In case there's any confusion, the man leading a quintet in veneration of Billie Holiday at Yoshi's this weekend is not the former peanut farmer and 39th president of the United States. That's another James Carter (there are many; it's an easy mistake). This one is the irrepressible saxophonist from Detroit, blowing into Oakland to promote his new CD, Gardenias for Lady Day. The tribute album, in rock or pop, is a lamentable thing, usually best forgotten. But jazz players get away with them all the time, and Carter, who just doesn't have it in him to underwhelm, is keen to make something memorable. He doesn't seem at all daunted by the fact that Holiday has probably been feted a thousand times. "I always wanted to do those tunes," he says, "but outside of playing along with the album, I never had a chance." In addition to a few of Lady Day's staples, some of the music is Carter's own, and it too shows the fortitude and artful forlornness for which Holiday is most affectionately remembered. When a sax man in particular pays respect to her music, he is also paying respect to Lester Young, whom Carter evokes by making it seem so infuriatingly easy.
A Carter gig is always something of a rumpus, which should not suggest inelegance. He has a big sound. It takes up a lot of space in the room and suggests his willingness to try anything, because he obviously has the chops. It's the emotional nuance that might come as a surprise, at least until you consider Carter's thoughts on the singer in question: "If one really gives her a chance, Billie can really get in, permeating your soul, giving you a feeling of hope in the midst of adversity, and opening up a spice rack of feelings on you that just won't quit." The James Carter Quintet plays Thursday through Sunday at Yoshi's, 510 Embarcadero West, Oakland. $18-$22. 510-238-9200 or Yoshis.com -- Jonathan Kiefer
Word Up, Bard
Credited in a past edition of the Express' "Best of the East Bay" with creating the region's "best erotic haiku," competitive bard Charles Ellik hosts the Berkeley Poetry Slam alongside dani eurynome at The Starry Plough ($5-$7) (Wed., 8:30 p.m.). ... There's the fun and the yelling and the splintered bats, but there's also the stats. Discuss the new Baseball Prospectus 2004 -- packed with facts and intensive analyses of 1,600 players -- with author Michael Wolverton at Barnes & Noble Oakland (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... Wedded hets have access to 1,049 federal rights that gays and lesbians won't get unless they can marry legally. Clinical psychologist Davina Kotulski discusses her book Why You Should Give a Damn About Gay Marriage at Boadecia's (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... Earthquakes we have reason to fear, but the East Bay can rest easy re volcanic eruptions. Having written a best-seller about a professor and a madman, Simon Winchester turned his attention to acts of God. He discusses Krakatoa at Barnes & Noble Walnut Creek (Thu., 7:30 p.m.). ... Switch tongues at Pleasanton's La Crema d'Italia (780 Main St.), where tonight's Poetic Medley features an international array of poetry read aloud in English and other languages. For details, call 925-426-8869 (Thu., 7:45 p.m.). ... Bodice-rippers in Botswana? University of Pennsylvania professor Lydie Moudileno lectures on "Harlequin Novels, African Style" in 652 Barrows Hall, UC Berkeley, Details: 510-642-8338 (Tue., 4 p.m.). ... His book Buried Treasure won multiple awards, and he is featured in Word of Mouth: An Anthology of Gay American Poetry. Hear Dan Bellm read in the Faculty Lounge, Rothwell Center, Mills College (Tue., 5:30 p.m.). ... Soak up java and jive at a reading by world beatster David Gollub and poet/Burning Man open-mic emcee Kirk Lumpkin, at Berkeley's Beanery (2925 College Ave.) (Tue., 7p.m.). ... Why can't we all just get along? Ask UC Berkeley Ethnic Studies prof Beatriz Manz at Easy Going, where she discusses her book Paradise in Ashes: A Guatemalan Journey of Courage, Terror, and Hope, an account of that bloody Central American civil war (Tue., 7:30 p.m.). -- Anneli Rufus
Wild Riding, Rails Style
Two very different urban experiences flicker across the screen of the Long Haul Infoshop (3124 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) this weekend. Friday night, make your own stencils before enjoying Charlie Ahearn's consummate document of the South Bronx graffiti and hip-hop culture, Wild Style. Apocryphal tagger Lee Quinones stars in this 1982 film, spray-paint princess Sandra "Pink" Fabara is his love interest, and Grand Master Flash, the Cold Crush Bros., the Rocksteady Crew, Fab Five Freddy, and others round out the cast. Saturday night, get to know the ten teenage hobos of Riding the Rails, who left behind their families -- in urban areas and smaller towns -- to live on the road during the Great Depression. Lexy Lovell and Michael Uys' 1997 PBS doc features interviews with the former runaways, then in their late seventies and early eighties. Both events begin at 8 p.m. Info: 510-540-0751 or LongHaul.org -- Stefanie Kalem
Stellar, mellow indie at the Plough
Eve's Apple, a sculpture by Edwina Sandys, is a deceptively soft-looking work -- it appears to be a lady's elegant hand, complete with polished fingernails, holding a neatly bitten apple. But the twelve-foot-high piece is made out of three separately cut panes of steel. Appropriately enough, music from (the) caseworker's debut These Weeks Should Be Remembered will be on the soundtrack to an upcoming PBS documentary about Sandys; the SF-based band created a deceptively simple masterpiece on that record, all swirling, shoegazey fuzz and whispered lyrics on the outside, but prickly and complex on the inside. These Weeks ... tells the tale of a relationship unraveling -- quite accidentally and obscurely, to be sure, as the decade-long relationship in question was that of primary caseworkers Conor Jonathan and Eimer Devlin. The band plays Friday at the Starry Plough (3101 Shattuck Ave., Berkeley) with Portland's feedback mavens Minmae, and Modesto-area outfit Built Like Alaska, who fit into a more traditional indie-rock box than their stagemates. (It certainly doesn't help that the singer sounds like Superchunk's Mac McCaughan at his sweetest.) Tickets $6. 9 p.m. 510-841-2082. -- Stefanie Kalem