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Starting the Year Off Jazzed

January 2, 2019

If you made a New Year’s resolution to get out of the house and see more live music in 2019, you’ve come to the right place. Forget about the winter doldrums, the Bay Area is brimming with brilliant music, and January’s offerings bode well for a decade-closing run of beautiful, transporting, strange, and wonderful sounds.

Motoko Honda’s Simple Excesses Quartet | Jan. 9

A Japanese-born pianist, composer, and improviser whose work blithely ignores genre conventions, Motoko Honda has forged some fascinating musical relationships since relocating from Los Angeles to the Bay Area about six years ago. A highly expressive and unpredictable player with a percussive bent, she brings a powerhouse quartet to the California Jazz Conservatory’s Rendon Hall for a concert presented by Jazz in the Neighborhood. With reed expert Cory Wright, bassist Miles Wick, and drummer Jordan Glenn, the group features astute improvisers who thrive in the murky spaces where left-field jazz and new music converge.

Somi | Jan. 13

The daughter of East African immigrants from Rwanda and Uganda, Brooklyn jazz vocalist Somi has collaborated widely with West African musicians, most conspicuously on 2014’s The Lagos Music Salon (OKeh). With 2017’s Petite Afrique (Sony/OKeh Records), the soul-steeped singer looks closer to home with a song cycle exploring the lives of African immigrants in the United States. Touring the West Coast, she plays Oakland’s New Parish on her only Bay Area date with a stellar band featuring pianist Toru Dodo, bassist Jahmal Nichols, and drummer Otis Brown III (best known his extensive work with tenor saxophonist Joe Lovano’s Us Five).

Richard Howell | Jan. 19

For decades after the 1965 release of A Love Supreme, John Coltrane’s sublime meditation on the divine was rarely tackled by fellow jazz musicians, but the four-part suite has become something of a 21st-century standard. There’s no saxophonist in the Bay Area better equipped to navigate Trane’s ecstatic flights than Richard Howell, an exploratory improviser who infuses every note he plays with the bedrock truth of the blues. He returns to his home base, Mill Valley’s Throckmorton Theatre, with bassist Fred Randolph, drummer Deszon Claiborne, and pianist Frank Martin, a similarly versatile player who’s performed with the likes of Herbie Hancock, John McLaughlin, Dizzy Gillespie, Al Jarreau, and Sting.

Peter Bernstein, Larry Goldings, Bill Stewart | Jan. 24-28

Guitarist Peter Bernstein, organist Larry Goldings, and drummer Bill Stewart have been recording as a trio for the past three decades, sometimes as a collective and sometimes under one of the player’s nominal leadership. Among jazz’s most respected players on their respective instruments, they all have extensive commitments — Stewart performed in the Bay Area recently with guitar star John Scofield and trumpet great Nicholas Payton — but they never sound better than when in each other’s company. The trio settles into the SFJAZZ Center’s Joe Henderson Lab for eight shows over four nights Jan. 24-27 and concludes the California run Jan. 28 at Santa Cruz’s Kuumbwa Jazz Center.

Five Play | Jan. 29

Co-led by the wife-and-husband tandem of pianist Laura Klein and guitarist Tony Corman, Five Play is a talent-laden, East Bay jazz quintet featuring reed player Dave Tidball, bassist Paul Smith, and drummer Greg German that focuses on finely wrought original material. Whether playing burning post-bop or senusously grooving samba, the band puts a premium on enticing melodies. Joined by veteran percussionist Michaelle Goerlitz as a special guest for this concert as part of the California Jazz Conservatory’s weekly “Way Out West” series, the band presents the world premiere of Klein’s Pt. Reyes Suite.

Ethnic Heritage Ensemble | Feb. 1-3

A charismatic improviser who’s collaborated with Stevie Wonder, Paul Simon, Nina Simone, and Cannonball Adderley, percussionist/vocalist Kahil El’Zabar is a second-generation member of Chicago’s Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians (AACM) and proud heir of that Afrocentric collective. As the leader of the Ethnic Heritage Ensemble for more than four decades, he’s created a body of incantatory jazz anthems marked by call-and-response interaction and surging countermelodies. Joined by baritone saxophonist Alex Harding and trumpeter Corey Wilkes, the group plays San Francisco’s Bird & Beckett on Feb. 1 and a house concert in Berkeley on Feb. 3 (email [email protected]atemedia.com for reservations). 

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.