The subtle arithmetic of My Morning Jacket

Imagine leaving an iconic-during-its-heyday band — jazz pianist McCoy Tyner did exactly that, departing the John Coltrane Quartet in the mid-1960s. With his pioneering, harrowing style, Coltrane was virtually deified, but his overall methodology — increasingly "out," way beyond conventional signposts — was at odds with Tyner's. While Tyner's percussive forays were as awe-inspiring as Trane's excursions, there was a tender lyricism in play, a pensive tranquility at the hurricane's center. Tyner has varied contexts — solo, duo, trio, and orchestral — yet he's never strayed from his calling, a dogma-free, spiritual approach to jazz, inclusive of Third World influences, passionate yet approachable, equally volcanic and serene. The McCoy Tyner Quartet, featuring tenor titan Joe Lovano, sets this New Year's week alight from Wednesday, Dec. 27, through Sunday, Dec. 31, at Yoshi's in Oakland. Times and prices vary; call 510-238-9200 or visit for more info. — Mark Keresman

While blues has universal respect as a cultural cornerstone, it seems to have ceded its role as The Devil's Music to other genres. But blues can be as thorny and confrontational as the works of Nick Cave or Jon Spencer. The latter championed Mississippian R.L. Burnside, a farmer who'd perform at the occasional festival. Burnside played juke-joint music, fusing neighbor Fred McDowell's iconic rural style with heavily rhythmic small-band electricity. RLB passed in '05, but his grandsons keep his tradition well alive. Kent Burnside & the New Generation tackle blues not as museum material but as a means for realizing sweaty good times in crowded basements or bars. Taste their album Cotton Field Disco on Wednesday, Dec. 27, at Café Du Nord at 9 p.m. Admission is $10-12; call 861-5016 or visit for more info. — M.K.

If you plotted Trans Am's albums on graph paper by their quality, the lines would describe a roller coaster's trajectory. Inconsistent, yes, but this Maryland trio's never boring, as the forthcoming Sex Change proves. In fact, this is Trans Am's strongest release since 2000's Red Line. Similar to that disc, Sex Change exploits the group's diversity: Androidy techno throb coexists with slide-guitar-powered space-rock; clipped, Zapp-like funk fuses with serpentine prog-rock; expansive krautrock complements brawny, alpha-male boogie. But whether these flashy dudes flaunt their parodistic or stoically professional sides live, they boast a catalog dynamic enough to please hardcore rockers and their electronica-loving counterparts. Trans Am performs on Saturday, Dec. 30, at Mezzanine at 9 p.m. Admission is $15; call 625-8880 or visit for more info. —Dave Segal

It's best to deconstruct the hirsute enigma that is My Morning Jacket using rock 'n' roll arithmetic, and fortunately we're experts at equations. The formula for its sound, for instance, is Radiohead + Lynyrd Skynrd x cavernous reverb. The group's look is best described as Grizzly Adams - hatchet + axe (Fender Flying V), and its growing, ardent fanbase can be divided by the simple hippie/indie factor. The grand cosmic order at work here — what Stephen Hawking never described as the "delicate elegance of rocking the fuggout" — makes MMJ one of the great scientific marvels of our time. Further insight into the Kentucky psych-rock masters can be gleaned from any of the group's three performances this New Year's weekend. We're sure you'll agree they've got math appeal when My Morning Jacket performs Friday, Dec. 29 through Sunday, Dec. 31, at the Fillmore at 9 p.m. Admission is $27-60; call 346.6000 or visit for more info. —Jonathan Zwickel

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