Best Bets: Ackamoor, Queen’s Cartoonists, opera, jazz, and more

One of the Pyramids' most acclaimed recordings is the 2020 “Shaman!”

Freebie of the week: Fifty years ago, Idris Ackamoor and a few other musically inclined students at Antioch College in Ohio began studying with the pianist and free jazz pioneer Cecil Taylor. Soon after they formed a band and took an epic trip through Europe and Africa, during which time Ackamoor immersed himself in African music and the band, eventually called the Pyramids, cemented its sound, defined as avant-garde African jazz.

After returning to the U.S. and resettling in San Francisco, Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids continued gigging and released several albums. Despite the band’s unique sound – honed through steady jamming – and a reputation for incendiary live shows, it was rough going financially for the Pyramids. In 1977, after headlining the UC Berkeley Jazz Festival, the band broke up. Thirty years later, interest in the band rekindled. The Pyramids reformed and have been off-and-on ever since, releasing one of the band’s most acclaimed recordings, “Shaman!” in 2020.

To mark its 50th anniversary, Idris Ackamoor and the Pyramids are planning to release a double-disc vinyl collection, “Afro Futuristic Dreams,” and will play two free shows this weekend at the Presidio Theatre, 99 Moraga Ave., in San Francisco. Performances are at 8 p.m. Friday-Saturday and reservations are required. Go to 

San Jose-based New Ballet brings its Fast Forward program full of new works to the Hammer Theatre Center on March 18. (Photo courtesy New Ballet)

Full speed ahead: After the shuttering of Ballet San Jose in 2016, the New Ballet company and performance troupe emerged under the leadership of Dalia Rawson, who spent several years with Ballet San Jose and remains committed to presenting high-quality professional dance in the heart of Silicon Valley, including Rawson’s “San Jose Nutcracker,” which New Ballet performs to this day.

Despite its seemingly precarious situation as a troupe based in a city where another dance company has died, New Ballet is not content to play it safe by trudging out traditional ballet trinkets. This weekend, New Ballet presents the annual Fast Forward program consisting of new works. Six premieres are in the offing, including one from Rawson, titled “Wildflower,” featuring live accompaniment. Another work on the bill, Peter Merz’s “QDD,” is set to music by Washington, D.C. hardcore band Fugazi, which gets associated with ballet probably about as often as the San Francisco Symphony inspires a mosh pit. But such is the nature of New Ballet and its Fast Forward program, a risk-taking celebration of choreography.

The performance is at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the Hammer Theatre Center in San Jose. Tickets, $10-$35, are available at or 

The Queen’s Cartoonists perform their high-energy show of cartoon music March 19 at Stanford University Bing Concert Hall. (Photo courtesy Queen’s Cartoonists)

That’s all, folks: There’s nothing like reveling in the look on Wile E. Coyote’s face when he realizes the Road Runner has tricked him into going over the cliff (again). But a big part of the fun and energy of cartoons is the lively music that accompanies them.

While many may take that aspect for granted, that can’t be said about the talented musicians in The Queen’s Cartoonists. The six-member Queens, New York-based band is known and beloved around the world for performing madcap shows featuring cartoon scores pulled from more than 100 years of animation history – from classic works to brand new offerings – tightly sequenced to the cartoon playing on a large screen behind the musicians.

This is not just a goofy novelty show. These versatile musicians roar through jazz, classical, rock and pop numbers with aplomb. Comedy is also a big part of the show, as band members offer jokes and intriguing information on the history of animation and music. Needless to say, a Queen’s Cartoonists concert is a family-friendly affair.

On Sunday, the musicians appear in Bing Concert Hall at Stanford University for a matinee presented by Stanford Live. The show starts at 2:30 p.m. and tickets are $15-$65. Go to

“When Purple Mountains Burn,” a piece by composer Shuying Li and librettist Julian Crouch, is part of West Edge Opera’s 2023 “Snapshot” program introducing new works. (Photo courtesy West Edge Opera)

Snippets of story and song on stage: “Snapshot” is the apt title that West Edge Opera has given to a program that puts parts of its newly commissioned works on display while they are still in development. This year, they have five: “Port City,” by Bay Area composer Byron Au Yong and librettist Christopher Chen, is set in a post-tech world in San Francisco where “neurological systems are turned into memory maps”; composer Luna Pearl Woolf and her librettist Andrea Stolowitz’s “The Limit of the Sun” deals with the relationship that develops between a kidnapped journalist’s mother and the man who was charged with guarding him before he died in a botched rescue attempt.

In “When Purple Mountains Burn,” composer Shuying Li and librettist Julian Crouch riff on the “Hansel and Gretel” fairy tale, of all things, to examine the dynamic between a soldier and a journalist; “The Morpheus Quartet” by composer Beth Ratay and librettist John Glore is a comedy that revolves around an unusual evening experienced by a string quartet; and Matthew Recio and Stephanie Fleischmann’s “L’Autre Moi,” which is the working title, deals with the real life story of two surrealist women photographers who used their art to inspire a World War II resistance that the Nazis were convinced was mounted by a small army.

See bits of all five at 7 p.m. Saturday at Berkeley’s Hillside Club or 3 p.m. Sunday at the Taube Atrium Theatre in San Francisco. General admission tickets, $40, are available at

The guys and the gals together: Chanticleer, the Bay Area’s prized a cappella male chorus, joins forces with the award-winning San Francisco Girls Chorus for three concerts, beginning with Friday’s 7:30 p.m. performance in the Herbst Theatre in San Francisco.

On the program, titled “Neighbor Tones,” are new choral works, including an excerpt from “Years of Light” by Chanticleer’s composer-in-residence Ayanna Woods. The two ensembles will also collaborate on Trevor Weston’s “O Daedalus, Fly Away Home” and the beloved “Ave Maria” by Franz Biebl. Other composers represented on the program include Philip Glass (his “Father Death Blues”), Matthew Welch, Richard Danielpour and William Byrd; and Chanticleer will perform the traditional slave song medley “God’s Gonna Trouble” as arranged by Jonathan Woody.

Subsequent performances take place at 7 p.m. Saturday in Berkeley’s First Presbyterian Church and 7 p.m. Tuesday in Mission Santa Clara. Tickets, $21-$63, can be obtained at or 415-392-4400 

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