Critic's Choice for the week of June 9-15, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

BIRFDAYS

It's been 29 years since La Peña Cultural Center opened its doors, and in that time, the Berkeley spot's become such a valuable community resource for the East Bay, it's almost easy to take its programming -- which encompasses not only live music, but also spoken word, theater, and film -- for granted. In addition to being one of the most consistent local venues for Latin-American and Chicano artists in the region, La Peña's also supported multicultural youth, especially young hip-hop artists with socially conscious messages. You can get a taste of both flavors this weekend: On Friday, the Youth Movement showcase offers live performances of songs from the upcoming YM compilation CD put together by the Oakland-based label, owned and operated by the artists (including many female MCs, like Imerald, Kamilyn, and Lady Lyricist) themselves. On Saturday, longtime local favorite Jose Diaz -- who may be in the upper echelon of Latin-American artists nationwide -- and his band QBA present a night of Afro-Cuban rhythms, grooves, and claves sure to make your blood boils and your feet move. $5-$12. 510-849-2568. (Eric K. Arnold)

JAZZ

When he hit the scene in 1999, vibraphonist Stefon Harris was hailed as the second coming of Bobby Hutcherson. And for good reason -- Harris wielded his mallets with the deft touch of jazz greats like Hutcherson and Milt Jackson; his frenetic stage performances belied the serene tones emanating from his instrument. Now Harris has branched out from bop-style jazz with a new band, Blackout, and a new album, Evolution. Catch the vibes at Yoshi's Tuesday and Wednesday, June 15-16. 8 p.m. ($16) or 10 p.m. ($10). 510-238-9200. (Michael Gowan)

FREE JAZZ

With singers coming from every continent except Antarctica later in the summer, the 67th Stern Grove Festival opens its free summer series on Sunday at 2 p.m. with two jazz-rooted instrumental ensembles that say more in their expressive original music than any lyrics could. The East Bay-born Tin Hat Trio (violinist Carla Kihlstedt, accordionist Rob Burger, and guitarist Mark Orton, with the temporary addition of tuba and harp players) will provide an evocative jazz-tango-gypsy-Eurosoundtrack ambience, perfect for an afternoon in the park. Then Detroit-reared jazz violin star Regina Carter brings on her oh-so-tight quintet, which not only swings harder than most bands, but also organically adds Latin and classical tinges for new jazz highs. Stern Grove is at 19th Avenue and Sloat Boulevard in San Francisco. 415-252-6252. (Larry Kelp)

JAZZ TRIBUTES

Straighten up and fly right and head over to Yoshi's in Oakland Thursday through Sunday as pianist Monty Alexander and vocalist Freddy Cole pay tribute to Freddy's bro: Nat "King" Cole. Both are consummate artists who record for Telarc Records, and both know the King Cole songbook very well. The latest album for the Jamaican-born Alexander is Rock Steady, a reggae jazz effort featuring guitarist Ernest Ranglin. Freddy is a pianist and crooner who brings a soulful passion to his interpretations. With drum icon Harold Jones holding down the beat, this should be fun! 8 p.m. ($20) and 10 p.m. ($12) nightly; Sunday matinee 2 p.m. ($5 kids/$15 adults). 510-238-9200. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

SOULFULNESS

Tuck & Patti remain one of the most compelling and unique acts in modern music, with a style that combines jazz, R&B, pop, funk, and their own soulful charisma. Tuck Andress is one of the top guitarists in the world (with a warm tone and impeccable musicality), while Patti Cathcart's vocal improvisations are every bit as astonishing. Friday at the Great American Music Hall in San Francisco. $25. 415-885-0750 or www.musichallsf.com (j.poet)

EARLY MUSIC

With Cal Performances temporarily bowing out of June's biannual Early Music Festival, the San Francisco Early Music Society and Early Music America fill the gap with five days of art-defining performances, lectures, and presentations. Highlights of the vocal concerts include tonight's Concord Ensemble program of Sweelinck's vocal polyphony in St. Mark's Episcopal Church ($20, 8 p.m. 310-867-9583) and Friday night's Chanticleer St. Mark's performance of the sacred music of Ockegehm ($30, 8 p.m., 415-252-8589). Both 8 p.m. See www.sfems.org/fringe2004.htm for more. (Jason Victor Serinus)

WEIRDER EARLY MUSIC

For potential instrumental early music standouts at Berkeley's Early Music on the Fringe, turn to Thursday's 21st century time travel by Sheli Nan and friends in The Music Studio ($15/$10, 5 p.m., 510-841-2860), and the Novello Quartet's Trinity Chapel performance of Haydn's Op. 50 string quartets ($12/$8, 8 p.m., 415-794-1100); Friday's Trinity Chapel music for recorder and harpsichord from Letitia Berlin and Katherine Heater ($18/$15/$5, 2:30 p.m., 510-559-4670); Saturday's harpsichord tour de force from Tamara Loring in St. Joseph of Arimathea Chapel ($14/$12, 4:30 p.m., 415-663-8398); and Musica Pacifica's Saturday St. Mark's performance of virtuosic baroque chamber hits ($12, 5:30 p.m.), along with the same evening's Philharmonia Chamber Players' concert in First Congregation Church ($25-$35, 8 p.m., 415-392-4400). www.sfems.org/fringe2004.htm. (J.V.S.)

BLUES

Longtime Berkeley resident Mark Hummel is one of the West Coast's premier blues harp players, known for his soulful vibrato and ability to bring a swing and jazz flava to his playing. He'll bring the current edition of his ever evolving Blues Survivors into town this Saturday at the Ivy Room in Albany. $5. 510-524-9220 or www.ivyroom.com (j.p.)

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