Sound Checks

Dave Ellis
Thursday, Feb. 11; Omni Majestic Hotel

It may seem a little early in the year to kick off a music festival with a name like Juneteenth, but you can catch tenor-sax player Dave Ellis performing in the second of three winter concerts presented by the Juneteenth Heritage & Jazz Festival organization. The Berkeley, Ca.-based sax player first made his reputation in 1992 as one of the founding members of the Charlie Hunter Trio -- a band that blended an alternative-rock edge with strong roots in hard-bop jazz. Ellis left the Charlie Hunter group in 1996 to record his debut release as a leader, Raven (Monarch). The recording won Ellis critical acclaim for his burnished, full-bodied tenor sound, as well as the Best New Talent of 1997 award by Jazziz magazine. He has a new release, In the Long Run (Monarch), and at the age of 30 seems primed for even greater recognition. He hasn't lost touch with his rock roots, though, given his fine work on the '98 tour of the Grateful Dead reincarnation the Other Ones. Ellis and his band will be playing two sets at the Omni Majestic Hotel (the location of the old Just Jazz venue), beginning at 8 p.m. Thursday.

By the way, if you're curious, this year's Juneteenth Heritage & Jazz Festival will honor legendary St. Louis horn player Clark Terry, and the tentative lineup for the 10-day fest includes Marcus Roberts, T.S. Monk, Randy Crawford and John Hicks. (TP)

Art Garfunkel
Friday, Feb. 12; Sheldon

Art Garfunkel has done many things that you haven't. There's his stellar recording career, of course, both with his childhood friend Paul Simon and as a solo performer. With Simon, he recorded such epochal hits as "The Sound of Silence," "Bridge Over Troubled Water," "Scarborough Fair," "Mrs. Robinson" and "Cecilia." As a solo performer, he has scored with songs such as Jimmy Webb's gorgeous "All I Know," Van Morrison's "I Shall Sing" and a version of the old Sam Cooke hit "What a Wonderful World" featuring Simon and James Taylor. In 1997, Garfunkel recorded a terrific children's album that adults can enjoy, too. It contains versions of Taylor's "Secret O' Life," the Beatles' "I Will," and Cat Stevens' "Morning Has Broken." He has been an actor, too, of course, performing roles in an edgy series of films that include Catch-22, Carnal Knowledge, Bad Timing and Boxing Helena. Of late, he's taken things in a different direction, lending his voice to the animated children's series Arthur.

That's a pretty interesting life right there. But what's even more intriguing about Garfunkel is the way he's used his free time (of which, to be fair, between infrequent albums, films and tours, he's had a considerable amount). For one thing, he's walked across America, step by step, in 40 installments over a 12-year period. Since working on Catch-22 in 1969, he claims to have read at least two books a month, now totaling well over 700 books. And he's read the dictionary -- indeed, not just any dictionary but the Random House Unabridged Dictionary, which is a chore to hold in your arms, much less read in its entirety.

Most important, though, he's kept his voice in shape, at least judging by his 1996 live album Across America and Songs from a Parent to a Child. Garfunkel's choirboy pipes are one-of-a-kind, and his show at the Sheldon should be a rare treat. (DD)

Mavis Staples
Saturday, Feb. 13; Sheldon

Like our town's Fontella Bass, Mavis Staples has roots that are deep in the church, and even though she started out in gospel music, she wound up becoming a pop star. And also like Bass, Staples has now turned around again and is using her platform as a pop star to call attention to the songs of faith she learned listening to masters of the genre such as Mahalia Jackson. Jackson was a family friend of the Staples' and a primary influence on Mavis, who is best known for singing genre-busting hits like "Respect Yourself" and "I'll Take You There" with her family's group, the Staple Singers. (Incidentally, as if to underline the group's versatility, the Staples will be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame next month.) In recent years, Staples has addressed both the pop and gospel aspects of her career, recording an album with the Artist Formerly Known as Prince and singing for the Lord on Spirituals and Gospel: Dedicated to Mahalia Jackson. It's the latter recording Staples will focus on when she appears at the Sheldon, singing as Jackson might have, with the simple accompaniment of just a piano or organ. Given the power of Staples' personality and vocal chords -- it was the Artist who appropriately tagged her "the Voice" -- that should be more than enough. (DD)

Toledo
Monday, Feb. 15;
Delmar Lounge

Whether they want to or not, all performing musicians have a shtick. Be it the soft-spoken singer/songwriter clad in blue jeans and wire-rimmed glasses musing about regret, the industrial-strength Goth boy in leather and lace moaning about death or the classical pianist wearing tuxedo and a curt countenance evoking profound sadness, you can pick most of 'em out of a police lineup and describe the music relatively accurately. Toledo's shtick is more imaginative and unique than most, and it makes for an interesting evening: Post-World War II LA backroom barfly muses about sex and cigarettes while some loose good-for-nothings follow along on acoustic bass, piano, sax and drum.

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