Critic's Choice for the week of July 30-August 5, 2003 

A warbly fire hose, Afro-Euro soul, a pianist named Forward, and a phoenix of a cinematic pop duo, among other acts.


Victoria Williams wields her voice like an exuberant, out-of-control fire hose, spraying warbly vowels with wobbly consonants and approaching the right notes like you approach the speed limit: Ahhh, close enough. But even if this roots-rock goddess drives you batty, her latest, Victoria Williams Sings Some Ol' Songs, will utterly charm and bewilder you -- Whitney Houston can sing "Over the Rainbow" with greater accuracy, but she can't even touch Williams' sheer childlike joy. Catch Victoria (not Whitney) with her husband Mark Olson (not Bobby Brown) Friday at SF's Great American Music Hall (415-478-2277) and Saturday at Berkeley's Starry Plough. 510-841-2082. (Rob Harvilla)


French chanteuses Les Nubians have been called everything from an international neo-soul act to nouveau Afro-jazzsters to a big-beat-loving worldbeat band. Yet none of those descriptions pin down the wide-ranging and constantly evolving sound of sisters Helene and Celia Faussart. Their debut album, Princesses Nubiennes, with its Sade covers and Roots remixes, added a jazzy, Afro-Euro texture to soul and R&B. But rather than play it safe, the sisters took risky excursions into Cuban and Brazilian claves and reggae riddims on their recent sophomore effort, One Step Forward. Their jazzy soul foundation is still there, but the sound has broadened to reflect the African Diaspora, connecting Paris, Dakar, and Bahia under a groove. Appearing with Zap Mama ("Rafiki") and Schoolz of Thought Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday at Bimbo's. 415-474-0365. (Eric K. Arnold)


Now in its fourth year, the California Music Festival brings together professional and student instrumentalists and vocalists from Juilliard, Manhattan School of Music, San Francisco Conservatory, and international institutions for two weeks of performances. From tonight through August 8 in Berkeley's Julia Morgan Center, and August 9-10 in Walnut Creek's Grace Presbyterian and St. Paul's Episcopal churches, a remarkable lineup of low-priced concerts, with a special focus on Mendelssohn, promises new discoveries and ample rewards. 925-798-1300 or (Jason Victor Serinus)


Mbira (thumb piano) virtuoso Forward Kwenda learned his instrument by participating in the spirit-honoring ceremonies of the Shona people in his native Zimbabwe. Since leaving his native land he's become one of the best-known mbira players, and composers, in the world music community. He will be joined by his musical partner Erica Azim Sunday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley. 510-548-1761. (j. poet)


Ethereal indie rockers often fear capital letters. Take, for example, (the) caseworker, an SF-based cinematic pop duo risen from the ashes of Half Film. Yes, the capital letter ban (extending to the group's debut CD, these weeks should be remembered) and the bizarre parenthetical (the) point to a slight pretentiousness, but remembered is a literate, shimmering little brainy rock record for your sleepy Saturday morning plant-watering spree. At Bottom of the Hill Wednesday night. 415-621-4455. (R.H.)


Forty bands in almost as many venues -- and that's just opening night. The North Beach Jazz Fest promises to be quite a spectacle for jazzbeaux and jazzbelles alike. It all starts with Wednesday's über-pub crawl, Jazz on Grant, beginning at Grant and Columbus at 8 p.m. or so. Thursday night offers up Cuban rhythms courtesy of Jesus Diaz at the venerable St. Francis of Assisi Church. There are two Friday showcases to choose from: an Elbo Room session, called the New Masters Showcase, with the Sam Kinninger Band and DJ Zeph; and the Jazz Forward DJ Party at the Velvet Lounge with Tom Thump and friends. Saturday's events kick off with A Taste of New Orleans at noon in Washington Square Park, followed by a JazzFunk Throwdown later that night at the Great American Music Hall. If you're still functioning by Sunday, head back to Washington Square for Boogaloo in the Park, featuring a special set by the Masters of Groove (Reuben Wilson, Bernard Purdie, and Grant Green, Jr.). (E.K.A.)


B.B. King is blues royalty, without a doubt: He even has a summer concert tour named after himself. The 76-year-old's guitar may not ring as true as it once did, but his voice is as clear as ever. And, damn, can he sing the blues. He's not afraid to experiment, either. The tour this year includes rock legend Jeff Beck, along with jam bands Galactic and Mofro. Word is they'll all share the stage at show's end: That may be worth the ticket price itself. The B.B. King Music Festival lands at the Chronicle Pavilion in Concord Friday night. 925-363-5701. (Michael Gowan)


Doyle Bramhall isn't a prolific artist, but his work is worth the wait. He's put out two albums in ten years, both classic blues-rock compendiums. His recent release, Fitchburg Street, is a musical walk down memory lane, with takes on classic blues and rock from the '60s. One listen and you'll hear how much influence the Texas drummer and singer had on his buddy Stevie Ray Vaughan. Bramhall's blues-rock boogie is part of the Sonoma County Fair Blues Festival in Santa Rosa on Saturday. The show is free with $7 admission to the fair. 707-545-4200. (M.G.)


Louisiana's Savoy-Doucet Cajun Band is the world's best at what it Does: singing and playing the classic Cajun waltzes and two-steps, along with its own tunes in the tradition. With fiddler Michael Doucet (whose other band, Beausoleil, is much more electric and eclectic), singer-guitarist Ann Savoy, and her accordionist husband Marc Savoy, the three have devoted their lives to spreading the irresistible Cajun music and culture, this time around in two Berkeley concerts, one for listening (Friday at Freight & Salvage, 510-548-1761), and one for dancing (Saturday at Ashkenaz, 510-525-5054). (Larry Kelp)


Legendary saxman Pharoah Sanders helped create the avant-garde jazz movement of the '60s. He also pioneered the use of African and other world music rhythms -- that soul-searing power and spiritual intensity remains formidable. With William Henderson on piano, Dwight Tribble on vocals, Alex Blake on bass, and Joe Farnsworth on drums. Tuesday through Sunday, with a special kids' matinee Sunday afternoon at Yoshi's at Jack London Square, Oakland, 510-238-9200. (j.p.)


The Libertines are coming; their frontman, Peter Doherty, is not. Hailed as "the British Strokes" after releasing the carefully tousled Up the Bracket in March, the band's ridden a towering wave of big-shot hype since, but these days, as an official band statement puts it, "Peter is unwell and the band are very concerned for his wellbeing -- they have told him out of concern for his health that he needs to get better before he can rejoin them." So, for a band that aspires to Clash-style grandiosity and eclecticism, they've just temporarily lost their Joe Strummer. No matter: The show goes on Sunday at Slim's. Go cheer 'em on. 415-255-0333. (R.H.)


Insight is a talented band from Hartford mostly comprising teens who perform Afro-Caribbean jazz. The group rose out of saxophonists Jackie McLean's Artist Collective, a cultural center in one of the most deprived areas of the city. The San Francisco-based Latin Jazz Youth Ensemble is directed by noted flutist and arranger John Calloway, and has been impressing audiences around Northern California for the last three years. This unique pairing at La Peña Cultural Center in Berkeley this Sunday is a great way to witness the future of Latin jazz. 510-849-2568. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


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