Critic's Choice for the week of February 23-March 1, 2005 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

PERSIAN MASTERY

The trio that performs as the Masters of Persian Music didn't engage in hyperbole when choosing its name. Legendary singer Mohammad Reza Shajarian is a leader of the Persian classical music renaissance, Hossein Alizadeh is a master of the tar (plucked lute), and kamancheh (spike fiddle) player Kayhan Kalhor is known for his passionate improvisations and globe-trotting fusion work with artists like Yo Yo Ma. Percussionist and backing vocalist Homayoun Shajarian (Mohammad Reza Shajarian's son) provides the glue that holds the group's ensemble improvisations together. Sunday at 7 p.m. at Zellerbach Hall on the UC Berkeley campus. $24-$46. 510-642-9988 or CalPerfs.Berkeley.edu (j. poet)

AFRO-CUBAN JAZZ

Ever since the Buena Vista Social Club, Afro-Cuban jazz has gone from a blip on American pop culture's radar screen to quite possibly the most authentic, organic, and hottest sound around. Oakland's own Omar Sosa is a master of that art, and, man, we are lucky to have him, especially with so many Havana-based musicians experiencing visa problems since 9/11. Anyway, Sosa's newest album, Mulatos, is really really good -- smooth as aged rhum, with no aftertaste. While maintaining both a jazz sensibility and an Afro-Cuban rhythmic foundation, Sosa mixes his marimba with Arabic ouds and Indian tablas, resulting in a hybridized, fusionistic sound that somehow seems more natural than contrived. Hear how he does it Tuesday and Wednesday (March 1-2) at Yoshi's. $10-$14, 8 and 10 p.m. Yoshis.com (Eric K. Arnold)

BRAZILIAN FLAIR

This Saturday, vocalist Sandy Cressman brings a belated Carnaval and Valentine's Day celebration to Berkeley's Jazzschool as part of Homenagem Brasileira. Joining her will be Marcos Silva (keyboards), David Belove (bass), Celso Alberti (drums), Harvey Wainapel (reeds), and Mike Spiro (percussion). Sandy was an A+ singer with the excellent jazz vocalese group Pastiche in the '80s, but got turned on to Brazilian music in the '90s and hasn't turned back. Expect new songs from her upcoming album release. $12-$18, 8 p.m. 510-845-5373 or JazzSchool.com (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

REGGAE

Steel Pulse's first new album in seven years, African Holocaust, is a shockingly awesome record, one that reaffirms the English Rastas as crucial roots reggae standard-bearers. Songs like "Global Warning," "Born Fe Rebel," and "No More Weapons" mix contemporary relevancy with Old Testament-influenced righteousness, and, as usual, tight musicianship and fervent vocals. It's nice to hear one of reggae's most-loved groups climb back on after falling off, and let's hope that the chance to perform fresh material along with dyed-in-the-dreadlocks stuff like "Rally Round the Flag" and "Rollerskates" will bring a sense of urgency to their performance Saturday night at SF's Bill Graham Civic as part of Ragga Muffins Festival '05. The event, held in honor of Bob Marley's sixtieth birthday, boasts one of the best reggae lineups assembled in recent memory. In addition to the Pulse-sters, scheduled to perform are all-time greats Jimmy Cliff and Israel Vibration; Alpha Blondy, Ivory Coast's answer to Marley; Jamaican crooner Barrington Levy; post-feminist dancehall star Tanya Stephens; and the rub-a-dub riddims of the Easy Star All-Stars. Plus, with tickets only $35 in advance ($40 at the door), you should still have enough dough left over for a red-gold-and-green souvenir or two. APEconcerts.com (E.K.A.)

CLASSICAL

Who Wears the Pants? Seeing as the soloist is mezzo-soprano Elspeth Franks, who usually performs wearing a men's tuxedo, this concert's cheeky title is apt. Franks, accompanied by Daniel Lockert, will sing not only signature operatic trouser roles by Handel and Purcell, but also Britten's Cabaret Songs Sunday afternoon at Alameda's First Presbyterian Church. Most enticing. $15, $10 students/seniors, children thirteen and under free; 4 p.m. 510-522-1477. (Jason Victor Serinus)

ALL-FEMALE CLASSICAL

It's high time to give the nod to the Gold Coast Chamber Players. With San Francisco Opera concertmaster Kay Stern on first violin, the all-women's string quartet sonically journeys to Eastern Europe Saturday night, transporting Lafayette's Town Hall Theater with the romantic flights of Borodin's String Quartet #2 and the infrequently performed Glazunov's Cello Quintet. A champagne reception with the artists adds to the whirl. $25, $22 seniors, $10 students; 8 p.m. 925-283-1557. (J.V.S.)

ALT-HOP HIPSTERS

Quannum is killing it in 2005. That's all that needs to be said. The indie alt.hop label -- long a mainstay of the Bay Area's flavorful, unique music scene -- will be dropping more bombs than Donald Rumsfeld, if advance word of mouth on its upcoming new material from the imprint's talented (and ever-lengthening) roster can be believed. No doubt, this crew can bring in da noise and da funk, and they'll be giving you a taste of some lyrical bonbons Friday at the DNA, when the Quannum MCs -- Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker, and Lyrics Born -- call out to all area crew and make the shit happen right then and there. The tasty trio will be switching back and forth in various configurations onstage, and it's rumored they'll be backed by a special, mysterious guest. For the price of a twomp sack ($20), you'll also witness DJs D-Sharp and Mike Relm ripping up the beats on four turntables. DNAlounge.com (E.K.A.)

FOLK

Guitarist and songwriter Steve Gillette wrote enduring standards like "Darcy Farrow" and "Back on the Street Again." His musical partner Cindy Mangsen is a Jill of all trades, juggling dulcimer, guitar, banjo, and concertina while supplying honeyed lead and backing vocals. Sunday at 8 p.m. at Berkeley's Freight and Salvage. $17.50-$18.50. 510-548-1761 or TheFreight.org (j.p.)

BLACK ROCK EXTRAVAGANZAS

The crew best known for pirate drive-in movie theaters, guerrilla slide shows, and spray-can city beautification projects is celebrating Black History Month this Saturday with performances by six of the best rock bands in Oakland. Featuring a range of styles -- from Stone Vengeance's thrash metal to the more Lenny Kravitz-ish Damond Moodie -- the Black Rock Expo at Oaklandish Gallery will open a space for black musicians to rock out and represent their punky selves. $7-$10, 7 p.m. 510-451-2677 or Oaklandish.org (Rachel Swan)

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