The ROVA Saxophone Quartet. Credit: Myles Boisen

Update, July 29 Sam Reider’s show at the Berkeley Piano Club has been rescheduled for 2 p.m. Sept. 25.

Update, July 28 Sam Reider’s show at the Berkeley Piano Club has been postponed. A new date for the show should be announced soon.

Original story, July 27 Among the many lessons and observations gleaned from this grinding pandemic is that musicians need as many outlets to perform as possible. Every setting is game. Driveways and parks, street corners and backyards can all serve as venues, particularly when the weather turns balmy. Fresh indoor locations are equally essential, and a host of shows in unexpected spots around town speaks to the ongoing search for concertizing options. 

Best known for his stylistically encompassing approach to the accordion, Sam Reider celebrates the release of his gorgeous new solo piano album Petrichor Sunday afternoon at the Berkeley Piano Club, the Southside performance space that doesn’t often host jazz gigs. A San Francisco native who moved back to the city from New York shortly before the pandemic to get a graduate degree in composition at San Francisco State, Reider decided to document some of the new music he’d been writing.

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“I wanted to do something to showcase my piano playing, something I haven’t put in the foreground and that felt underrepresented,” he said. 

Reider has performed internationally on State Department-sponsored tours with the New York-based Silver City Band, which also featured Berkeley-reared bassist Noah Garabedian. While the players were all steeped in jazz, Silver City created a sound equally influenced by folk rock and Western swing, as well as folkloric styles encountered while traveling across Asia. Mentored by composer and French hornist David Amram, whose career encompasses recordings with Dizzy Gillespie, Jack Kerouac, Willie Nelson, Langston Hughes, Pete Seeger, and Leonard Bernstein, the band absorbed new sounds with each new musical assignation. 

Reider brings a similar sensibility to his band Human Hands and his solo piano works. The new album “is more in the jazz world,” he said. “Half of it is through composed and half is more improvised. I wanted to do something with those contrasts.” Reider performs an entirely different program Aug. 20 at the Red Poppy Art House with Venezuelan cuatro master Jorge Glem.  

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Vividly evocative, Reider’s solo piano music reflects his wide-open ears. His elegiac piece “Emahoy” was inspired by the extraordinary Ethiopian pianist and composer Emahoy Tsegué-Maryam Guèbrou. The title track was inspired by a West African balafon player he often encountered at Grand Central Station late at night, “playing these amazing ostinatos and singing,” he said. 

“I’d take out my accordion and try to jam with him, which was tricky because his balafon was tuned in F sharp, which is a tough key for accordion. But I adore that music, and I had an idea for an ostinato inspired by him. I love some of Keith Jarrett’s ostinato-based solo improvised piano music and tried to do that for years to varying effect. I decided it deserved to be composed more, to make it something more than a jam.”

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A jazz piano recital at the Berkeley Piano Club isn’t a huge stretch, but the Outsound New Music Summit at Berkeley Finnish Hall takes some explaining. Running July 29-Aug. 1, the festival brings together many of the region’s most audacious musical explorers, starting Friday with the double bill of ROVA Saxophone Quartet and trombonist Rob Ewing’s Long Tone Sally, an experimental trombone choir that includes Adam Theis, C.L. Behrens, John Gove, Jon Hatamiya, Jonathan Seiberlich, Marty Wehner, Patrick Malabuyo, Scott Larson, Spencer Sussman, Wayne Wallace, Will Shannon and Berkeley High alum Danny Lubin-Laden.

Saturday’s double bill features the percussion duo of Karen Stackpool and Krys Bobrowskion gongs and Gliss Glass (an instrument he invented consisting of water-filled glass vessels mounted on telescoping stands and interconnected with tubes and valves), and the multi-directional quartet of Alexandra Buschman-Román, David Lim, Danishta Rivero, and Ven Voisey performing Voisey’s “Scaffold.” Sunday’s program includes T.D. Skatchit & Company celebrating the memory and legacy of instrument builder and new music catalyst Tom Nunn and multi-instrumentalist David Leikam’s psychedelic jazz quartet zBug. 

The festival closes Monday with a wild and wooly double bill bringing together the Oakland art-punk deathrock band Moira Scar with the Tri-Cornered Tent Show, an avant power trio with electric bassist Ray Schaeffer, drummer Anthony Flores, and Philip Everett in electric lapharp and xlarinet. 

Improvised music has found a home at the Finnish Hall largely due to the efforts of Richmond saxophonist Rent Romus, the founder of Edgetone Records and a composer deeply inspired by the folklore and music of his Finnish roots. He’s performed his epic “Manala” suite at the Kavela Hall several times with his Life’s Blood Ensemble, which includes several of the musicians playing in other Outsound ensembles. 

The fact that the city boasts two Finnish Halls speaks to the outsized role that the Finnish community played in Berkeley in the early decades of the 20th century, when the neighborhood surrounding the University and San Pablo intersection was known as Finntown. The community encompassed several Lutheran churches, saloons, cooperative grocery stores, and the sadly shuttered Red Finn Hall on 10th Street (which was built by the radical Finnish Comrades Association and served as a community hub for all Berkeley residents after it was completed in 1909). 

With political divisions exacerbated by the 1917 Bolshevik Revolution in Russia that led to Finland’s independence the Finnish community split and a second Finnish Hall was built in the mid-1930s on Chestnut Street, where Saturday’s concert takes place.  

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It’s not particularly shocking to find music in an amphitheater, but Bruns, the glorious outdoor venue in the Berkeley Hills, is known as the home of Cal Shakes. Building on last year’s inaugural musical programming by Berkeley-based Paper Moon Presents, this summer’s three-night run kicks off Friday with Berkeley’s Destani Wolf opening for Lyrics Born, the pioneering Asian-American MC. The series also features Brett Dennen with Megan Jacob on Saturday and a string summit on Sunday mandolin legend Sam Bush, AJ Lee and Blue Summit, Tony Furtado and others. 

A powerhouse vocalist and songwriter, she’s joined by keyboardist Kevin Wong, bassist Uriah Duffy, guitarist Sam Wright, and Booker T Jones drummer Darian Gray. Wolf plans to share several new songs and spread the buoyant energy that courses through her music. 

“It’s an opportunity to share joy and togetherness which in these times are so necessary,” she said. “This pandemic continues to be ongoing and it’s taking a toll on all of us. I want to connect with people so we really feel that we’re not alone.”

No forum is better designed for creating a sense of instant community than the weekly Circlesongs sessions at Freight & Salvage. Wolf is also part of Bobby McFerrin’s new vocal ensemble Motion, which has been holding forth every Monday, inviting participants to add their voices and launch new improvisations. While McFerrin’s delicate health means he’s not always able to join the proceedings, the group with Wolf, Bryan Dyer, David Worm and Tammi Brown creates a powerful communion as a quartet. There are a few more sessions left before the Circlesong School takes over the venue Aug. 15-19.

Freelancer Andrew Gilbert writes a weekly music column for Berkeleyside. Andy, who was born and raised in Los Angeles, covers a wide range of musical cultures, from Brazil and Mali to India and Ireland....