Critic's Choice for the week of April 7-13, 204 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

AFRICAN BLUES AND GLOBAL TRANCE

What do West African rhythms, the blues, and electro-trance worldbeat grooves have in common? Evidently more than you might think. Contemporary American blues guitarist Markus James has been living in Mali for the last decade, exploring the traditional, pentatonic scale-based Wassoulou and Songhai rhythms and their ancestral relationship with African-American blues progressions. James has recorded with the group Wassonrai and collaborated with Wassoulou star Mamadou Sidibe, who will join James for Thursday's Ashkenaz performance, which also features calabash virtuoso Karamba Dioubate. Also on the bill is didgeridooist and percussionist Stephen Kent, host of KPFA's Music of the World program, and leader of progressive world music outfit Trance Mission, who mixes organic and electronic elements into a festive stew. This show promises to be more than just a multicultural melting pot; it could be one of the best world music performances you'll see this year. $9, 9 p.m. 510-525-5054. (Eric K. Arnold)

PROG JAZZ?

While he's in town as part of the SFJazz Collective with Joshua Redman, Bobby Hutcherson, and a host of other luminaries, trombonist Josh Roseman will be gigging with his own band Wednesday (tonight) at the Jazz House in Berkeley. Roseman plays a unique style of jazz that melds the traditional with avant, funk, fusion, rock, and more. Hopefully he'll play his version of Rush's "Tom Sawyer" -- he can make his trombone sound scarily like Geddy Lee. $12-$15 sliding scale, 8 p.m., 415-846-9432. (Michael Gowan)

BLUEGRASS

Ralph Stanley's high-lonesome tenor is one of the most important voices in the history of bluegrass; his vocals on the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack were a large part of that album's success. The bluegrass pioneer brings the latest incarnation of his legendary Clinch Mountain Boys to Berkeley for two days of inspired pickin' and singin' Thursday and Friday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. $29.50-$30.50, shows both days at 5 p.m. and 8 p.m. 510-548-1761. Info: TheFreight.org (j. poet)

LATIN

Last spring O-Maya grooved the Malcolm X Jazz Festival at Oakland's San Antonio Park: Lead singer Destani Wolf was sanctified with her gospel-R&B-enriched vocals, MC Rico Pabon caught fire with furious Spanglish flows, and the rhythm section pumped Afro-Latino beats accented by the acoustic guitar strums and vocals of Jorge Martinez. The result: People danced. The 2003 self-titled debut is a nice showcase of what O-Maya offers, but this band has to be seen live to be fully appreciated. At Ashkenaz Friday night. $13, 9 p.m. 510-525-5054. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

MORE LATIN

What La Peña Cultural Center has grown into -- a resource for musicians and performing artists -- is invaluable. The recent installation of recording equipment in the main hall is bearing fruit, capturing fantastic performances by gifted talents like Lichi Fuentes. Expect more this Saturday night when the John Santos Quintet (led by the renowned percussionist, bandleader, and Latin music scholar) goes live with the legendary Orestes Vilato (timbales), Orlando Torriente (vocals), Marco Diaz (piano), and Saul Sierra (bass). $12-$14, 8 p.m. 510-849-2568. (J.C.V.)

ALL-STAR BRAZILIAN

There are many greats of Brazilian music, but on Sunday the SFJazz Spring Season continues with a one-night teaming of four of the most creative musicians in Brazilian jazz. Belgian harmonica virtuoso Toots Thielemans has a household sound (if not name) from his recordings with everyone from George Shearing and Quincy Jones to his work on the Sesame Street theme. Airto joined Miles Davis' band just as it went electric in 1969, and after he became a founding member of both Return to Forever and Weather Report, every jazz-fusion band of the '70s had to have its own Brazilian percussionist. Meanwhile, guitarist Oscar Castro-Neves has accompanied song stylists from Jobim to Sinatra, and Kenny Werner's approach to the piano is masterful. What all four artists share, besides brilliance, are a sense of humor and a desire to push the music beyond standard fare. $24-$44, 7 p.m. in San Francisco's Herbst Theatre. 415-776-1999. (Larry Kelp)

NEWGRASS

Nickel Creek is one of the hottest young new-/bluegrass bands in the country, though controversial for an approach that has definite pop music touches, a big no-no in the tradition-loving bluegrass community. Still, the band's eponymous debut went gold, probably riding the coattails of the O Brother phenomenon. The sophomore offering This Side blew people away with its folky cover of Pavement's "Spit on a Stranger" and went on to win a Grammy for Best Contemporary Folk Album. Saturday at the Warfield in San Francisco. $25, 8 p.m. 415-775-7722. (j.p.)

SPOKEN WORD, ETC.

In case you haven't been paying attention, the youth of today can speak for themselves, and they do so quite frequently. That's one of the reasons SF's Youth Speaks organization has become a major catalyst in the ongoing local spoken word scene, which continues to astonish listeners and shows no signs of slowing down. For instance, take the Third Annual Bring the Noise Benefit for Youth Speaks Thursday at Bimbo's in SF. Not only are there performances by the 2004 Youth Speaks Teen Poetry Slam champs and poetic elders Paul S. Flores and Aya de León, but you'll also hear O-Maya, Marcus Shelby, and headliner Me'Shell Ndegeocello (performing with the Spirit Music Sextet) raise the roof to the rafters. It's not just a slam -- it's slammin'. $35, 8 p.m. Info: YouthSpeaks.org or 415-255-9035. (E.K.A.)

CLASSICAL

This Sunday, Chamber Music Sundaes offer another extraordinary opportunity to hear stellar musicians of the San Francisco Symphony perform the chamber music they love in the flattering acoustics of Berkeley's St. John's Presbyterian Church. The early afternoon program includes Schumann's Quartet No. 3 featuring such stellar musicians as principal cellist Michael Grebanier, his violinist wife Sharon, and principal cellist Geraldine Walther; Brahms' Trio for Clarinet, Cello, and Piano; and Grieg's Sonata. $18 general, $14 students/seniors, $7 under 18. 3:30 p.m. 415-584-5946. (Jason Victor Bellecci-Serinus)

HIGH-CLASS HEDONISM

Burlesque has been making a comeback these days, faster than you can shake a tassel. And while retro-themed burlesque shows have popped up left and right, few can hold a sequined bootstrap to the neo-burlesque naughtiness of the Velvet Hammer. The Los Angeles-based group presents its new show, Illuminata, Saturday at the Great American Music Hall -- ironically, an old-time burlesque house -- in what has been described as a "night of decadent hedonism." But this is quality decadent hedonism, mind you, featuring live music from the Millionaire and his Bad Bad Men, as well as various variety acts and scantily clad temptresses titillating your imagination, several laugh-inducing comedians tickling your funny bone, and DJ Señor Amor romancing your eardrums with risqué rhythms. $25, 7 and 10 p.m. Sunsettickets.com; 415-389-TIXX. (E.K.A.)

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