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Short on Days, Long on Talent: February’s Best

February 1, 2019

The shortest month of the year is long on musical offerings. I could easily triple the number of events on this list and still end up leaving off shows I’ll mourn missing. But to live is to choose, and without the excuse of a polar vortex to stay inside, sally forth and experience at least a taste of the Bay Area’s sonic smorgasbord.

Seun Kuti Egypt 80 | Feb. 7–8

The youngest son of the late Afrobeat progenitor Fela Kuti, saxophonist Seun Kuti has seized his father’s mantle as a dauntless musical tribune challenging the powers that be in Nigeria to uplift the people of Africa’s most populous nation. Touring with Fela’s former band Egypt 80, he plays two nights at San Francisco’s Brick & Mortar, centering on music from last year’s incisive Black Times (Strut Records), an album marked by simmering funk grooves and brimming anger at corruption, incompetence, and injustice.

Eric Alexander/Harold Mabern Quartet | Feb. 17

A product of the fecund 1950s Memphis scene that also nurtured Frank Strozier, George Coleman, and Booker Little, pianist 82-year-old Harold Mabern is one of jazz’s most commanding accompanists. Since moving to New York City in 1959 he’s played and recorded with dozens of jazz giants (including a six-week stint at San Francisco’s Blackhawk with Miles Davis). In recent decades he’s been a voluble champion of tenor saxophonist Eric Alexander, a marvelously fluent and warm-toned player who has extended the supremely sophisticated harmonic vocabulary of Mabern’s Memphis pal George Coleman. The mentor and his former protégé co-lead a quartet at Half Moon Bay’s oceanside jazz oasis, Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.

Ben Allison and Think Free | Feb. 20

Ben Allison is a New York bassist and composer with a gift for writing sinuous anthems that lodge in your skull (the NPR show On the Media uses his tune “Disposable Genius” as its theme). He makes his Freight & Salvage debut with the latest version of his quartet Think Free, featuring Kneebody trumpeter Shane Endsley, rising drummer Allan Mednard, and the band’s original guitarist Steve Cardenas, a first-call player whose recording credits include albums with Charlie Haden’s Liberation Music Orchestra, Paul Motion’s Electric Bebop Band, and John Patitucci’s Electric Guitar Quartet.

Jaz Sawyer featuring Steve Nelson | Feb. 21-24

Focusing on music created by vibraphone legend Bobby Hutcherson and drum maestro Eddie Marshall, departed Bay Area partners in improvisation, San Francisco-raised drummer Jaz Sawyer’s four-night run in the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab pays tribute to two of his formative mentors. He’s joined by a superb cast including SFJAZZ Collective pianist Ed Simon, saxophonist James Mahone, bassist David Ewell, and the brilliant New York vibraphonist Steve Nelson, an undersung player who rarely makes it out to the Bay Area. Part of SFJAZZ’s Hotplate series, Thursday’s shows revisit Marshall’s 1978 album Dance of the Sun (Timeless), while the rest of the run draws on compositions encompassing Hutcherson’s vast discography, from the classic 1960s Blue Note sessions through his work for Columbia and Landmark.

Ralph Peterson & the Messenger Legacy | Feb. 21

Art Blakey was one of the defining artists of modern jazz as both an inexorably swinging drummer and a talent-scouting bandleader. Ralph Peterson was one of the select few drummers of his generation to get a chance to play with Blakey when the bandleader tapped him, at the age of 21, for the coveted gig as the second trap player in Blakey’s Jazz Messenger Two Drummer Big Band. A distinguished bandleader in his own right for the past three decades, Peterson brings the all-star Messenger Legacy sextet to Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center featuring a sensational cast of Blakey alumni including alto sax great Bobby Watson, tenor saxophonist Bill Pierce, and trumpeter Brian Lynch. Pianist Zaccai Curtis and bassist Essiet Essiet round out the rhythm section. The same band returns to the region on May 19 for a show at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society.  

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah | Feb. 21

Hailing from a musically illustrious New Orleans clan, trumpeter Christian Scott possesses a strikingly beautiful tone and an aesthetic that encompasses a broad swath of contemporary African-American music (an aesthetic that extends to fashion, a field in which he’s a noted trendsetter). An ambitious composer and bandleader, he released something of a musical manifesto with his 2017 Centennial Trilogy, a politically charged project that seamlessly blends New Orleans street music, hip-hop, and funk. Scott returns to the Bay Area for a night at Oakland’s The New Parish, with a stellar band featuring alto saxophonist Logan Richardson, drummer Corey Fonville, pianist Lawrence Fields, and bassist Luques Curtis (whose older brother Zaccai is performing the same night with Ralph Peterson at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society, see above).

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.