"Quirky" requires a difficult balancing act for performers. Wander too far off the map, and everybody gets lost with you. Play it safe, and we get bored. Visionaries and iconclasts the Turtle Island String Quartet and Nellie McKay solve that by finding inspiration in semi-familiar items from the past.
In the case of the string quartet trailblazers, that's meant a repertoire ranging from Dizzy Gillespie to Jimi Hendrix. For bubbly and irresistible singer Nellie McKay, it's led to works based on the Doris Day oeuvre and tearjerker film " I Want to Live!" (Not to mention a collaboration with Fatboy Slim.)
The two acts have teamed up to take a fresh look at the music of Billie Holiday, Duke Ellington composer Billy Strayhorn and the saucy tunes of Weimar Era Germany. Catch them 2 p.m. Sunday at Bankhead Theater in Livermore. Tickets are $15-$55.
Also worth noting on the Bay Area jazz scene this week:
- East Bay treasure Ed Reed, a singer of tremendous nuance and power, pays tribute to the Nat King Cole Trio, 8 p.m. Monday at Yoshi's Oakland. $18
- Tigran Hamasyan, an extra-sharp pianist with a taste for the avant-garde (and puppet shows), performs 8 p.m. Wednesday at Yoshi's San Francisco. $18
- Free jazz/fusion/whatalll provocateurs Kneebody crank it up for shows at 8 and 10 p.m. Wednesday at Duende in Oakland. $15
- Paula West, one of the Bay Area's most treasured vocal artists, pays tribute to June Christy's landmark 1950s album "Something Cool," 7 and 8:30 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday at SFJAZZ Center. $40
- Percussion master and Latin jazz icon Poncho Sanchez cooks up a fiesta with his 8-piece band, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday at Yoshi's San Francisco. $22-$26
- Pianist Earl R. Johnson Jr., a prolific sideman now emerging as a distinctive and compelling solo voice, plays with his trio, 8 p.m. Friday at Piedmont Piano Company in Oakland. $20
- Violin visionary and all-around swell guy Mads Tolling plays a free San Jose Jazz show, 7 p.m. Friday at San Pedro Square Market in San Jose.
- Influential fusioneer Ramsey Lewis keeps it funky with his electric band, 8 and 10 p.m. Friday and 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Saturday at Yoshi's Oakland. $33-$45
- Supple and surprising vocalist W. Allen Taylor performs with his quintet, 8 p.m. Saturday at Berkeley's Jazzschool. $12-$15
- Trombonist, Tommy Dorsey cohort and tireless swing advocate Rex Allen keeps it cooking with his Swing Express, 4:30 p.m. Sunday at Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society near Half Moon Bay. $35
Send tips, comments and good vibes to the author.