John Ellis is no stranger to the Bay Area jazz scene, but he's getting ready to reintroduce himself with a dream band. A key member of Charlie Hunter's variably sized ensembles for the past four years, the New York-based multi-instrumentalist (he plays bass clarinet and tenor and soprano sax) makes his Yoshi's debut as a bandleader on Monday with a quartet featuring pianist Aaron Goldberg, bassist Roland Guerin, and drummer Jason Marsalis. It's the same core group featured on his sensational new album One Foot in the Swamp (Hyena). While the quartet has been Ellis' main working band since the late '90s, touring has been extremely difficult, since Guerin and Marsalis are longtime members of pianist Marcus Roberts' busy trio. "It's a little bit of a hurdle to get them," Ellis says from his home in Brooklyn, taking a brief break from setting up the travel arrangements for the gig. "I'm always online doing my travel agent thing. It's daunting, but it's rewarding." Daunting but rewarding is a good description of his gig with Hunter. Since the eight-string guitarist slimmed down from a sextet to a trio, he has asked Ellis to expand his skills on various instruments, including the Wurlitzer organ on recent gigs. About a half-dozen of his compositions are also featured prominently in the band's repertoire, like the sardonic, chugging "One for the Kelpers" that opens the album Friends Seen and Unseen (Ropeadope). More impressive is Ellis' fierce, harmonically fast-moving "John Brown's Gun," which was introduced on his 2002 Fresh Sound album Roots, Branches & Leaves.
Raised on an eighteen-acre farm in rural North Carolina, Ellis grew up playing in his father's church. He started his career in New Orleans, where he studied with Ellis Marsalis, with whom he ended up touring widely. He worked internationally with another Crescent City jazz patriarch, bassist Walter Payton, the father of trumpeter Nicholas Payton. Now he is finally bringing his feel for New Orleans soul out to Cali. Monday, 8 and 10 p.m., at Yoshi's; Yoshis.com or 510-238-9200. -- Andrew Gilbert
Wild About Harry
Albany's own self-described rebel, Cherise Wyneken, headlines the Word Beat reading along with Tim Nuveen at Berkeley's Mediterraneum Caffe (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... Three generations of women wrestle with the prospects of reunion in Renee Manfredi's novel Above the Thunder. The Montclarion presents Manfredi at A Great Good Place for Books (Thu., 7 p.m.). ... Billy Joel's former classmate Stephanie Manning, now a poet devoted to world peace, reads with John Pray, followed by music from Urban Bushmen at Vallejo's Listen & Be Heard Poetry Cafe, 818 Marin St.; $5-$8; ladies free before 9 p.m. (Fri., 8 p.m.). ... Calling all flying cars: Copies of the new J.K. Rowling novel, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, arrive at all three Pendragon and Pegasus locations this evening. The party begins shortly before the witching hour with owl cookies, punch, drawings, and goodie bags. Every copy of the book bought nets a $5 gift certificate (Fri., 11 p.m.). ... Dress as your fave Rowling character for Spellbinding Tales' costume contest -- part of the party, which includes free temporary lightning-bolt tattoos, a wizard, and live readings from HPATHBP (Fri., 11 p.m.). ... Prepayment is required to attend the HPATHBP midnight release party at Bookshop Benicia. Call 707-747-5155 for details (Sat., 12 a.m.). ... Capes and wands are welcome in the Elmwood as Mrs. Dalloway's launches HPATHBP with a costume party (Sat., 12:01 a.m.). ... Long-ago murders on an island off the coast of Maine haunt the heroine of Anita Shreve's novel Weight of Water. Discuss it with the Crockett Book Club, which meets one Saturday afternoon every month at Crockett Library (Sat., 2 p.m.). ... Straight outta Tehama, two-time Pushcart nominee Patricia Wellingham-Jones reads with Midlife Muse author Ellaraine Lockie, followed by an open mic, at Primo Poets in Walnut Creek (100 N. Wiget Ln.) (Sun., 3 p.m.). ... Playwright Kevin Killian, poet Peter Gizzi, and rogue scholar Ray Davis read at Moe's (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus
Jogo de MLK
The jogo de capoeira, or game of capoeira, was first developed in the 19th century in Brazil by escaped West African slaves who formed communities in the jungle known as quilombos. After resisting for approximately 75 years, the quilombos were eventually overcome and the slaves recaptured. Yet they brought their unique form of martial arts with them. In time, the art became urbanized and merged with dance forms, and briefly split into two distinct styles (Rio and Bahia) before being unified under the direction of Mestre Bimba, the father of modern capoeira. Today, capoeira is one of the fastest-growing movement arts in the world, and has been hailed as a seminal influence on breaking and other street dance forms. This Saturday marks the beginning of a free seven-class series for beginning adults taught by Yogi Hendlin, and happening Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. in Berkeley's MLK Park. Be there or be inflexible. Call 510-472-2948 for more info. -- Eric K. Arnold
They've Got Persuasion
Santana? No, Santero.
Imagine a contemporary urban version of Santana, minus the endlessly arpeggioing guitar and with the addition of a turntablist, and you have something similar to Santero. This SF Mission District outfit has what it takes to generate some buzz, with a powerhouse lineup that includes vocalists Erick Santero, Scheherazade Stone, Liliana Herrera, and Rafael Herrera, percussionist Michael Spiro, guitar/tres player Camilo Landau, and DJ Mr. E. Santero sounds both super and natural on its debut album, Arawaks and Maroons, which fuses Latin, Caribbean, and American rhythms into a tasty stew of groove. Let's just hope they never collaborate with Rob Thomas. Santero's record release party happens 9 p.m. Friday at La Peña. Visit www.lapena.org for more info. -- Eric K. Arnold
Culture Spy - February 23, 2:42 PM
What the Fork - February 23, 2:12 PM
Culture Spy - February 19, 1:45 PM
What the Fork - February 15, 2:00 PM
Culture Spy - February 15, 10:30 AM