Don’t let the rain dampen your spirits. The Berkeley area’s musical offerings can provide plenty of motivation to get out of the house if you know where to look. Here are just a few of the tantalizing gigs on tap in the coming days.
Let’s work backwards, starting Sunday at the Back Room. This cozy, living room-like space tucked away on Bonita spitting distance from University Avenue is run by blues/jazz pianist Sam Rudin, who seems to be bent on maximizing the venue’s potential. On Jan. 13 there are three separate performances through the course of the day, starting at 1 p.m. with the Jessica Jones Quartet. The Berkeley-reared tenor saxophonist has long been based in Brooklyn with her husband, Tony Jones, a fellow tenor saxophonist and Berkeley High alum. They’re back in town to celebrate the release of her excellent new album The Continuum and the launch of their new label, Reva Records.
A gifted composer and veteran educator who’s mentored some of jazz’s finest 21st-century improvisors, Jones is joined by bassist Noah Garabedian, fellow Berkeley native living in Brooklyn, and San Jose drummer Jason Lewis. The Continuum reflects Jones’ commitment to passing on the knowledge and wisdom she’s gained collaborating with older jazz masters.
The album’s diverse program showcases an array of special guests, such as the Caribbean-inflected “Just As It Is” featuring mesmerizing 89-year-old East Bay jazz crooner Ed Reed. “The lyrics are completely derived from conversations with Ed,” Jones says. “It’s my piece and the words are based on things he had said.” The strikingly beautiful world-jazz “Continuum Reprise,” features a trio with trumpet great Ambrose Akinmusire, a former Jones student, and Mali’s Mamadou Sidibe on the kamali ngoni (Reed and Sidibe will be joining Jones at the Back Room to perform these songs).
Part of the first wave of kids to come up through the Berkeley public school system’s innovative jazz education program, Jones was mentored as a young teen by free jazz drummer Charles Moffett. She connected with another key Ornette Coleman collaborator in the late 1980s when trumpeter Don Cherry settled in the Bay Area. Based in Brooklyn since 1997, she’s recorded a series of singular albums, such as the 2011 duo album with the late piano legend Connie Crothers Live at the Freight.
I wish I could say that you can camp out at the Back Room all Sunday, but Berkeley jazz vocalist Audrey Martin’s 4 p.m. performance is sold out. At 8 p.m. however there are still tickets for the New York combo led by saxophonist Randal Despommier and pianist Jason Yeager, who are presenting music from their new collaborative album, All At Onceness (Red Piano Records). They’ve created a protean form of chamber jazz drawing on Bach, Stravinsky, Scriabin and Messiaen. They’re joined by New York vocalist Aubrey Johnson, who’s taught jazz vocals at Berklee and New England Conservatory and has collaborated with the likes of Fred Hersch and Bobby McFerrin.
On Saturday, the irresistibly playful Paris Combo makes its Freight debut. If I was a branding consultant I’d recommend that the group change its name change, swapping out a single letter so that the anodyne Combo transforms into the far more descriptive Paris Cosmo. The long-running band reflects Paris as a cosmopolitan playground, with its joyous blend of French chanson and Gypsy jazz laced with rhythms gleaned from Afro-Cuban, Middle Eastern, and North African popular music. The intoxicating host of the party is vocalist and accordionist Belle du Berry, who’s backed by guitarist and banjo player Potzi, percussionist and vocalist François-François, bassist Benoit Dunoyer de Segonzac, and trumpeter/pianist David Lewis. After taking a few years off while Lewis and Du Berry toured as a duo, the band returned to action in 2017 with a strong new album, Tako Tsubo (Planet/Stem).
Friday night New York City jazz pianist/composer Ben Rosenblum celebrates the release of his second album, River City (One Trick Dog), at the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall. A graduate of the Columbia-Juilliard jazz program, he’s an arrestingly mature composer with a beautiful touch. He’s joined by Monterey-raised bassist Kanoa Mendenhall, a rapidly rising player who’s the daughter of respected pianist Eddie Mendenhall, and New York drummer Ben Zweig.
And Thursday night brings further evidence that Albany’s Ivy Room has turned into one of the East Bay’s essential venues, as the “Women On the Keys” show exemplifies the room’s knack for presenting unconventional programs. Showcasing four exceptional young players, the stylistically diverse roster includes Berkeley High alum Erika Oba, an adventurous jazz composer who co-leads the electro-jazz duo Rice Kings, and Richmond-based Helen Orzel, a fiery player who studied at the California Jazz Conservatory (where Oba is on faculty). Hip-hop inflected rocker Richelle Scales has quickly integrated herself into the East Bay scene since relocating from Atlanta, playing with The Onyx, Tory & The Teasers, Baycoin Beats, and Ogunlano Music, and Nichole Boaz is a rising player from San Jose who can be heard with the funk-steeped 7th Street Big Band and the all-female Freddie Mercury tribute band Killer Queens.