Phonte and 9th Wonder
As one of the most beloved underground hip-hop upstarts of the early aughts, Durham, N.C.'s, Little Brother retired far too early for their fans' liking. Creative differences and record label issues had spoiled the good vibes, which were the group's foundation. But only two years after the group's fourth and final album, Leftback, there's good news to report: Members Phonte and 9th Wonder have reunited. While the former is a rapper-singer with a workmanlike flow and blue-collar concerns, the latter has gone on to produce soul-soaked beats for big hitters like Jay-Z, Chris Brown and Drake. Still, when these two come together, they never fail to see eye-to-eye in delivering the kind of golden age gem that inspired them in the first place. —Chris Martins
EL REY THEATRE
This longtime musical shapeshifter is worth hearing no matter what project she's pursuing: Last spring at Largo, I saw her do a set of Prince covers that revealed aspects of the Purple One's work I'd never heard before. (Who knew how much melancholy was lurking at the center of “I Would Die 4 U”?) Tonight Ndegeocello hits El Rey behind the recently released Weather, a gorgeous set of avant-soul tunes she recorded here in L.A. with producer Joe Henry; it might be her most sensual effort since 1999's Bitter. A natural bandleader who hasn't lost touch with her bass-player roots, Ndegeocello never tours with anything less than a knockout band. The current one includes ace guitarist Chris Bruce and wild-man drummer Deantoni Parks. —Mikael Wood
Alan Ferber Extended Ensemble
In August, NYC trombonist Alan Ferber sprang a short-notice West Coast version of his Extended Ensemble big-band project on a Monday night at Blue Whale. The result was one of the standout jazz shows of the year in Los Angeles; in fact, it recently was named one of the Weekly's Top Five Jazz Concerts of 2011. This weekend, Ferber returns with a nearly identical all-star lineup, including heavyweights Phil O'Connor, Katisse Buckingham, Anthony Wilson and Josh Nelson. Ferber's compositions and arrangements are inventive, original and challenging; they're a key reason he has been able to attract so many of the area's finest players, some of whom are rarely seen in big-band settings. Go, and get the new year off to a very musical start. —Tom Meek
QUETZAL at Cafe Club Fais Do-Do; NO AGE, HELLER KELLER, PALM READER at the Smell; MARIACHI EL BRONX at Natural History Museum of L.A. County; KRAYZIE BONE at the Terrace (Pasadena).
One of the many promising metal bands killed off by the music industry's myopic obsession with grunge at the turn of the 1990s, Seattle's Sanctuary reunited last year in a more favorable climate for their ambitious, Iron Maiden–influenced thrash. Ultraproficient instrumentally, and with proudly proggy leanings, Sanctuary remain distinguished by the apparently gender-straddling vocal range of frontman Warrel Dane (who, rumor has it, physically injured himself while hitting the ludicrously high notes of the band's 1988 debut album, Refuge Denied). Diehards consider both of Sanctuary's studio collections thrash classics, and there's an air of unfinished business about the band's initially truncated career. Comeback shows like this Club Nokia stop should offer horns-aloft vindications for the faithful. —Paul Rogers
Baked Potato All-Stars
THE BAKED POTATO
Guitarist Jeff Richman has been a staple at the Baked Potato for more than 20 years, putting together all-star lineups on a regular basis to play originals and a few tunes from the fusion/rock songbook. Tonight's lineup is no exception, with heavyweights Brandon Fields (ex-Rippingtons) on sax; 2011 Grammy nominee Jimmy Haslip (Yellowjackets) on bass; and former longtime Frank Zappa drummer Chad Wackerman. Richman's music is accessible to a wider audience than some heavier fusion players, but still interesting enough for the most ardent fans. —Tom Meek
LAWRENCE LEBO at McCabe's; VIZA at Key Club; TOTAL CHAOS at the Can (Garden Grove); JEFF RICHMAN ALL-STARS at the Baked Potato; NIPSEY HUSSLE at Saint Rocke (Hermosa Beach).
