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Taking It to the Streets

[whitespace] Horchata
Hat Trickster: Ona Stewart of Horchata gears up for the band's appearance at the SoFA Festival.

Yeska, Horchata and more highlight the annual downtown San Jose SoFA Festival

By Nicky Baxter

THE ANNUAL SoFA Festival is essentially a huge neighborhood block party--plenty of eats, arts and crafts, and even activities for kids. And then there's the music: three stages featuring talent from the Bay Area and beyond. South First Street clubs like the Agenda Lounge, the Cactus Club and the Usual will host even more bands.

Anchoring the San Carlos Street Stage is Yeska (4pm). Hailing from East L.A., the ensemble whips up an unusual mix of Jamaican-influenced ska, freewheeling jazz and African/ Cuban rhythms. Kicked into gear by a skin-tight horn section, rocksteady guitar and full-on funk bass, Yeska's multicultural sound has turned heads everywhere the unit performs. Already, the youthful outfit has played such famed venues as the House of Blues, the Viper Room and Luna Park.

Yeska's debut release, Skafrocubanjazz, is available on Atzlan Records. "Fideo (Para Aqui)," the opening cut, yolks high-steppin' ska to sweaty salsa. Walter Miranda's insistent piano sets the stage for David Urquidi's bluesy tenor sax solo. With its scratchy pulse and surging polyrhythms, "Fideo" perfectly sketches out Yeska's sonic agenda.

"Walter's House" showcases Miranda's athletic piano work; one moment he's churning out taut rhythmic edifices, the next he's peeling off a string of jaw-dropping harmonics and tossing in subtly shifting tonal colors. Though "Walter's House" is clearly the pianist's show, drummer/timbale player Alfredo Ortiz makes his presence felt with scattershot poly-rhythms; his solo is particularly fiery.

Though Skafrocubanjazz offers compelling evidence of Yeska's compositional skills, the ensemble is unafraid to take on jazz standards. Herbie Hancock's classic "Cantaloupe Island" is revamped as a kicking ska/funk hybrid. This reconstructed version may not make listeners forget the original, but it is a further reminder that this group is capable of compelling improvisational music fans to listen to the music with new ears. This extraordinary sextet has vision and the chops to realize it.

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The complete schedule of SoFA entertainment.

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Speaking of musical vision, Horchata (Gore Park Stage, 11am) is not an ordinary rock band either, unless your idea of the genre is expansive enough to embrace 10 guys on stage, some braying away on horns, others flailing on guitars while still others shout out wild-eyed gibberish.

Horchata's music, a mutant form of jazz replete with shambling grooves and stuttering, shifting meters, is danceable if you're creative-minded. The group's EP, Right Upside Your Head, sounds something like Henry Threadgill's Very, Very Circus (with a shot of Blues Traveler on the side), only a somewhat loopier. Probably, though, these musicians have never heard of Threadgill; they're just playing what they feel.

Other SoFA acts to keep an eye out for include local pop-punkers Odd Numbers, metalheads Floodland and the irrepressible Squeeze the Dog. The Sly Stone-inspired collective G.R.I.T.S. and the Modern Gypsies (who specialize in reconciling European art music, Afri-Latin and contemporary pop-jazz) are also slated to perform.


The SoFA Festival takes place Sunday (Sept. 20), 11am-7pm, on South First Street between San Carlos and Reed streets in downtown San Jose. The music continues into the evening at the nightclubs in the SoFA District. Admission is $4 adv./$5 door.(408/279-1775, ext. 43)

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From the September 17-23, 1998 issue of Metro.

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