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Originally published Friday, January 18, 2008 at 12:00 AM

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Jazz Etc.

Fantastic "Songbirds" migrate to Bake's Place

Bake's Place, the cozy Issaquah supper club recently picked by Down Beat magazine as one of the nation's top 100 jazz spots, kicks off 2008 with a dandy new concept -- "Visiting Songbirds."

Seattle Times jazz critic

Bake's Place, the cozy Issaquah supper club recently picked by Down Beat magazine as one of the nation's top 100 jazz spots, kicks off 2008 with a dandy new concept — "Visiting Songbirds."

The series starts Saturday with Northwest favorite Nancy King and continues with a string of first-rate vocalists, mostly from outside the club's usual Northwest reach.

Portland-based King is a legend among other singers and a familiar face on the West Coast. Recently, her international profile has begun to rise, with a live album at New York's Jazz Standard and career nudges from the late Ray Brown and Karrin Allyson.

A beatnik-vibe master of eccentric scat-singing, King doesn't so much sing a song as get into the zone and let fly with a vocal stream-of-consciousness. When she's on, King is dazzling, apparently able to sing virtually anything that comes into her head. She appears with pianist Steve Christofferson at 8 p.m. Saturday ($27; show with 7 p.m. dinner for $54.50; 425-391-3335 or www.bakesplace.org).

Singers have dominated jazz for more than a decade, since Harry Connick Jr. and Diana Krall revived the classic styles of Frank Sinatra, Nat King Cole and others. However, there are plenty of great singers who haven't made the national charts, and Craig Baker, a crooner himself, has a keen ear for the best ones.

Boston-based Rebecca Parris (Feb. 14-16) has built a huge following at Bake's, and Vancouverite Karin Plato (March 29 and June 14) is on her way. Look for a profile in next week's column of the incomparable San Franciscan Madeline Eastman (Jan. 26).

The rest of the series features Canadian Jennifer Scott (Jan. 25), Latin specialist Kat Parra (March 28), San Franciscan Jackie Ryan (April 11), New Yorker Linda Ciofalo (April 18), New York swinger Nancy Kelly (May 9), Portlander Belinda Underwood (with pianist Benny Green, May 31), Montanan Jeni Fleming (June 28) and San Franciscan Amandah Jantzen (Aug. 23).

Diabate vs. Atomic

Promoters don't usually present two competing shows on the same night, but Earshot Jazz executive director John Gilbreath was so excited by Malian kora (harp) player Toumani Diabate's Symmetric Orchestra and the zany Scandinavian jazz group Atomic, he decided what the hell. Earshot presents both bands Thursday: Diabate plays at 7 and 9:30 p.m. at the Triple Door ($25-$30; 206-838-4333 or www.thetripledoor.net); Atomic at 8 p.m. at Tula's ($14; 206-443-4221 or www.tulas.com).

This makes for a tough decision. In 2006, Diabate released "Boulevard De L'Independence" (World Circuit/Nonesuch), one of the most amazing albums ever to come out of West Africa. Produced by Nick Gold, who brought us the Buena Vista Social Club, it mixes delicate, showering webs of kora with warbling and wailing vocals, horns and strings playing funk, jazz, Latin and other African traditions.

Though West African groups like the Super Rail band have made great albums in the past, "Boulevard" isn't just "Afro-pop." It's a brilliant new world fusion, like nothing you've heard.

Atomic is one of the best groups to emerge out of the Nordic jazz explosion. At the 2005 Vancouver Festival, the band played a quick-witted set featuring haunting textures and sinewy improvised solos.

Not part of Scandinavia's often overrated club-beat "NuJazz" movement, Atomic is a fluid, post-mainstream band whose asymmetric yet rolling rhythmic feel recalls Ornette Coleman. The band features trumpeter Magnus Broo and saxophonist Fredrik Ljungkvist, both from Stockholm, with an Oslo rhythm section of Haavark Wiik (piano), Ingebrigt Haker Flaten (bass) and Paal Nilssen-Love (drums).

Paul de Barros: 206-464-3247 or pdebarros@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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