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Sultry Weather: Loungecore singer Storm blows in from Portland.

Autumn Leaves

When it comes to music, the North Bay has any color you like

By R. V. Scheide

Autumn is the season of melancholia. Perhaps that's why the North Bay's music scene, from its grungiest roadhouses to its most luxurious symphony halls, turns up the volume a notch or two at the first hint of fall's approach.

Of course, the autumn muse is subject to as many different interpretations as there are shades of falling deciduous leaves. Fortunately for local-music aficionados, all of these shades, from classical to classic rock, traditional to avant-garde, jazz to blues, country-western to world music, are on brilliant display this coming season, which gets off to a raucous start when Storm and Her Balls blow into the Sweetwater Saloon the first Saturday in September.

A statuesque California blonde with Vargas-pinup good looks, Storm's special brand of hard rocking jazz known as "loungecore" has pricked up finicky ears in Portland, Ore.'s music scene during the past year. No doubt, that has a lot to do with Her Balls: psycho-bassman Davey Nipples from Sweaty Nipples and Everclear; pianist James Beaton from Everclear; and Motherlode drummer Brian Parnell. "You'll be grinning ear to ringing ear," the Sweetwater promises. Saturday, Sept. 4. 9:30pm. Sweetwater Saloon, 153 Throckmorton Ave., Mill Valley. $15-$18. 415.388.2820.

If Storm fails to provide the sufficient quotient in sultry sexuality, then Chaka Khan should do the trick the following weekend at the Russian River Jazz Festival. Like fine wine, Chaka Khan only improves with age. Known as a power mover with a voice that's "an instrument of knowingness, carnality, spirituality and intellect," this "Sweet Thing" has come a long way since knocking out hits in the '70s with the band Rufus. She's joined at the fest by singer-songwriter Bobby Caldwell, legendary Brazilian composer and guitarist Toninho Horta and the straight-ahead jazz of Harold Jones' Big Band, among others. Sept. 11-12; Khan headlines on Sunday. Johnson's Beach, Guerneville. $47.50-$190. 510.655.9471.

The same weekend, world-music group Quetzal demonstrate that there's definitely more than one way to play all that jazz. This nine-piece ensemble, anchored by charismatic singing siblings Martha and Gabriel Gonzalez, blend Mexican folklorico, Caribbean rhythms and American rock in a steamy, Latin-tinged mélange celebrating the human spirit. Sunday, Sept. 12. 7:30pm. Napa Valley Opera House, 1000 Main St., Napa. $15-$27. 707.226.7372.

Those threatened by such global miscegenation may prefer the whiter, gentler world epitomized by legendary Northern California classic-rock group Journey, for whom the wheel in the sky apparently keeps on turning. The lights go down in the city on Saturday, Sept. 18, at 5pm. Konocti Harbor Resort and Spa, 8727 Soda Bay Road, Kelseyville. $29 and up. 800.660.5253.

The very next day, in a decidedly different light, rockabilly blues trio the Paladins are joined by country traditionalists Red Meat for a lip-smacking musical barbecue that'll make you wish the '60s and '70s had never happened. Rancho Nicasio, on the Town Square, Nicasio. $12. 415.662.2219.

Straight shooting used to be de rigueur in American music, but no longer. One exception to the rule is John Prine, the late-starting folkie who amuses listeners with wry, real-life observations in songs such as "Illegal Smile" and "Christmas in Prison." Prine tweaks funny bones and pulls on heartstrings on Wednesday, Sept. 22, at 8pm. Luther Burbank Center for the Arts, 50 Mark West Springs Road, Santa Rosa. $45. 707.546.3600.

Prine harks back to a time when troubadours such as Robert Johnson walked the earth, an era that will be celebrated at the first-ever Calistoga Blues and Jazz Festival in October. The event will be held at various locations throughout Napa Valley, including a gala opening reception at the Culinary Institute of America, and features headliners Maria Muldaur and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band, as well as the 55-voice Oakland Interfaith Gospel Choir. Friday-Sunday, Oct. 8-10, from 11am. Various Napa Valley locations. $40 per day; $110 opening gala. 707.942.6333.

Classical music boasts roots that go back further still, which makes the accomplishments of 17-year-old violin virtuoso Caitlin Tully all the more remarkable. It's not every music student who can claim Itzhak Perlman as a teacher. The teenage phenom performs Beethoven's Violin Concerto with the Santa Rosa Symphony, kicking off an ambitious season for conductor Jeffrey Kahane, who leaves the orchestra next year. Saturday- Monday, Oct. 9-11. LBC, 50 Mark West Springs Road. $16 and up. 707.942.6333.

The Marin Symphony celebrates the opening of its 52nd season the same weekend with noted soprano Rebecca Evans, who'll perform a number of opera arias in addition to conductor Alasdair Neale's interpretation of the "William Tell Overture." Opening night features an elegant champagne buffet. Marin Center, Avenue of the Flags, San Rafael. $24-$57; gala, $115. 415.479.8100.

As is well known, classical music encourages growth in both plants and the human intellect--a claim Ozzy Osbourne will never be able to make about his oeuvre. Nevertheless, some of us can't help but bang our heads, and there's not a better time or place to bang it this fall than the annual Halloween bash at McNear's Mystic Theatre, featuring the histrionic shrieks and wails of AC/DShe, an all-female tribute to America's favorite Australian alcoholic import. Saturday, Oct. 30, at 8pm. Mystic Theatre, 23 Petaluma Blvd. N., Petaluma. $20. 707.765.2121.

On an entirely different note, the Brubeck Institute Jazz Sextet from University of the Pacific's Conservatory of Music pay homage to Northern California's favorite jazz export, the legendary pianist and composer Dave Brubeck. University of the Pacific is the famous jazz master's alma mater, and the sextet is comprised of the most gifted 18- to 20-year-old student musicians in the country. Saturday, Nov. 6, at 8pm. COPIA, 500 First St., Napa. $18-$20. 888.512.6742.

That's a difficult act to follow, but the extraordinarily precise and passionate Mexican chamber ensemble Cuarteto Latinoamericano is more than up to the challenge. Presented by the Russian River Chamber Music Society, the performance includes quartets by Villa-Lobos, Albert Ginastera and Astor Piazzolla as well as Claude Debussy's timeless classic Quartet in G Minor. Saturday, Nov. 20, at 7:30pm. Healdsburg Community Church, 1100 University Ave., Healdsburg. $20; $10 students. 707.524.8700.

From Storm and Her Balls to Cuarteto Latinamericano, each in their own way reminds us that in spite of our own mortality--indeed, perhaps because of it--autumn isn't so morbid after all.

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From the August 25-31, 2004 issue of the North Bay Bohemian.

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