Critic's Choice for the week of May 18-24, 2005 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

OUTDOOR JAZZ

The sixth annual Malcolm X Jazz Arts Festival happens this Saturday at San Antonio Park in Oakland. Renowned poet and social critic Amiri Baraka highlights a roster of spoken word, rap, and jazz. For jazz fans, the Muziki Roberson Quintet is a new band led by the gifted pianist and composer. Stints with Mingus Amungus and the SF Mime Troupe have blessed Muziki with excellent taste and ability. Sponsored by the Eastside Arts Alliance. Foothill Blvd. & 18th Ave. starting at 11 a.m. Free. 510-533-6629. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

CLASSICAL

Demand for tickets to Leonard Bernstein's genre-bending Mass are so great that the Oakland East Bay Symphony has added an extra performance to its schedule. On Friday evening and Sunday afternoon, the Paramount Theatre comes alive as the excellent baritone Hector Vasquez and the Oakland Symphony Chorus, Piedmont Choirs, Huckabay McAllister Dance Company, and a Street Chorus of master singers join music director Michael Morgan in rare performances of Lenny's still politically relevant mish-mash. $12-$65; Friday show at 8 p.m., Sunday at 3 p.m.; ParamountTheatre.com or 510-625-8497. (Jason Victor Serinus)

SMART-ASS SONGWRITER

Loudon Wainwright III single-handedly invented the smartass school of singer-songwriting in the early '70s with a couple of albums that combine acidic humor, catchy tunes, and deadpan delivery. His humor is still intact, but in the last few years he also has been writing more serious songs that deal honestly and poignantly with aging, loneliness, and death. Sunday at 8 p.m. at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. $22.50-$23.50. 510-548-1761; TheFreight.org (j. poet)

CLASSIC HIGHLIFE

The West African Highlife Band, led by bassist Ken Okulolo, explores the rhythm that provided the soundtrack for a generation of West African youth in the revolutionary 1960s. Highlife was the first African style to achieve success in Europe and America. The band has been packing Bay Area dancefloors for years by blending the hits of legends such as Victor Olaiya and Rex Lawson with its own compositions in the classic style. Saturday, 9:30 p.m. at Berkeley's Ashkenaz. $13 general, $11 students; 510-525-5054 or Ashkenaz.com (j.p.)

WILD WOODWINDS

After cycling through a kaleidoscope of musical settings from Club Foot Orchestra to Trance Mission and her rocking Beth Custer Ensemble, San Francisco clarinetist and bandleader Beth Custer gets back to her first love, and her oldest band, Clarinet Thing, a quintet of the Bay's best clarinetists. On Tuesday, Clarinet Thing celebrates the release of its first CD, Agony Pipes and Misery Sticks, which features live performances from 1992 to 2003, and includes Custer's breathtaking arrangements of everything from Duke Ellington and Kurt Weill to John Carter and Brazil's Pixinguinha, plus her own tunes. Joining her in playing the full family of clarinets are Ben Goldberg, Ralph Carney, Harvey Wainapel, and Sheldon Brown. 8 p.m. at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage. TheFreight.org, 510-548-1761. (Larry Kelp)

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