Critic's Choice for the week of December 15-21, 2004 

Our writers tell you what's hot this week.

EIGHT-STRING JAZZ

Charlie Hunter is a big boy now, and having shed the intimate trappings of the Bay Area music scene after paying hella dues, he has established himself as a fixture on the New York jazz scene as well. He looks and sounds none the worse for wear, though -- his latest ropeadope release, Friends Seen and Unseen, has been hailed as one of the finest records of his career, which is saying something. Namely, it's saying that the master of the eight-string axe (which allows him to play simultaneous guitar and basslines, and even evoke a B-3 on occasion) is getting better and more fluid at his craft. He'll be playing two shows a night Wednesday through Sunday (including an afternoon matinee that day). If the shows sound anything the last time Hunter played Oakland (a full year ago) they'll be the stuff of legend. 8 and 10 p.m. every night except Sunday, which is 2 and 8 p.m. $5-$22. Yoshis.com (Eric K. Arnold)

CHRISTMAS

Holy flashbacks: Not only is Andy Williams alive, he has a touring Christmas show. What better way to get yourself in the holiday spirit than to watch your favorite Christmas television special replayed before your eyes in living color? Expect nothing but the classics at Masonic Auditorium Thursday night: "It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year," "I'll Be Home for Christmas," "The Christmas Song," and more. Fun for all ages! 8 p.m., $49.50-$59.50. 415-776-4702. (Michael Gowan)

HOLIDAY HEP

Dyin' for some Christmas jazz? Vince Guaraldi (RIP) not quite doin' it for ya? Fortunately, Yoshi's is always there to oblige, offering a Tuesday night holiday hoedown with SF tenor sax maestro Anton Schwartz and his quintet, whooping it up with tunes from his new disc Holiday Time, gussying up old standbys like "Jingle Bells," "Winter Wonderland," and "Sleigh Ride." We'll bet you $20 someone in the band rocks a Santa hat. 8 ($15) and 10 p.m. ($10). Yoshis.com (Rob Harvilla)

OLD-SCHOOL R&B

The Johnny Otis Living Tribute Band plays the great dance, blues, and R&B standards of the titular maestro, whose career stretches from the big bands of the '40s to jump and R&B and on to rock, soul, gospel, and beyond. Otis also teaches Ashkenaz' long-running Monday night Vista College Roots Music Class; like the class, the band explores an encyclopedic rainbow of styles. Bring your dancing shoes. Sunday at 8 p.m. at Berkeley's Ashkenaz. $10-$12. Ashkenaz.com (j. poet)

EARLY MUSIC

Warren Stewart's superb Magnificat re-creates a Venetian Christmas celebration of 1638 this Saturday night in Berkeley's First Congregational Church. With an ensemble that includes Early Music America competition finalist soprano Jennifer Ellis and former Chanticleerian bass Tim Krol plus some of our finest baroque players, the concert explores the music of Giovanni Rovetta. Overshadowed in his lifetime by Monteverdi, Rovetta's oeuvre is complemented by works from his colleagues Massimiliano Neri and Pier Francesco Cavalli. $10-$25, 8 p.m., 510-528-1725. (Jason Victor Serinus)

SINGER-SONGWRITER

Bay Area favorite Vienna Teng brings her piano, unique songwriting style, and compelling vocals back to town for two Bay Bridge-spanning soirees to celebrate her second album, Warm Strangers. Wednesday, December 29, she'll perform solo at Berkeley's Freight & Salvage (8 p.m., $17.50-$18.50); for her San Francisco date this Thursday at the Independent (8 p.m., $13-$15), she'll even throw in a full band, bringing added color to her finely wrought tales of life's ordinary ups and downs. TheFreight.org and TheIndependentSF.com (j. poet)

CONSCIOUS AND RETRO

Two of the Bay Area's best-kept secrets combine forces this weekend for a show that promises to be all that and a bag of Funyuns. Since arriving from Cleveland a couple of years ago, Jahi has proved himself the heir apparent to the local legacy of conscious rap, and his stage show (featuring his band, the Life) has upstaged more than a few national headliners he's opened for. Opening up for him is Oakland's latest soul sensation, Baby Jaymes, the new-school cat with the old-school work ethic, whose debut Ghetto Retro is doper than a pillow sack o' dank and equally on hit. Don't take our word for it: See for yourself Saturday night at the Shattuck Down Low. $7. 510-548-1159 or ShattuckDownLow.com (E.K.A.)

CAJUN

It'll be a hot time in the old town for two nights as Louisiana Cajun music's only all-woman band, the Magnolia Sisters, visits Berkeley this weekend. Their third CD, Après Faire le Boogie Woogie, is filled with hot vocal harmonies over driving two-steps and waltzes. The Magnolias play a dance Saturday at 9:30 p.m. ($15, with an 8:30 p.m. Cajun dance lesson) at Ashkenaz, and a sit-down concert at the Freight & Salvage Sunday (8 p.m., $15.50-$16.50). Both halls are all-ages. Ashkenaz.com and TheFreight.org (Larry Kelp)

SKA-FUNK-PUNK

Were there a Grammy category for what Fishbone does, the band would easily dominate it. A true legendary band still fronted by the talented Angelo Moore, the 'Bone carved out its own unique niche (and then some) after emerging from the LA underground in the mid-'80s. Since then, the crew has been known to devastate large concert venues and auditoriums on a regular basis, so just imagine all the pandemonium Fishbone can unleash in the relatively intimate environs of Blake's basement stage on Friday. Expect to be blissfully catapulted out of your mundane existence with loud riffs, funky melodies, crazy attitude, and, for a change of pace, Moore's occasional spoken-word soliloquies. 9:30 p.m. $15-$18. BlakesonTelegraph.com (E.K.A.)

FOLK

Young singer-songwriter Rachel Garlin is an absentee Berkeley resident ever since she began touring as a respite from teaching. Now life is mostly on the road and not in the classroom, but she's back home at the Freight & Salvage on Saturday with a band to celebrate the release of her third CD, Big Blue Sky, recorded live at the Freight last summer. Along with her own slice-of-life songs, she's joined by pianist-accordionist Julie Wolf, guitarist Lisa Zeiler (of Rebecca Riots), bassist Jon Evans, and mandolinist Avril Smith. 8 p.m., $17.50-$18.50. TheFreight.org (L.K.)

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