The big-band jams of the Realistic Orchestra, and the twisted sounds of fusion supergroup Banyan

In the swing era — the years following the Depression (1935) through the World War II victory (1945) — big bands were the dominant force in American popular music. Some were more jazz-leaning, some more pop/dance-oriented, and many incubated vocal stars-to-be (Sinatra, Horne, etc.). Since the late '40s, however, the words “big band” and “popular music” have seldom been mentioned in the same breath — but in the Bay Area, that could change. The Realistic Orchestra includes the crème de la crème of Bruno's Jazz Mafia, including trombonist Marty Wehner and reedman Sheldon Brown, and members of the Shotgun Wedding Quintet, Mobile Holmes, Of 1942, and the Marcus Shelby Jazz Orchestra. These players blend swinging hard bop à la Art Blakey's Jazz Messengers, hip hop, and rousing drum 'n' bass cadences. Led by bassist Adam Theis, the 20-strong Orchestra eradicates the divide betwixt creative improvisation and decisive chillin'. Experience a renaissance this Friday, Dec. 23, at 12 Galaxies; call 970-9777 or visit for more info.

A banyan is a tropical fig tree with aerial shoots that descend into the earth, growing into additional trunks — a rather apt nom de guerre for an altrock supergroup. Including bassist Mike Watt (Minutemen, fIREHOSE), guitarist Nels Cline (Wilco), and jazz trumpeter Willie Waldman, and led by Porno for Pyros drummer Stephen Perkins, Banyan is definitely more than the sum of its parts. 2004's Live at Perkins' Palace (Sanctuary) finds the quartet motivated by the throbbing squall of Miles Davis' legendary mid-1970s funky-free electric band. Cline is a scary beast, smoldering like Neil Young, primordially roaring like Albert Ayler; Watt's rippling, elastic bass meshes beautifully with Perkins' jazzy fills and clock-perfect timekeeping. Banyan also approaches fusion from the other end of the table, occasionally cutting loose on the Stooges' “Fun House.” Get holiday shock therapy next Wednesday, Dec. 28, at 12 Galaxies; call 970-9777 or visit for more info.

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