Critic's Choice for the week of October 29-November 4, 2003 

Our cultural mavens tell you about the best musical entertainment you can find this week.

JAZZ DIVAS

Etta James is an American original, a classic, a legendary singer claimed by both jazz and blues as one of their own. As the saying goes, she's a survivor, having overcome drug and alcohol addiction and the personal demons she acquired along the way in a career that stretches back to the '50s, when she recorded "Roll with Me, Henry" (aka "The Wallflower") with bandleader Johnny Otis. In 1960, James cut her first hit for Chess, "All I Could Do Was Cry," which led to her becoming one of the biggest R&B artists of that time -- she hit the charts 28 times in the '60s alone. James' phrasing has always been particularly jazzy, and her affinity for gospel-tinged, torchy ballads (as well as rockin' boogie tunes) makes her appearance at the SF Jazz Festival this Saturday at the Masonic Auditorium a no-brainer. Jazz, of course, is rooted in blues, and few artists currently alive intertwine the two branches better than Etta. 415-776-1999 or SFJazz.org (Eric K. Arnold)

STRANGE POP

A few years ago, the Tiger Lillies caused a sensation at San Francisco's ACT with Shockheaded Peter, a bizarre offering that blended children's fairy tales and nightmarish cabaret stylings into a darker-than-noir extravaganza. "Stunning," "wildly original," "a pornographic musical version of Monty Python," and other clichés fill their press kit, but this eccentric trio (accordion and falsetto vocals, children's drum kit, double bass) lives up to the hyperbolic praise heaped upon them. Wednesday at Bimbo's in San Francisco. 415-474-0365 (j. poet)

JAZZ DIVAS II

Unless you live under a rock or are a hermit (in which case you probably shouldn't be reading this), you've probably heard of Ledisi by now. The Bay Area's independent soul/jazz phenomenon is a mainstay of the live music scene on both sides of the bay, even if she's given up her weekly gig at Cafe du Nord to tour other places and countries (boo hoo). Her Yoshi's show Wednesday night promises to be the cat's meow, as she's teaming up with the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra for a special tribute to jazz icon Ella Fitzgerald and the big band era. 510-238-9200. (E.K.A.)

AVANT-GARDE

Sunday night, the amazing quintet of Pauline Oliveros, Fred Frith, Philip Gelb, Shoko Hikage, and Toyoji Tomita performs at Oakland's 21 Grand. For sliding-scale admission, you can experience this cutting-edge ensemble blur the lines between improvisation, meditation, electronic music, and traditional instrumentation. Think accordion, guitar, shakuhachi flute, koto, and didgeridoo, and then turn off your mind. 510-444-7263. (Jason Victor Serinus)

JAZZ DIVAS III

Hey, she's our baby. Let me tell you why. Ain't no other Jenna Mammina. She's the apple of the Bay Area's eye. We'll get down on our knees and pray to the Lord, please, if we have to, because before her articulate phrasing on her brilliant cover version of Led Zep's "I'm Gonna Crawl," nobody had any idea what Robert Plant was mumbling half the time. Mammina sure can sing good, and when she's not jazzing up pop covers (her version of "Watching the Detectives" is equally superb, and she even manages to put her own spin on the oft-covered "Time After Time"), she's pouring her heart out into her own originals. She'll be previewing songs from her upcoming fourth album at Yoshi's Sunday with two shows, including a kid-friendly matinee in the afternoon called Scat for Cats. Yowza yowza yowza. 510-238-9200. (E.K.A.)

JAM FUSION

Guitarist Fareed Haque earned his reputation in Chicago playing a distinctive style that mixed jazz, classical, and world music. These days he's added another category: "jam band." With its funk-meets-'70s-fusion feel, jam band Garaj Mahalmixes Phish with Weather Report while Haque delivers a flurry of notes around the groove; Bay Area drummer Alan Hertz drives the rhythm. They'll be holding forth at San Francisco's Avalon Ballroom on Halloween Friday. If you prefer Haque in a jazzier role, he's also playing with the Indian-tinged jazz supergroup Summit at Yoshi's on Tuesday. For the Avalon gig, try MorningSpringRain.com (Michael Gowan)

INDIAN EXPLORATION

Now, about that Summit gig: When it comes to world fusion, East Bay saxophonist George Brooks may not get as much publicity, but his bands are always among the most exciting musically. Brooks brings together some of the world's master musicians to blend jazz with Indian rhythms on tunes that are always melodically enticing, even when exploring everything from minimalism to free jazz. The latest edition of Brooks' Summit comes to Yoshi's on Tuesday, featuring South Indian drummer T.H. Vikku Vinayakram (founding member of Shakti), Western trap drummer Steve Smith (Journey, Vital Information), and Haque and bassist Kai Eckhardt from the aforementioned Garaj Mahal. 510-238-9200. (Larry Kelp)

REGGAE

You don't have to ascribe to the Rastafarian theory that Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia (aka Ras Tafari) is the most high personified to enjoy the roots reggae celebration at Ashkenaz on Sunday. But it helps. At least, wear some red, gold, and green or burn a stick of frankincense for this show, honoring the 73rd anniversary of Selassie's coronation. Performers include Malika Madremana, Wadi Gad, Sashamani Soundsystem, Tony Moses, Soul Rebel, and Lion Hear Soundsystem, nicing up the vibes and giving thanks and praise to the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah. 510-525-5054. (E.K.A.)

WEIRD JAZZ

Want a great treat for Halloween? Check out the famed avant-garde jazz ensemble the Art Ensemble of Chicago this Thursday through Saturday night at Yoshi's in Oakland. Since 1967, the group's members have joined elements of traditional New Orleans jazz with free jazz. Known for their theatrical presentations, the quartet features sax, bass, and all manner of percussion, bells, and whistles. 510-238-9200. (J.V.S.)

IRISH FOLK

The chilling, crystalline tones of the Celtic harp awoke such passions in listeners that the British invaders tried to ban it. Its magic comes alive again in the hands of contemporary harpist Patrick Ball. His performances combine humor, tall tales, music, and folklore to animate the mystic soul of ancient Ireland. Saturday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)

APHRODESIA

There's a lot you could be doing Halloween night, we know. But Aphrodesia at Jupiter (510-843-7625) Friday night promises to be a treat, no tricks (honest). Aphrodesia's new CD, Shackrobeat Vol. 1, is absolutely amazing, placing the band as the Bay Area's answer to Antibalas -- their music revolves around funky groovy Afro-beat and Afro-Cuban workouts. Yet they up the ante with tinges of West African highlife and elements from Zimbabwean and Ghanaian rhythmic traditions, even a hint of James Brown funk. You can also catch them at the Elbo Room in SF (415-552-7788) Wednesday night along with Future Juju. (E.K.A.)

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