Elvis Birthday Bash
When it comes to orgiastic rock & roll ritual, this annual birthday meltdown always delivers a tall stack of musical thrills. Gallivanting from loud and lurid to intimate and affectionate, you get a snootful of impassioned homages. These inevitably span not only the Memphis Flash's entire artistic spectrum but also frequently, and drastically, redefine formerly familiar material. Rendering tribute unto the King from 4 to 10 p.m. today are the likes of deft, sultry chanteuse Lisa Finnie, card-carrying EP colleague and rockabilly originator Ray “Caterpillar” Campi, those hip hicks the Groovy Rednecks, incomparable guitar-slinger Rosie Flores and the bop-mad, 70-something teen idol Jimmy Angel. Plus dozens of additional acts, always some wig-flipping surprise big-name guests and, most importantly, the fact that all proceeds go to the L.A. Mission. Gonesville! —Jonny Whiteside
If there is such a thing as an institution on the SoCal jazz scene, one need look no further than singer Barbara Morrison. Morrison has been a fixture in area jazz for decades since moving from her native Detroit, and has likely appeared in as many settings and venues as any jazz performer in L.A. Her well-publicized bout with diabetes over the past year has left her no less vibrant a performer, even with the challenges in mobility she now faces. Tonight she concludes a weekend run at Catalina, backed by the trio of Stuart Elster on piano, Richard Simon on bass and Lee Spath on drums. Go and enjoy one of the true divas, but get ready to stand up, dance and clap along — Barbara won't let you stay in your seat all night. —Tom Meek
COYOL, THE MOWGLIS at Bootleg Bar.
FYI, Princeton's twin brothers Jesse and Matt Kivel and cohorts named themselves after not the Ivy League university but the Santa Monica street where they once lived. An artfully melodious combo capable of cramming disparate strains into the pop-song box without losing a winsome (and slightly disturbing) charm, Princeton deftly weave clever cribs of classic British, French and Brazilian pop and Stax-like soul sonorities. They aren't above refashioning the concept album of art-rock's past, either. The result is a veritable cornucopia of atypical pop delights, crafted with brainy good humor and — this is the best part — a persistent element of surprise. —John Payne
THE YOUNG at the Satellite.
Club Cheval (Canblaster, Myd, Panteros666 and Sam Tiba)
Club Cheval isn't a band. Instead, it's a group of four DJs/producers from France, each with a distinct sound and individual discography. There's Canblaster, who put an '80s electro stamp on his mix of the Boys Noize, Erol Alkan and Jarvis Cocker collaboration “Avalanche (Terminal Velocity).” Myd made mash-ups interesting again when he fused Rihanna and Ace of Base. Panteros666 takes a minimal approach when remixing hip performers like Yelle. Sam Tiba incorporates more house, dub and hip-hop influences into his DJ sets and tracks. Collectively, they stand against the bombastic dubstep and progressive house sounds that have been ubiquitous for the past few years. Club Cheval's approach is subtle compared with today's big names, yet far more compelling. If you've sworn 1,000 times that you're over the sound and scene of big raves, you should be here. —Liz Ohanesian
Johnny Mandel Big Band
Johnny Mandel is one of America's great musical treasures. Still going strong past 80, Mandel won an Oscar in 1965 for the song “The Shadow of Your Smile” and is the author of such classics as the M*A*S*H theme (“Suicide Is Painless”), “Emily” and “A Time for Love.” Mandel has won five Grammy Awards and worked with a who's who of vocalists and jazz figures, including Barbra Streisand, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Shirley Horn, Diana Krall, Natalie Cole and Quincy Jones. His lush arrangements and sensitive treatment of lyrics have won him respect shared by almost no one else in American popular music of the last half-century, culminating with an NEA 2011 Jazz Master Award. A chance to hear Mandel work his magic live with an orchestra is a rare treat, and one that may well provide memories for a lifetime. —Tom Meek
FIDLAR, THE YOUNG at the Smell.
