This Week's Day-by-Day Picks 


Tired of beating Aunt Millie at chess? Ready to step up your game to the next level? The East Bay Chess Club reopens its doors tonight for the fall tournament season at 7:30 for three rounds of "action chess" (thirty-minute time limit strictly enforced) -- in preparation for September 24's upcoming US Chess Federation-rated four-round tournament. Now is the time to nail that queen's-pawn opening or refine your castling skills. 1940 Virginia St. in Berkeley; $5 for nonmembers. Get your checkmate on at -- Eric K. Arnold


Larry Ochs, Fred Frith, and Scott Amendola are all accomplished, acclaimed instrumentalists in their own right, so the combination of the three is both exciting and a little scary. Saxophonist Ochs has recorded more than thirty albums since 1978, and is known as both a perfectionist and a fearless improvisationalist. The same could easily be said of Frith, one of the more notable experimental guitarists, who has played with John Zorn, Bill Laswell, and Brian Eno. The youngest member of this trinity, drummer Amendola, first came to prominence in the Charlie Hunter Trio and has since worked with Madeleine Peyroux and Nels Cline. You can expect to hear a lot of left-of-center riffs, melodies, and harmonies from this avant-garde supergroup, which plays tonight at 8 p.m. at 21 Grand. $7-$10; -- Eric K. Arnold


The Fall of Otrar is an odd kind of epic by American multiplex standards. Made in the former Central Asian Soviet republic of Kazakhstan by filmmaker Ardak Amirkulov, it presents a strange, harsh landscape inhabited by fierce people doing awful things -- in this case, the brutality of Genghis Khan's campaign against the city of Otrar in the 13th century. Amirkulov antiqued the black-and-white film stock (he uses color in some scenes), making the already eerie scenes of conquest seem even more fantastic on the wide screen. No CGI on the crowd shots, either, and the cruelty of the Mongols -- as when a character gets an iron mask burned onto his face -- is sure to thrill bloodthirsty audiences. The movie is part of Along the Silk Route, a wonderful series of mostly historical films from the "Stans" of Central Asia, at the Pacific Film Archive through September 30. Showtime is 7:30 tonight at 2575 Bancroft Way on the UCB campus. -- Kelly Vance

SAT 10

One of the most clearly defined links between the African-American and African musical traditions is the blues -- just ask Ali Farka Touré, Taj Mahal, or Keb' Mo. Or check out the collaboration between Malian kora virtuoso Mamadou Diabate and Wyoming-born finger-style guitarist Walter Strauss. Diabate, the son of renowned kora player Djelimory Diabate, has updated the legacy of Malian jelis (griots), playing with everyone from Randy Weston to Thomas Mapfumo to Susan McKeown. Strauss, meanwhile, has attained proficiency with various guitar styles, from Americana to classical, and has toured extensively with the Burns Sisters Band. Both have new albums to plug -- Diabate's Behmanka and Strauss' Pulling Shadows -- and following Friday's concert at Ashkenaz, they'll be sitting down for a free in-store at El Cerrito's Down Home Music (10341 San Pablo Ave.) today at 2 p.m. Info: 510-525-2129, -- Eric K. Arnold

SUN 11

What would you expect to find at today's Polish Picnic at Concord Community Park? For starters, maybe zurek (sour rye soup) or chlodnik (a soup of cold beets and vegetables in sour milk) and appetizers of surówka (a salad of cabbage, carrots, leeks, and apples) or losos wedzony (smoked salmon), followed by pieczen (pork loin meat loaf), golabki (cabbage rolls), szczupak po Polski (pike Polish style), or the familiar pierogi dumplings. But leave some room for some szarlotka (apple cakes), sernik (cheesecake), and makowiec (poppyseed rolls). It's the very definition of stick-to-your-ribs cooking, and you'll find it, along with outdoor games, a lottery, and children 's activities, at the annual piknik jesienny -- preceded by an outdoor Roman Catholic mass in Polish (10 a.m.), at the park, 3600 Cowell Rd., Concord (Treat Blvd. exit). Phone the East Bay Polish American Association at 925-229-9197 for more info. -- Kelly Vance

MON 12

Just arrived from Bahia, Isaura Oliveira is a master-level dancer and choreographer specializing in Afro-Brazilian cultural movement arts as well as a certified yoga instructor. Every Monday, beginning today, she'll be sharing her extensive repertoire of South American dance arts (including orixa, samba, Afro-Brazilian, and Bloco Africa) with the East Bay in her new dance class at the Malonga Casquelourd Center for the Arts, sponsored by Dimensions Dance Theater. Wear loose, comfortable clothing and be prepared to feed your body and soul with axé, while learning all about Brazilian culture. $12 for a single class; ten- and fifteen-class packages also available. Info: 510-316-3224. -- Eric K. Arnold

TUE 13

They play straight-ahead modern jazz, the sort of hard-edged urban music that's hard to find these days -- except in coastal enclaves in the United States and, of course, in Europe. Which is probably one reason Carla Bley and her band The Lost Chords recorded their self-titled CD on a 2003 concert tour that took them from Cork and Belfast to La Rochelle, Rüsselsheim, Poznan, Cracow, and points east. Bley, the Oakland native pianist and composer who carved a major niche on the outer fringes of art-jazz alongside Ornette Coleman and her own Jazz Composers Orchestra, never sacrificed a certain swing. The new CD, on the WATT/ECM label, reimagines "Three Blind Mice" as a pithy blues behind the playing of saxman Andy Sheppard, drummer Billy Drummond, and bassist Steve Swallow. Bley returns to O-town with the Lost Chords this evening at Yoshi's, 8 ($18) and 10 p.m. ($10). 510 Embarcadero West, 510-238-9200, -- Kelly Vance


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