite fiddle style is marked by the graceful lyricism long associated with that region. The fact that Cahill has found his main musical expression in traditional Irish music is more of a surprise. His parents were native Gaelic speakers who came to Chicago in the late 1940s, but he grew up with little exposure to Irish music, and didn’t visit the old country until he was about 30. He studied at Chicago’s prestigious Music College and performed everything from classical, blues, folk, pop and rock before he and Hayes took up as a duo.
Cahill notes that his immersion in traditional Irish music is “a bit strange, but I looked at it as being music first, and a genre second,” he says. “Irish music has an incredibly strong, pure musical core to it. It has beautiful melodies and great rhythms and is so evocative that it communicates really well to people who aren’t Irish or haven’t grown up listening to it.”
Other recommended gigs
Stellamara, the wondrous world music ensemble led by vocalist and producer Sonja Drakulich and multi-instrumentalist Gari Hegedus, performs its singular blend of Turkish, Arabic, Balkan, Medieval European and Persian musical traditions on Friday at Rudramandir.
Chilean-born vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Lichi Fuentes, a force on the Bay Area scene since the early 1980s, performs Saturday at La Pena.
And Richmond’s Banda Bey Brazil, which plays a propulsive mix of samba, pagode, rock, forró, and axe, plays Ashkenaz on Saturday.
Andrew Gilbert, who writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside, also covers music and dance for the San Jose Mercury News, Contra Costa Times, Los Angeles Times, Boston Globe and KQED’s California Report. He lives in west Berkeley.
To find out about more events in Berkeley and nearby, visit Berkeleyside’s Events Calendar. We also encourage you to submit your own events.