When L.A. electronic-music mecca Low End Theory first rose to fame, its superstars were beat-makers who had decided they didn't need rappers to be relevant. Now, the MCs flock to them. Odd Future's first show took place in this small, bass-addled room, Soulja Boy protégé Riff Raff recently visited, and now the Cool Kids' über-hip ambassador Chuck Inglish is headlining. The Detroit rhymer-producer is set to drop a collaborative album with Curren$y, dubbed Puff Daddy, so expect to hear that gruff voice slanging pot puns in addition to his usual topics: sneakers, bike rims, pool parties, eating cereal and being “cooler than that guy.” Of course, Inglish wouldn't be stopping by if he weren't looking to re-up on cred, so take advantage of this opportunity to see the guy spit in a space where you'll feel the spray. —Chris Martins
VOXHAUL BROADCAST at the Satellite; IDLE WARSHIP FEATURING TALIB KWELI AND RES at Key Club; LEONARD THOMPSON/MATT OTTO DUO, ARIEL ALEXANDER GROUP, MATT OTTO QUINTET at Blue Whale.
Big shit poppin': L.A.-based Frenchman Anthony Gonzalez follows up his rapturously received November Music Box gig with a pair of sold-out shows at the 2,300-capacity Club Nokia. And that's after the numerous year-end honors bestowed upon Hurry Up, We're Dreaming, Gonzalez's latest album under the M83 moniker, as well as its semi-hit single, “Midnight City.” (At press time the song's video had racked up more than 2 million views on YouTube.) That kind of renown could spell trouble for many of the hermetic chillwave dudes who've sprung up in M83's wake; lots of this new synth stuff seems dependent upon its maker's latent inferiority complex. Gonzalez, though, pursues an openly ambitious sound that probably will improve the closer he gets to stardom. Bring it on, bébé. —Mikael Wood
If 2011 was the year that youth bum-rushed the rap game (and it was), then 2012 is staged to be a potential killing field as the newcomers battle for legitimacy and limited resources. Unlike some of his flashier contemporaries, San Francisco–born Roach Gigz has what it takes to outlast his own hype: a quick wit, undeniable style and the drive of his on-screen idol, Rocky (they both rep their Italian heritage with pride). The 22-year-old's Roachy Balboa Round 2 was one of the most consistent mixtapes of the last 12 months. Buttressed by a set of beats that repurpose hyphy's bounce as swaggy pop-to-be, Gigz rhymes about lost love, found lust, chasing fame and getting “higher than a hundred bats” in a flow that owes to easy-riding Bay Area heroes like Andre Nikatina and Mac Dre. —Chris Martins
The Milk Carton Kids
The fortuitous meeting of L.A.-based guitarist-singers Kenneth Pattengale and Joey Ryan brought together two gifted musicians with a similar vision for a new kind of American folk, and a great ability to hear and play it right. With just two acoustic guitars and a couple of rather Everlys-esque voices, the duo lays into its roots sound with modern spareness and minimum hoakum, emphasizing the interplay of clean, melodic lines and harmonic richness. Not just an ideas band, the Milk Carton Kids have an impressive arsenal of playing chops at their command, too, which only heightens the impact of their rip-roaring, often hauntingly beautiful songs. The familial way these guys play and sing together makes their collaboration seem like fate. —John Payne
The Cab, The Summer Set
Traditional punk bands once took major offense at the notion that their genre could ever merge with pop; after all, one was the antidote to the other, right? But when acts like Blink-182 arrived in the late '90s, there was seemingly no other way to describe their genre-melding vibe. Nowadays, pop-punk crossover is in full swing. Bands like Las Vegas' the Cab co-wrote their newest effort, Symphony Solider, with the likes of Bruno Mars and Adam Levine, and their touring partners, Arizona's the Summer Set, saw their 2009 single “Chelsea” given the cha-cha treatment on Dancing With the Stars. Punk's spastic rowdiness and spirited mayhem are not lost in these crews' live shows; just don't expect dudes in Black Flag shirts to be raging in these parts. —Dan Hyman
GEORGE DUKE at Catalina; JUDY WEXLER QUARTET at Crowne Plaza LAX; LA SERA at the Echo.