Critic's Choice for the week of January 25-31, 2006 

Jazz odysseys, classical dilemmas, and girls who just wanna have fun.


With the demise of Ace of Spades (Mama Buzz Cafe's monthly indie rock showcase), perhaps you're suffering from a dearth of svelte, brooding guitar players with droopy eyes and greasy clumps of hair. Fear not -- these guys still exist in the East Bay. Check out three prodigiously talented indie-folk outfits at Berkeley's Starry Plough Saturday night, featuring former Ace of Spades stalwart Mandrake, plus Lemon Lime Lights and Black Bird Stitches. $6, 9 p.m. (Rachel Swan)


You can call him Raphael Saadiq, or you can call him Ray Ray. Just don't call his music "neo-soul" -- he prefers his own term, gospeldelic. In any case, there's no denying Saadiq is one of the most talented soulmen of our generation: a multi-instrumentalist, singer-songwriter, arranger, producer, and natty dresser. His 2004 album Ray Ray is still clocking spins, mainly because it's miles and miles ahead of the tired, overly predictable, and puerile pap that passes for mainstream R&B these days. A founding member of Tony Toni Tone, Saadiq has also worked with such notables as D'Angelo, Lucy Pearl, and Mary J. Blige, to name a few. Live, he's the Real Deal, and this weekend, he plays Saturday at Sweets Ballroom in Oakland and Sunday at Mezzanine in SF , so there's really no excuse not to catch at least one of these shows. $30, 9 p.m. each night. (Eric K. Arnold)


A founding member of the reggae supergroup Black Uhuru, Don Carlos has helped keep the torch of brotherhood, equality, and social responsibility burning brightly with his impassioned lyrics and the soul-scorching voice that expresses them. His charismatic stage presence, aching high tenor, and fierce dedication to his craft make him one of Jah music's most compelling performers; his Berkeley gigs are usually sold-out affairs, so get tickets early for Friday night's show at Ashkenaz. $18-$20, 10 p.m. 510-525-5054 or (j. poet)


Nels Cline was a monstrously innovative electric guitarist on the cutting edge of jazz and rock long before he met the masses as a member of Wilco. Sandwiched between two weeks of McCoy Tyner at Yoshi's, Monday night finds Cline exploring jazz pianist Andrew Hill's compositions with an impressive group featuring drummer Scott Amendola, electric accordionist Andrea Parkins, clarinetist Ben Goldberg, trumpeter Bobby Bradford, and bassist Devin Hoff. 8 ($12) and 10 p.m. ($6). 510-238-9200 or (Larry Kelp)


If your primary interaction with bitter chick rock is that Yeastie Girlz seven-inch you bought from Lookout! back in 1997 -- or the soundtrack to Jackie Strano's campy porno flick Sugar High Glitter City -- you might be surprised to find out that Bay Area riot grrrls are actually a bunch of sophisticates. Wanna see for yourself? Check out the female-fronted-rock showcase at El Rio Saturday night, starring Strano along with Lisa Dewey and the Lotus Life, Coal Pitts Wash, and Bonfire Madigan cohort Shelley Doty. Bring your speculum and a few verses of Rilke. $7, 8:30 p.m. (R.S.)


Okay, I'm torn. On the one hand, the prodigiously gifted Jerry Kuderna's performance of Elliot Carter's Piano Concerto with the Berkeley Symphony in Zellerbach Hall Saturday night ($23-$54, 8 p.m., 510-841-2800) is not to be missed, but neither is Sunday's Cal Performances Composer Portrait of Finnish magnate Magnus Lindberg, led by the rising stars of the International Contemporary Ensemble in Berkeley's Hertz Hall. ($32, 3 p.m., 510-642-9988). Go to both, then. (Jason Victor Serinus)


Barring the presence of designer drugs -- really good designer drugs -- most house and trance events pale in comparison to SF's annual Love Parade, a three-day festival starring all the best DJs in the world. If you want to get a feel for the what awaits you at next year's extravaganza -- dizzying light shows, propulsive trance beats, studio effects that ram you in the solar plexus -- come to SomArts Gallery Friday night for Giving Back the Love, an all-star DJ showcase to benefit both SomArts and Love Parade 2006. With three dance areas and dozens of DJs including Aaron Jae and St. John, this event will definitely be one huge swirl of sensations. Still, it's only the tip of the iceberg. $14, 8 p.m. (R.S.)


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