Critic's Choice for the week of March 19-25, 2003 

Latin jazz that simmers, a Kennedy with an Identity Crisis, the Marlene Dietrich of salsa, punk as a second language, imperfect perfections, the stars of tomorrow today, and more.


Playing Latin jazz is not as easy as it seems. For starters, there's all those claves, which can confuse even the most classically-trained Juilliard student. Then there's the loosely-African-based rhythms themselves, which should be played with intensity, yet also require a considerable amount of finesse. When done right, Latin jazz doesn't boil over -- it simmers. Isla, the new record by Mark Levine and the Latin Tinge, turns up the heat without ever overcooking its grooves. Levine's piano playing reveals a heartfelt love for the music, and the rest of the band -- percussionist Michael Spiro, bass player Peter Barshay, drummer Paul van Wageningen, and vocalist Sheila Smith -- share equal aplomb for the sweeping, highly romantic feel of the form. Levine and the Tinge land at Yoshi's (510-238-9200) Monday night for a quick, but meaningful, one-night stand. (Eric K. Arnold)


Raz Kennedy may not be a household name, but he's well-known, even ubiquitous, in the Bay Area music community. Many of today's local musicians can recall getting busted by Raz for staying out past curfew during his tenure as head counselor of the legendary Cazadero Music Camp. Some may even remember Raz's brilliant live version of Hendrix's "Foxy Lady," which would have made Jimi proud. Since those halcyon days, Raz has clocked time as a founding member of the Voicestra (along with Bobby McFerrin) and toured and/or recorded with the likes of Al Jarreau, Narada Michael Walden, Kenny Loggins, Todd Rundgren, the Bobs, and more. Raz has also been the vocal coach for many more artists, including Grammy winners Los Tigres del Norte, and Counting Crows. He knows vocals, which makes the debut of his new vocal group Identity Crisis this Friday at Jazzschool (510-845-5373) a semi-official Big Deal. (E.A.)


This weekend, a rare summit of Cubana singer-songwriters happens at Brava Theater for the Arts in the SF Mission district (24th & York). Featuring Albita, the Marlene Dietrich of salsa, and Xiomara Laughart, renowned New Song singer. Bobi Cespedes, an East Bay diva who co-led Conjunto Cespedes and works with Mickey Hart, is also hosting a CD release party for her Six Degrees album Rezos. Saturday and Sunday. 415-647-2822. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)


Gogol Bordello is the brainchild of Eugene Hutz, a Ukrainian who loves punk, American culture, and Gypsy music. After moving to New York City, he met accordion player Sasha Katztckoff, guitarist Vlad Solovar, and fiddler Sergei Ryavtsev and began merging Ukrainian music with rock theatrics and punk energy. The first impression is a musical free-for-all, but a close examination reveals a razor-sharp musicality and a singer whose poetic rants display an obvious love for his adopted language. Wednesday, Bottom of the Hill, San Francisco. 415-621-4455. (j. poet)


Many of us have "perfect imperfections," but only Atlanta-based singer and rapper Cee-Lo Green has been Grammy-nominated for them. A tattooed teddy bear of a man, with an ample Buddha-like belly, Green, the son of a preacher man, has been credited with bringing a spirit-raising gospel sensibility to hip-hop and R&B, as a member of ATL's Goodie Mob and on his solo material. He passes through Kelly's Mission Rock in Frisco on Saturday for a live appearance at the monthly party Blueprint. With four bars, four dancefloors, outdoor patio seating (with heat lamps), and an impressive list of local talent scheduled to perform (including rapper Pitch Black, beatboxer Radioactive, and DJs D-Sharp, Neta, Papa Joe, and Rolo 1-3), the vibes -- hip-hop, reggae, and soul -- will be flowing until 4 a.m. For more information, visit (E.A.)


Let us now sing the praises of Alphabet Soup. Back in the day, these acid jazz/jazz-hip-hop pioneers boldly blazed new musical trails across the Bay Area club scene, proving that hip-hop and good musicianship did not have to be mutually exclusive -- even if national acts like Us3 and Guru's Jazzmatazz took all the credit. The big time may have passed them by, but they will always be big in the hearts and the minds of fans of grooves, licks, riffs, and lines. These perennial favorites make their first appearance at Blakes (along with up-and-comers Greans) in many a moon this Saturday for what's sure to be a perspiration-inducing evening. 510-848-0886. (E.A.)


They may be the Bay Area's own, but Gamelan Sekar Jaya is a world-class Balinese-style gamelan ensemble hailed even in Bali for its mastery of the form. The group expands to fifty musicians playing true bronze gamelan instruments, joined by members of the Bali National Academy of the Arts, in two colorful and mesmerizing concerts, Friday and Saturday at UC Berkeley's Zellerbach Hall. 510-642-9988. (Larry Kelp)


There's nothing more thrilling than discovering the stars of tomorrow among the students of today. Such could be the case this Saturday night in Oakland's Valley Center for the Performing Arts, when the Holy Names College Opera Scenes program presents Ralph Vaughan Williams' rarely performed one-act opera Riders to the Sea, as well as scenes from operas by Donizetti, Mozart, Smetana, Verdi, and Weill. 510-436-1330. (Jason Serinus)


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