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Page 4 of 5

Independent label Concord Records finally outgrew its East Bay headquarters and moved to L.A. this year, where it continues its rapid expansion as a major player in the jazz, pop, and Latin music worlds with a catalog that now tops over 1,000 releases. Some of this year's tastiest offerings include Poncho Sanchez's two-CD Ultimate Latin Dance Party (the title says it all), Keely Smith Swings Basie-style With Strings, and a posthumous retrospective of prolific bassman Ray Brown's contributions to the label, entitled The Best of the Concord Years (1974-1992).

COMEDY CDS

New comedy albums this year include Yippie muckraker and former San Franciscan Paul Krassner's Irony Lives!, which dares to take on our post-9/11 national mindset. Rykodisc has given us two performances from the late Bill Hicks' vault, LoveLaughterAndTruth and Flying Saucer Tour Vol.1, promising more releases in the future. Stoner icon-in-the-making Jim Breuer has put out Smoke and Breu, a raucous sampling of his unsubtle humor.

HOLIDAY ALBUMS

Two different seasonal releases include Time-Life's A Peaceful Christmas, which could be the perfect, calming wind-down disc after a hectic holiday, and Ryko's The Golden Dreydl: A Klezmer "Nutcracker" for Chanukah, by Ellen Kushner and Shirim Klezmer Orchestra, which puts a new spin on the ballet classic.

BOOKS

Due to widely varying tastes and sensibilities, it's difficult to buy fiction for other people. In doing so, it is somewhat implicit that you're responsible for the recipient's time spent reading it, and if they think the book blows, they'll blame you for the wasted nights and Muni rides. Long fiction is also a gift that creates resentment if they plow through it just because you may ask them how they liked the ending. This doesn't apply to the gift book, which can be picked up and enjoyed whenever and by whomever. Stick to light reads and art books like the photography titles recommended here, and try to support your local bookstores.

SF* California the Beautiful

Galen Rowell

Berkeley resident and prolific nature photographer Galen Rowell was the big dog of landscape, with many books and national exhibitions, as well as countless spreads in magazines like National Geographic. As an expert mountaineer, he was able to access vistas other wanna-be rock-and-tree shooters could not. He was a modern-day Ansel Adams, but in vivid, saturated color. As the first publication of his work following his tragic death this year in an airplane crash, California the Beautiful is a stunning tribute to his home state. Alongside the images are quotes and poetry from California writers like Maya Angelou, John Muir, Robert Louis Stevenson, and Mark Twain. Local publisher Via Books also publishes Rowell's wall calendars and appointment books.

SF* San Francisco: City By the Bay

Morton Beebe

This perpetually-in-print photo appreciation of the City by Morton Beebe was first published 17 years ago and has just undergone its third revision, which includes aerial shots of PacBell Park and a chapter on the excavation of the buried ship General Harrison at Clay and Battery. Throughout the book, romanticized pictures of SF are accompanied with essays from such local luminaries as Herb Caen and Barnaby Conrad. A great gift for grandparents or that East Coaster who doesn't understand why you moved here.

The Italians

Bruno Barbey

Inside Havana

Andrew Moore

Both of these beautiful books imbue a deep sense of time and place. The first is a record of the past through vintage street photography, the latter an architectural requiem of an island's heady history. Though just published this year, The Italians project was created in the early '60s as part of a series that began with the seminal Robert Frank book The Americans, but it never saw print. Moore's book shows modern neighborhood scenes and the peeling, crumbling interiors of recycled mansions, a glimpse of the faded opulence of pre-Revolutionary Cuba.

SF* We're Desperate

Jim Jocoy

At dilapidated venues like the Mabuhay Gardens in North Beach, SF photographer Jim Jocoy shot gobs of musicians and clubgoers from 1978 to 1980, then abandoned the project after smashing his camera for malfunctioning. Twenty years later, they've been dug up like a time capsule. We're Desperate is not celebrity photography glamorizing personalities; these 250, head-to-toe, up-against-the-wall pictures, published by Powerhouse Books, are a fashion and attitude document of a brief, iconoclastic movement. Included are Sid Vicious, John Waters, and members of Dead Kennedys, The Cramps, and X. As none of the people are identified, it's hard to tell who's a performer and who's a fan, but this doesn't really work against the book. Defining what is punk is impossible, but the expressions and outfits in these portraits are a near substitute.

Central Park

Bruce Davidson

Single-subject books run the risk of becoming monotonous and repetitive, but Davidson's Central Park never comes close. These beautiful black-and-white images show the incredible range of people and places in the country's most visited park. We see tourists, lovers, bums, and children, all candidly captured with respect and often playfulness. Whether you've visited just once or are a New York transplant, this book makes you want to go back to skate or throw a snowball. Most engaging are the winter scenes, of which we Bay Area natives can hardly conceive.

Modern Amazons

Bill Dobbins

Drop that cheesecake and check out the female beefcake in Bill Dobbins' Modern Amazons, an appreciation of women bodybuilders. These mostly nude explorations of ripped ladies takes up where the muscle mags leave off, hybrids into glamour and eroticism, and challenges notions of femininity along the way. Although undoubtedly not for everyone, the subject matter is compelling and provoc-ative in its novelty. Some of the costume concepts are a bit corny, such as the Frazetta-inspired sword-and-sorcery get-ups, but most are striking studies of self-created physiques.

Motel Fetish:

A Hideaway for Dreams of Desire

Chas Ray Krider

The women in Chas Ray Krider's world balance themselves on motel furniture and lounge in front of drab curtains. They smoke and drink booze from plastic cups -- visions of seamed stockings and stilettos, lit by television static or lamps with cocked shades throwing skewed shadows. But this is no exercise in exploitation. The women are in control of their powerful effect, with a calm and quiet tease.

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