Critic's Choice for the week of April 30-May 5, 2003 

Raza rock for Cinco de Mayo, the California Symphony's season finale, a wake-up jazz call at Yoshi's, Russian Gypsy music at Ashkenaz, and more.


La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley offers two nights of salsa and Raza rock to celebrate Cinco de Mayo. Friday's "Tribute to Benny Velarde" should be a gas, with alumni Roger Glenn (flute/vibes), Joe Ellis (trumpet), and Willie Colon (congas) returning to honor the pioneer Latino bandleader. Saturday, up from Los Angeles is the excellent Chicano rock band Quetzal, whose album Sing the Real (Vanguard) is up for a California Music Award in the Best Latin Album category. 510-849-2568. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


Tlen-Huicani was recently named Best Folk Music Group by Mexico's Union of Music and Theater Critics. The quintet, led by traditional harp player Alberto de la Rosa Sanchez, plays traditional dance music from Mexico, Paraguay, Chile, and Venezuela, while their powerful vocalizing puts the icing on this tasty traditional cake. Thursday at Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)


California Symphony's season finale at Walnut Creek's Dean Lesher Regional Center for the Arts spotlights Stanislav Ioudenitch, gold medal winner of the 2001 Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, playing Beethoven's great Piano Concerto No. 2. Also featured on Sunday and Tuesday night's program are Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade and the premiere of a work by Kevin Beavers, the Symphony's new Young American Composer-in-Residence. 925-943-7469. (Jason Serinus)


One of Berkeley's most vital and inspiring musicians and teachers, pianist Ellen Hoffman steps away from her usual roles leading large groups and offers an evening of solo piano in jazz, classical, pop, and show tune excursions Sunday at Freight & Salvage. She is joined by jazz singer Anna DeLeon and reedsman Melecio Magdaluyo. Hoffman is cofounder of Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir, Oakland Jazz Choir, and the current Berkeley Broadway Singers. 510-548-1761. (Larry Kelp)

In jazz, any artist under the age of 45 or so is generally considered a young lion. But alto saxman Kenny Garrett deserves the epithet. He's played with Miles Davis and Guru's Jazzmatazz, among others, and comes to Yoshi's for a block of shows fresh off his triumphant Zellerbach Auditorium collaboration with Roy Haynes, Birds of a Feather, a tribute to the one and only Charlie Parker. Garrett's latest album, Standard of Language, takes an aggressive approach to contemporary jazz, as the saxophonist peels off blistering solo after blistering solo, attacking the grooves, rather than laying back in the cut. It's the wake-up call jazz needed. 510-238-9200. (Eric K. Arnold)


Les Yeux Noirs -- named after a Russian Gypsy tune made famous by Django Reinhardt -- was founded by fiddling brothers Eric and Olivier Slabiak to explore the connections between Jews and Gypsies, the Old World and the New. The band bounces easily from klezmer to Hungarian Gypsy music and jazz while nestling on a bed of subtle electronic samples. Sunday at Ashkenaz in Berkeley. 510-525-5054. (j. poet)


Drummer and bandleader Babatunde Lea is fast becoming one of the shining stars of the Bay Area jazz scene. Lea's new album, Soul Pools, explores the common roots between traditional jazz and its African percussion-based heritage. The album, released on SF's jazz/worldbeat indie label Motema Music, includes a second live disc recorded at Rassela's, which offers a taste of what to expect from Lea's quartet (who appear at the venue for a three-night stand, starting Thursday): supreme musicianship, expert grooveability, and an often transcendent rhythmic feel. 415-346-8099. (E.A.)


Ever since Bob Marley's death in 1981, traditional roots reggae has been in a downturn -- especially with the rise of dancehall, a much more urban-identified, contemporary form of the genre, which is to roots as rap is to jazz and soul. There are very few Jamaican roots groups left who still play reggae the way Marley and the Wailers did, and even fewer who do it like Morgan Heritage. The band, which consists of the sons and daughters of legendary Jamaican singer Denroy Morgan, has kept the roots tradition alive while still managing to be modern. Their brand-new album, Three in One, features guest appearances from dancehall Rastas Junior Kelly and Anthony B, and showcases both MH's live band sound (as opposed to prerecorded riddims) and their knack for conscious messages. They play Sunday at Slim's in a show sure to make you turn red, gold, and green with positive vibes. 415-522-0333. (E.A.)


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