Critic's Choice for the week of April 28-May 4, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

WORLD

Zimbabwe's best-known pop star and political activist, singer-songwriter Thomas Mapfumo, returns to town for another evening of incendiary music-making and hypnotic grooves with his dynamic Blacks Unlimited band. Mapfumo's music mixes the acoustic sound of the mbira (Zimbabwean thumb piano) with electric guitars and a blazing horn section to produce a spirited call for worldwide peace and social justice. 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. $18. 510-525-5054. (j. poet)

BEATBOXERS

The cleverly named and creatively overloaded Vowel Movement, a burgeoning monthly beatboxer forum currently holding it down at SF's Studio Z, has seen fit to slink across the Bay Bridge once again, infiltrating Ashkenaz Friday night with beatboxer and flute maestro Tim Barsky, indie hip-hop badasses Infinite and Soulati of Felonious, and mind-blowing "live-looper" Kid Beyond (trust us). Live music don't get much more innovative, folks. $10-$12, 8:30 p.m. 510-525-5054. (Rob Harvilla)

BLUEGRASS

In addition to a regular Sea Shanty night, McGrath's Pub in Alameda offers weekly bluegrass shows and jam sessions. Monday, the club welcomes Charlottesville, Virginia's King Wilkie, a preternaturally talented sextet with harmonies and ensemble playing that reach well beyond the players' years (average age: 24). Expect a set list mixing old soul originals with dazzling covers. $5, 8 p.m. 510-522-6263. (Eli Messinger)

ACCORDION MADNESS

El Cerrito's Down Home Music store is hosting a free two-day festival of accordion music, Squeeze Box Social, with three acts each Saturday and Sunday starting at 2 p.m. The store has long championed world music, and its associated label, Arhoolie Records, put such accordion-driven styles as Cajun, zydeco, and Tex-Mex norteño on the musical map in this country. On Saturday the Creole Belles play Louisiana's Cajun zydeco music. Familia Peña-Govea features teen phenom René Peña-Govea on norteño accordion. Finally, the California Klezmer Band puts the accordion into an Eastern-European Jewish context. On Sunday, Paris-born accordionist Odile Lavault's Baguette Quartette plays French cafe music of the '20s and '30s, Conjunto Romero offers Tex-Mex border music, and solo accordionist Tsvetan Mitev Chakurov demonstrates the intricacies of Bulgarian folk music. 510-525-2129. (Larry Kelp)

SALSA

The newly remodeled Club Montero's (1106 Solano Ave., Albany) reopened to weekend salsa dancing in early April. Since then, salseros have been flocking there to enjoy the Bay Area's best Latin bands. This Saturday night is no exception, as SF's Pepe y su Orquesta bring their Peruvian-style mambo to the stage. DJ Jose Ruiz spins the jam, and Joel & Sorcy (she was 1999's SF Carnival Queen) will teach you to dance. $15. 510-524-1270. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela).

AFRO-CUBAN GROOVES

Orchestra Baobab was a legend in its native Senegal long before 2002's Grammy-nominated Specialist in All Styles album introduced the group to international audiences. Baobab's intoxicating mix of Afro-pop and Afro-Cuban melodies sounded fantastic on record and even better live -- if you were lucky enough to catch its Yoshi's shows last year, you know exactly what we mean. What makes the Baobabs so good isn't just their traditional griot vocals, their fluid guitar riffs, or their stripped-down grooves, heavy on percussion -- it's the masterful way they blend all those influences into a distilled, instantly recognizable sound that evokes the lush tropical vibe of the African diaspora. They'll be showcasing their stuff on Saturday, with two performances (3 and 8 p.m.) at the Palace of Fine Arts, with the Snake Trio opening the afternoon show. Kudos to SFJAZZ for including these shows in their spring season, and recognizing the links between jazz and world music. $15 afternoon, $19-$39 evening, 415-776-1999 or SFJazz.org (Eric K. Arnold)

CLASSICAL (INFREQUENT)

The Ives Quartet, which just completed a sold-out West Coast tour with pianist Jon Nakamatsu, teams with guitarist David Tanenbaum for an enticing Friday night program entitled Latin Flair. The concert in Berkeley's St. John's Presbyterian Church spans the centuries with infrequently performed music by Turína, Boccherini, Kernis, Thomas Oboe Lee, and William Grant Still. $20 ($10 students), 8 p.m. 415-883-0727. (Jason Victor Bellecci-Serinus)

CLASSICAL (UNUSUAL)

Top-flight pianist Julie Steinberg, violinist David Abel, violist Ben Simon, and cellist Dana Putnam join forces this Sunday for a special Berkeley Crowden School Sundays at Four concert. The unusual program includes Mozart's G Minor Piano Quartet, Pärt's Fratres, and Martinu's Three Madrigals for violin and viola. $12, eighteen and under free; 4 p.m. 510-559-6910. (J.V.B-S)

FISH

"Community response has been fantastic, and we are proud to be a part of Downtown Oakland's revitalization," says trumpeter Kahlil Shaheed, who packed Historic Sweet's Ballroom in Oakland last month for the first Friday Night Fish Fry with the Big Belly Blues Band and Mingus Amungus. The second of the monthly series continues with (once again) the BBBB and special guests the West African Highlife Band. And yes, there'll also be plenty of crispy fish and seafood. 510-526-4546. $10. (J.C.V.)

JAZZ

A certain other jazz trumpeter may get all the attention, but for those who follow jazz, Dave Douglas is the real trailblazer who regularly tops jazz polls. From earlier experiments with John Zorn's Masada to recent teamings with Bill Frisell, Douglas has taken unexpected routes through the jazz realm, mixing avant-garde surprise with melodic beauty. On his new CD, Strange Liberation -- and at Yoshi's Monday and Tuesday at 8 p.m. ($18) and 10 p.m. ($12) -- Douglas takes the traditional jazz quintet lineup and uses it in fresh ways. Joining him are pianist Uri Caine (this time on electric piano), drummer Clarence Penn, bassist James Genus, and tenor saxophonist Seamus Blake. 510-628-9200. (L.K.)

SINGER-SONGWRITER

If we had to select a King of American Troubadours, Greg Brown would probably win the crown. His music is a melodic blend of folk, blues, gospel, and country, married to lyrics that mix plainspoken Midwestern poetry with a sardonic intellectual wit. Meanwhile, his singing voice is a bemused, honeyed growl that makes his tales of everyday life sparkle. His daughter, singer-songwriter Pieta Brown, opens. Thursday and Friday at 8 p.m. at the Roda Theatre, 2014 Addison in Berkeley (presented by Freight & Salvage). $24.50-$25.50. 510-548-1761. (j.p.)

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