PREVIEW The 2008 San Francisco Jazz Festival's Vanguard Series is screaming. There, I said it. Both neophytes and adepts need to turn out this week for what will be personal milestones those moments of "aha" and inspiration you'll want to crystallize in something stronger than words starting with mystic saxophonist Archie Shepp at Herbst Theatre Thursday. Considered one of the inventors of avant-garde jazz, Shepp blended blues, spirituals, and free-form music into a sound that transcends classification. Those who are familiar with his recordings are not getting the full message. Bearing witness is the only way to truly see.
Bearing witness is the only apt term for Cecil Taylor playing at Grace Cathedral on Friday. Taylor, one of the most prolific, experimental, and daring pianists in jazz or any other music, attacks the keys, coaxes polyrhythmic twists out of the music, and chisels chords from the dissonant, while traveling to the sublime and back again. Mix Grace Cathedral's seven-second reverberation and Taylor's inviting, deflecting, infuriating, and always inspiring compositions, poetry, and persona, and you get a religious experience. Go now or regret later.
ARCHIE SHEPP Thurs/23, 7:30 p.m. (pre-concert talk at 6:30 p.m.), $25-$65. Herbst Theatre, 401 Van Ness, SF. 1-866-920-JAZZ, www.sfjazz.org
CECIL TAYLOR Fri/24, 8 p.m., $30$50. Grace Cathedral, 1100 California, SF. 1-866-920-JAZZ, www.sfjazz.org