Cigar Music 

Valle Son plays deep Cuban

FRI 8/15

Be prepared for a deep night of Cuban music at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley. Valle Son's rich, layered sound suggests the atmosphere of the musicians' home -- a moist, green valley between the mountains and the sea. The seven members of this high-energy band live in the town of Viñales in the tobacco-growing province of Pinar del Rio, Cuba. Although Valle Son began playing almost a decade ago, this is the band's first US tour. Jesus "Papito" Hernandez Sanchez, guitarist and English-speaking spokesperson, says the band was created out of the cultural movement in Viñales. Albiza Leon, the bassoon player, taught music at Casa de Cultura, a community center and performance venue. Papito was an English teacher. Rivera Duenos, the lead singer, also worked at Casa de Cultura. Papito's brother Livan, the saxophone player, was studying music. They now all perform full-time. Valle Son follows the style of the old son players. "We think these people are the fathers of the son music," Papito says. "But we are able to play salsa, mambo, cha-cha-cha, and Latin jazz." On their CD, Son de Cuba (Caribou) they play almost every Cuban rhythm imaginable -- six cuts from bygone Cuban popular music, six originals. It's a unique sound, mixing the low notes of the bassoon with the higher notes of the saxophone. "We can never forget the sounds that the old son players bring to us," he declares. "We listen, and later we create something new. We also use some elements of American jazz."

Valle Son arrives in Berkeley at the end of a Canadian tour that included a festival on Vancouver Island and performances in British Columbia and Alberta. The response, says Papito, was tremendous: "In Alberta people said they had never before heard music like this." Valle Son performs Friday, August 15, 8 p.m., at La Peña Cultural Center, 3105 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley, 510-849-2568 or Tickets are $16 advance, $18 at the door. -- Natasha Nargis


Lit Happens

Bookstore events

8/14: Are they out there or what? Nuclear physicist Stanton T. Friedman (aka "the Father of Roswell") says heck yes, and that the government has known all about them ever since Truman was on top. Friedman will read from his latest work of UFOlogia, Top Secret/MAJIC, at Barnes & Noble Berkeley . ... 8/14: It sounds like a very un-PC party joke, but ex-New Yorker writer Ved Mehta hired an architect to build him a beautiful house on a rugged island, then stocked it with stunning modern art -- and he's blind. Dark Harbor, from which Mehta will read at Black Oak Books , recaptures life in that not-quite-dream house. ... 8/14: Who could have enough insight to carry off credibly a romantic novel about an ex-monk who works at McDonald's and falls for his San Francisco landlady? Ex-monk Tim Farrington , who now by his own account savors cheeseburgers and beer in his new life out of the cloth; he'll read from The Monk Downstairs at Lafayette Books . ... 8/15: Albany's prolific Elisa Kleven , author/illustrator of The Paper Princess, hosts a hands-on collage-a-thon at Laurel Books in Montclair. ... 8/16: Hey, you who insert catheters and extract bullets -- it's payback time. Health-Care Appreciation Weekend at Borders Emeryville means a 20 percent discount for health-care workers on almost everything in the store, nurse romances included. ... 8/17: Virtual duelists armed with cards, not swords, gather to play Yu-Gi-Oh! -- based on a Japanese comic strip and arguably the world's most popular game -- all day every Sunday at San Leandro's A World of Books . ... 8/19: When Carl Sagan's son Nick Sagan was six years old, his recorded voice penetrated the heavens on the Voyager I space probe, saying "Greetings from the children of Earth." Now a Hollywood screenwriter, Sagan will read from his new novel Idlewild at Dark Carnival . It starts with an amnesiac and -- I forgot. ... Near UC Berkeley's Northgate, what was once called Collected Thoughts Bookshop is now S ignal Books , with a focus on art, design, film, and graphic novels: "underserved areas of bookselling in the otherwise well-served East Bay," says new owner Carson Hall . -- Anneli Rufus

SUN 8/17

Combo Platter

Three Bay Area acts, and not a dud among 'em at the Ramp (2236 Parker St., Berkeley, in the basement of the SDA Church). Tonight serves as one of three belated CD release parties (the other two were in SF) for Oaklandazulasylum by Why? Part of cLOUDEAD and the Anticon family-at-large, Why? accomplishes a great feat on Oaklandazulasylum -- snuggling up bedroom pop in samples and electronic glitches without coming off as cold or ironic. Helping him cook this delicious musical feast will be Thom Moore (of the Moore Bros.) and Nedelle, and Crime in Choir. Both Nedelle and the Moore Brothers released gorgeous records this year, the former a seductive, gospel-tinged slice of jazz-pop, the latter a sunny study in brotherly harmony. And the excellent Ink 19 called Crime in Choir's sound "math-rock for TV cop shows, charged and forward-moving soundtracks to some labyrinthine chase scene." Show starts at 7:30, cover's $6. All ages. -- Stefanie Kalem

FRI 8/15

Seattle Downs

Indie rock's finest at the Stork

Since leaving Silkworm in 1996, Joel Phelps has distilled his songwriting and singing skills into formidable weaponry, trained squarely on the indie-rock heart. Joel R.L. Phelps and the Downer Trio, playing tonight at the Stork Club (2330 Telegraph Ave., Oakland) comprises Phelps, drummer Bill Herzog (Neko Case and Her Boyfriends), and bassist/guitarist Robert Mercer (right), laying down soulful, skewed tales of heartbreak and hope, portraying the two as naturally companionable as fire and cigarettes. They shift with grace from what can only be called classic alt-rock (think Hüsker Dü), to Yo La Tengo-style slow burns, then on to cinematic country strummers, all done up in the kind of expressive guitar power that frequently -- rightfully -- incites comparisons to Crazy Horse. Openers Treasure State, led by Mercer, are rooted in simpler, gentler indie-pop, and Mines, the final band in this Seattle-based tour equation, offer the musical equivalent of a shy, sexy guy afflicted by occasional bouts of Saint Vitus' dance. 9:30 p.m., $5, and there's one more act TBA. 510-444-6174. -- Stefanie Kalem


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