Critic's Choice for the week of November 5-11, 2003 

Jazz hipsters fuse at the Palace, a preacher booms at Eli's, B-3s battle at Yoshi's, and some Spankers suck brains at the Plough -- I'm not making this up.

LATIN

Since fleeing the aftermath of the 1973 military coup in her Chilean homeland and moving to Berkeley, Lichi Fuentes helped launch the nueva canción band Grupo Raiz, sang in the all-woman Latin quartet Altazor, and assisted with the Cuban act Conjunto Cespedes. She's also half of the Latin-American children's group Colibri, and has long directed the acclaimed La Peña Community Chorus when she's not teaching music in East Bay public schools. Finally, after nearly twenty years, Fuentes has issued only her second solo album, Quien Soy (Who I Am), which puts her beautiful and quietly passionate voice into some of Latin America's greatest contemporary folk songs as well as her own tunes. She turns "Gracias a la Vida" into a prayerful ballad, while other songs are colored by everything from Andean instruments to a string orchestra, all produced by trombonist Wayne Wallace. It's one of the best CDs released in the Bay Area in years, and Fuentes celebrates with a concert Saturday at her home base, La Peña Community Center, joined by many of the recording's musicians. 510-849-2568. (Larry Kelp)

BAY AREA FUNK

The upcoming Luv 'n' Haight/Ubiquity compilation Bay Area Funk is the shiznit -- not just because it's a long-overdue collection of soulful boogie grooves from the '60s and '70s indigenous to these parts, but also because it be hella fonkay with a capital F, homebiscuit. Support your local funk scene and get up on its history Friday night at the Shattuck Downlow Lounge, when the official record release party goes down. Special guest performers Marvin Holmes and Johnny Talbot and Da Things make it all the way live, while DJs Riddm, Platurn, and Sean spin rare grooves to make your derriere move. 510-548-1159. (Eric K. Arnold)

JAZZ

The flick Calle 54 gave people a taste of the flamenco jazz fusion that Spanish pianist Chano Dominguez was cooking up. Last year, he connected with NYC conga drummer and trumpeter Jerry Gonzalez for explorations into Afro-Cuban rumba and Thelonious Monk. They make a rare appearance together tonight at the Palace of Fine Arts Theatre in San Francisco as part of the 21st SF Jazz Festival. 415-776-1999. (Jesse "Chuy" Varela)

CLASSICAL

Promising to sing about "our" America instead of "theirs," Robert Geary leads Volti (formerly the San Francisco Chamber Singers) in a Saturday night program at Berkeley's St. Mark's Episcopal Church. This fine, adventurous ensemble begins with music by resident composer Mark Winges -- then come works by Charles Loeffler and William Albright, as well as new commissions from Alan Fletcher, Kirke Mechem, and Jacob Avshalomov. 415-771-3352. (Jason Victor Serinus)

BLUES

Corey Harris was a can't-miss name on the blues circuit even before he starred in an episode of Martin Scorsese's PBS series The Blues -- he astounds with his lightning-fast slide guitar skill and devastates with his booming, preacher-like voice. Wednesday night at Eli's Mile High Club, he'll explore familiar Delta blues territory and experiment with his new world music, an African-blues hybrid. 510-655-6366. (Michael Gowan)

WHEELS OF STEEL

If you haven't seen Scratch yet, go do so immediately (it's out on DVD). If you have seen the flick, you know all about the near-superhuman powers the elite turntablists of this era possess, and guess what? Friday's Scratch Tour at the Fillmore gathers up a Superfriends-like lineup of such gifted individuals. The X-ecutioners, Z-Trip, Mix Master Mike, and Jazzy Jay are all hip-hop legends, and what's more, these uber-scratchmeisters are well versed in the ways of rocking a party. Go ahead and gape at their brain-scrambling technical finesse if you must, but we bet you'll want to bust a move or two on the floor as well. 415-356-6000. (E.K.A.)

SALSA CONGRESSES

The Spanish Harlem Orchestra is the brainchild of Rope-a-Dope Records' Aaron Levinson. With pianist Oscar Hernandez. they conceived a retro-salsa band for the album Un Gran Dia en el Barrio, now one of the top salsa releases of the year. This Saturday night, the SHO appears at the Marriott Hotel in San Francisco as part of the second annual Salsa Congress, a summit where Bay Area Salsa dance companies strut their stuff. 408-655-5884. (J.C.V.)

SINGER/SONGWRITER

Songwriter, singer, and blues guitarist Chris Smither has been a musician of note ever since he made the cover of Broadside in 1967. He has released only eleven albums in that time, but each is a gem, full of low-key lyrical epiphanies and his smooth, bluesy picking. Train Home, just out on Oakland's Hightone imprint, is one of his best. Friday and Saturday at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley 510-548-1761. (j. poet)

ORGAN-IC GROOVES

The Hammond B-3 organ's monumental tonal qualities and killer sustain make it one of the most instantly recognizable instruments in jazz, funk, soul, R&B, rock, neo-soul, and just about any other genre in which it has become ubiquitous. Quite frankly, the B-3 is one of the few nonstringed instruments worthy of air guitar-style gesticulations (maybe the saxophone, but that's about it). If you witnessed the recent showdown between Dr. Lonnie Smith and Joey DeFrancesco at Yoshi's, you can imagine what's in store for you this Thursday at Bimbo's in SF, when DeFrancesco squares up with the legendary Jimmy Smith for a B-3 Battle of the Bulge that promises to be worth its weight in gold. 415-776-1999 or SFJazz.org (E.K.A.)

ALT.ALT.COUNTRY

The best and worst thing about a band like the Asylum Street Spankers is that there's no category wide enough -- or strange enough -- to aptly convey exactly what it is they do. When frontman Wammo says he'll "suck the formaldehyde out of the jar holding Kurt Cobain's brain, using Hemingway's shotgun as a straw," you'll wonder what asylum these Spankers -- alright, call them unamplified wise-ass folk rockers -- escaped from. Friday at the Starry Plough in Berkeley. 510-841-1424. (j.p.)

SEE ALSO

Whiskey Brothers at the Albatross, Negro Spirituals at West Oakland Senior Center, and Ken Waldman at the Freight & Salvage (Billboard Openers); Break a Leg Hip Hop Talent Showcase at Oakland Metro (Urban Experience); Shaman Trance Dance at Ashkenaz, Green Chimneys at Down Home, El Cerrito, and Bill Frisell/Marc Ribot at Calvin Simmons (Scenes); Alameda Light Civic Opera Company (Performance).

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