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'Tis the Season

By Garrett Wheeler

Perfect Pitches If you get a chance to listen to Santa Cruz a cappella trio Mayim, you'll not question their level of professionalism. But do a little research, and you'll realize that perfect pitch isn't all they've got going. One's a solo singer/songwriter, one's a Realtor and the other's a human rights lawyer. Not exactly a batch of singing-in-the-shower dreamers. Mayim's show last Saturday night at Kuumbwa Jazz Center was nothing short of spectacular; the three vocalists ducked and wove their voices around each other's, showcasing an impressively diverse repertoire that included everything from ancient Hebrew chant to modern jazz and, of course, a few classic Christmas carols. The group's latest album, Sacred Season, is a collection of festive tunes sung so tastefully I wouldn't doubt St. Nick himself has a copy uploaded to his iPod. It turned out holiday music was only the tip of the ladies' iceberg of material, as the three songbirds delved into some fine original work comprising politically charged folk songs and love songs sweeter than saltwater taffy. Occasional acoustic guitar and cello accompaniment added a rich backdrop to the set, while an introduction to each singer's mom (after which they all sang a song together) let the audience know precisely where Mayim's talent originated.

Feeling the Love The scene inside the Crepe Place last Friday might have been oddly familiar to those who witnessed firsthand the Summer of Love. Not that I'm old enough to say I was there back in the tie-dyed day, but I'm pretty sure this is what it looked like. In the center of the room was the night's first act, Mariee Sioux, who calmly sang her folk-inspired ballads with a soft, delicate voice. In front of her, a girl sat cross-legged on the floor, drawing intently on a paper napkin. A trace of marijuana smoke wafted through the air as the listeners absorbed the whimsical melodies played before them. Sioux hails from the northeastern reaches of the Golden State (Nevada City), and her singer/songwriter act fit the rustic interior of the Crepe Place perfectly. Playfully melodic with undertones crossing into the ethereal, Sioux's opening performance set an enchanting mood for the next act, Bay Area indie-rockers Port O'Brien.

Named after an abandoned fish cannery in the Pacific Northwest, Port O'Brien is led by singer/guitarist Van Pierszalowski. As a young adult, Pierszalowski sailed the waters around Alaska with his father, a commercial fisherman who sought the region's bounty of wild salmon. As the two traveled the high seas, the younger Pierszalowski was deeply inspired to write music that conveyed the many opposing moods of this landscape. At times reveling in the boisterous frivolity of power-chord garage rock, the band maintains the ability to slip into a tender state of heartfelt sanctity, keeping the sound fresh and dynamic. Rollicking chants sung with a deliberate air of inebriation gave way to pop-sensible melodies textured by electric guitars, banjo and the ever-surprising presence of a baritone clarinet. The odd choice of instrumentation produced unique layers of sound nearly as strange as those produced by Bright Eyes, the band Port O'Brien recently finished touring Europe with. See the weirdness for yourself at San Francisco's Swedish American Hall on Feb. 2.

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