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Jazzman Eric Crystal returns to S.F. for some inspired farewell performances

One of the most compelling experiences in jazz is witnessing the performance of an excellent musician who's reached a major turning point in his career and knows it. Jazz saxophonist Eric Crystal, a versatile artist whose playing reveals a deep reserve of spiritual and innovative fire, as well as influences from Coltrane to Coleman to Lovano, is at that moment now.

During Crystal's 13 years in the Bay Area, a tenure that began in 1990 when, at 18, he plugged into the exploding acid-jazz scene, the versatile saxman has earned a reputation for powerful, imaginative soloing and an ability to take his music "outside" without losing coherence, perspective, or humor. Crystal's 1998 CD of originals, Dark Matter, presented a set of intricately textured compositions and a strong improvisational vision. His ability to meld his strengths to the purposes of any band he performs with has made him an admired sideman, as well.

Now, at 31, Crystal has just made his move to that ultimate jazz cauldron, New York City. The jump came suddenly (his girlfriend got into grad school at Columbia, and he was gone), so Crystal's San Francisco club dates this week should be fascinating – crackling with the creative tension of an artist getting ready to launch himself into the unknown and a local hero's determination to make the most of these last few performances with his hometown boys.


Sunday, Dec. 14, at 9 p.m.

Tickets are $5


www. brunoslive.com

Crystal also performs on Wednesday, Dec. 17, at 9 p.m. at Jazz at Pearl's, 256 Columbus (at Broadway), S.F. Tickets are $5; call 291-8255 or go to www .jazzatpearls.com

Bruno's, 2389 Mission (at 20th Street), S.F.

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But there's more. Crystal has just been set free after weeks of touring behind bluesman Boz Scaggs, playing nothing but standards, so he hasn't had a real chance to unleash some hard-charging, progressive jazz for months. This week's shows will be the scene of some first-class busting loose, as the restraints come off and the burners come on. Expect Crystal, along with bassist John Shifflet, drummer Jason Lewis, and guitarist Dave Mac Nab, to offer soaring improvisations and inspired, emotional interplay.

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