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September’s Best Jazz and Beyond Around the Bay

September 4, 2018

Does any month have better songs than September? Sure, there’s some competition with “April In Paris” and “I’ll Remember April.” But for me, the bittersweet transition from summer to fall and its metaphor-rich potential makes it the definitive musical month with “September Song,” “September in the Rain,” “Maybe September,” and even “The September of My Years.”

We’re starting a new monthly feature offering half a dozen recommended performances or acts, and September looks like an auspicious time to start the round up. The Bay Area is blessed with a cornucopian abundance of musical offerings, and I’m going to try to highlight some of the artists who might otherwise go unnoticed.

Roni Ben-Hur and Harvie S
Sept. 13–18

Israeli-born, New York-based jazz guitarist Roni Ben-Hur possesses a thick warm tone, complete bebop fluency and a well-spring of lyricism that often manifests in his Brazilian Songbook sojourns. His sublime musical partnership with bass virtuoso Harvie S led to the recent release Introspection (JazzHeads), and they’re in town for a week for a series of gigs in different configurations with San Jose-reared New York drummer Sylvia Cuenca, including Sept. 13 at San Jose’s Café Stritch with reed master Harvey Wainapel; Sept. 14 at San Francisco’s Bird & Beckett with pianist David Udolf and vocalist Sherri Roberts; and Sept. 15 at San Rafael’s J-B Piano with vocalist Daria. The trio finishes the Bay Area run Sept. 16 at San Francisco’s Chez Hanny and Sept. 18 back at Bird & Beckett.


Club Foot Orchestra  
Sept. 15: Castro Theatre, San Francisco

The great Club Foot Orchestra doesn’t get many opportunities to perform these days, so goddess bless the San Francisco Silent Film Festival for programming this all-day retrospective of early cinema masterpieces with original Club Foot scores, composed mostly by orchestra founder Richard Marriott. The program includes three Buster Keaton shorts, The Cabinet of Dr. Caligari, Nosferatu, and the complete Metropolis (a score commissioned by SFJAZZ). Conducted by Deirdre McClure, the orchestra features some of the region’s most expressive musicians, including clarinetist Beth Custer, reed expert Sheldon Brown, trumpeter Chris Grady, trombonist Richard Marriott, percussionist Gino Robair, guitarist Will Bernard, violinist Alisa Rose, bassist Sascha Jacobsen, and pianist Kymry Esainko.


Elvin Bishop, Wee Willie Walker, Terrie Odabi
with the Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra
Sept. 21: Slim’s, San Francisco

Hard to believe it was three decades ago that Boz Scaggs opened the SOMA club Slim’s with a blast of blues and boogie woogie. Soul is on the menu for the venue’s 30th anniversary celebration. Blues great Elvin Bishop is the headliner, but my money is on the incandescent soul crooner Wee Willie Walker, whose career has taken off in his eighth decade. Backed by the talent-laden Anthony Paule Soul Orchestra, he’s been performing around the world, often joined by Oakland blues star Terrie Odabi. With the powerhouse gospel combo Sons of the Soul Revivers summoning the spirit, the program offers a serious salve for unsettling times.


Hailu Mergia
Sept. 23–25

In recent years a handful of artists from the golden age of Ethiopian music have resurfaced, picking up where they left off before a Marxist junta, war and famine decimated the creatively fecund Addis Ababa scene in the 1970s and 80s. Keyboardist/accordion master Hailu Mergia spent much of the last three decades driving a cab in Washington D.C., and his first new album in some 20 years, Lala Belu (released by the self-explanatory label Awesome Tapes From Africa), reintroduces an Ethiojazz innovator with a deep feel for funk. Touring with bassist Alem Kebede and drummer Ken Joseph, Hailu performs at The Chapel on Sept. 23–24, and Santa Cruz’s Moe’s Alley on Sept. 25.


Roger Glenn Latin Jazz Ensemble
Sept. 29: San Ramon Library

Don’t worry about whooping and hollering in the San Ramon Library, at least not when multi-instrumental master Roger Glenn kicks off the 21st-annual “Adventures in Jazz” concert series. An undersung Bay Area jazz giant who has recorded with piano matriarch Mary Lou Williams, conga star Mongo Santamaria, and funk/fusion pioneer Donald Byrd (among many others), Glenn is startlingly accomplished on vibraphone, flute, and an array of saxophones. He’s in his comfort zone playing Afro-Caribbean grooves, and his band features a world-class cast of Latin jazz musicians.


Book of J
Sept. 30: Old First Church, San Francisco   

Inveterately creative Charming Hostess vocalist Jewlia Eisenberg can often be found spinning ancient texts, radical politics, and roots music into singularly sumptuous musical garments. Lately she’s been getting decked out with Sway Machinery guitarist Jeremiah Lockwood, and their duo album Book of J (3rd Generation Recordings) introduces a spiritually charged body of original songs redolent of Yiddish protest and Holy Roller services, juke joint benders, fantastical visions, and prophetic lamentations. Part of the Old First Concert series, this performance celebrates the Jewish harvest festival Sukkot with Eastern European liturgical chants (khazanut), medieval North African sacred poetry (piyut), and Judeo-Spanish women’s songs from the Balkans.

A Los Angeles native based in the Berkeley area since 1996, Andrew Gilbert covers jazz, international music and dance for KQED's California Report, The Mercury News, San Francisco Chronicle, Berkeleyside and other publications.