Ten picks for SFJazz Spring Season 2012

Somewhere along the line SFJazz wisely decided to drop the word "festival" from its spring and fall season announcements.  I'm not sure when they did this, but when I checked their program to see if the Spring Season was still being billed as a "festival" I noticed it no longer was. It's about time. As SFJazz has grown, what they're doing now is no longer something that can be described as a festival because the organization has matured into a full-blown, major performing arts presenter specializing in jazz, but is also deeply engaged in other musical genres as well as community outreach. This is a fantastic progression, and as they work toward opening their own venue at the beginning of next year, it's time for them to rightly take their place alongside the other premier Bay Area performing arts organizations: San Francisco Symphony, San Francisco Ballet, San Francisco Opera, San Francisco Performances, Cal Performances and Stanford Lively Arts. The quality and variety of their programming certainly puts them in league with these other groups.

Why is this? Because like these other organizations, their offerings are an embarrassment of riches, and it forces the music enthusiast to make some hard choices because no one can see everything, and yet so much looks inviting.  If that weren't enough of a dilemma, SFJazz's spring season competes against all of these other organizations (except the opera) for your attention (and dollars) on any given night. But that's one of the reasons we live here, isn't it?
So, out of the 40+ concerts they're presenting from February 9 through June 17th, what follows are the ten I would recommend first, based somewhat randomly on uniqueness, rarity, quality, or in some cases, nothing more than my own musical preferences. What is a safe bet however, is that few of their shows, if any, will disappoint. The list is in chronological order.
Dave Holland Overtone Quartet  Feb. 24
SFJazz is billing this as one of the most significant gigs of their entire season. Enough said, and if it isn't, the quartet is comprised of Holland on bass, Chris Potter on sax, Jason Moran on the piano, and Eric Harland on drums.
Chrisette Michele  March 17
The Grammy-winning former gospel singer departs from hip hop and R&B to immerse herself into the world of Billie, Ella, and Sarah to take the audience on a forward-looking trip back, poised to deliver a great show at the Paramount.

Raul Midon  April 1
Midon has worked with some of Latin music's biggest names and now he's working the spotlight on his own terms, with dazzling results.

Sierra Maestra  April 4
It's their first U.S. appearance in awhile, and if you're a fan of the Afro-Cuban son sound of the Buena Vista Social Club, this show's for you.
Tin Hat  April 5
Carla Kihlstedt is one of the most imaginative artists around, constantly doing something new and interesting, and usually rooted in literary sources. Tin Hat is a collaboration featuring her with Mark Orton, Ben Goldberg, and Rob Reich. If you're looking for something adventurous and challenging, this is the gig for you- their latest music is set to the work of e.e. cummings.
Bill Frissell  April 21
A night of film and music, Frissell teams with Bill Morrison for a multimedia investigation of the Great Flood of 1927, and its aftermath on American culture.
Charles Lloyd New Quartet  April 22
Vocalist Maria Farantouri, Jason Moran, Reuben Rogers, Eric Harland, and Sokratis Sinopolous join multi-instrumentalist Lloyd for a night of what promises to be solid, inventive jazz.
Brad Mehldau Trio  May 18-20
If you know his work, nothing more needs to be said. If you don't, you're about to discover an amazing artist. The most highly regarded pianist of his generation rolls in for three nights with his superb trio featuring Larry Grenadier on bass and Jeff Ballard on drums. These guys are incredible, and with a different set each night, I wish I could attend all three shows.
Gonzalo Rubalcaba  June 9
A solo recital by one of the most legendary piano players to come from Cuba. Nominated for 15 Grammys and the winner of two, this promises to be an evening of gorgeous, rhythmic virtuosity.

Spectrum Road  June 16
This one has my curiosity piqued. Living Color's Vernon Reid, Cream's Jack Bruce, and Cindy Blackman on drums with John Medeski on keyboards, this quartet takes on the musical legacy of the legendary drummer Tony Williams.