It’s a bit of a jolt to realize that Wynton Marsalis, who first hit the headlines as an 18-year-old prodigy with the Jazz Messengers and won Grammys in both jazz and classical categories when he was 22, is 54 years old now – not quite an elder statesman, but very likely the prime spokesman for the history and tradition of the jazz art form. And definitely a team guy. He plays with the group he heads, the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra, in an Oregon Symphony-sponsored concert Wednesday night in Schnitzer Hall (the symphony won’t be playing).
In a recent interview with George Varga for the San Diego Union-Tribune, Marsalis compared jazz to basketball, a game he loves: “(Y)ou have to figure out the skills of your teammates and facilitate the offense. Also, in both music and sports, you realize it’s not about you, so you play offense and defense. Sometimes, you step up (into the spotlight), but it’s the whole statement of the team, or band, that counts. … in team sports and bands, there’s a psychological complexity to the game and how we negotiate the space with each other.”
Meanwhile, another leading jazz voice, the blues-tinged vocalist Catherine Russell, performs tonight with her trio in a PDX Jazz-sponsored show at The Old Church, just a few blocks away from the Schnitz downtown. She tells Angela Allen, who had a conversation with her for ArtsWatch not long ago, that swing is “that pocket where music sits. You feel like you can dance to it. The rhythm section becomes one person and you feel the backbeat. All the musicians are communicating: they hit the backbeat at the same time.” Teamwork, again. The passing game.
And at Jimmy Mak’s, Portland’s premier jazz club, another crack musical team hits the court Saturday night. The legendary Portland band Nu Shooz, led by husband-and-wife John Smith and Valerie Day, has been touring behind the new album Bagtown and celebrating the 30th anniversary of its hit “I Can’t Wait.” Get on your dancing Shooz: It’ll be the band’s last hometown gig of the year.
HOT TIPS FROM THIS WEEK’S CALENDAR:
Camille A. Brown and Dancers at White Bird. The creative choreographer & company perform Black Girl: Linguistic Play, based on Kyra D. Gaunt’s book The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop. Brown blends a variety of styles, from African to tap to Juba to Gesture, and music is central to the performance. Thursday-Sunday in the Newmark Theatre.
The Drowning Girls at Bag&Baggage. The ghosts of treachery past: the three wives of George Joseph Smith rise from the tub where they were drowned to reveal the truth about their husband’s murderous ways. The Northwest premiere of a play about England’s infamous “Brides in the Bath” murders a century ago. Opens Friday, with a pay-what-you-will preview Thursday.
Bolero+ at Northwest Dance Project. Three new works by choreographers this company knows and loves: a new Bolero by resident choreographer Ihsan Rustem, plus premieres by Hubbard Street’s Lucas Crandall and Germany’s Felix Landerer. Thursday-Saturday at Lincoln Performance Hall, PSU.
The Wong Street Journal at Boom Arts. Comedian/activist Kristina Wong’s “travelogue/TED Talk/solo show” is inspired by her volunteer work in northern Uganda and comes to town trailing a string of superlatives. Opens Friday at The Headwaters.
Assistance at Theatre Vertigo. Leslye Hedlund’s satire is about a put-upon group of assistants led by the mysteriously familiarly named Nick and Nora (do we detect a pattern?) who undergo endless humiliations from their crass and uber-rich boss, a man who eats power for lunch. That sounds familiar, too. Opens Friday.
ART at Blackfish Gallery. Tobias Andersen directs Yazmina Reza’s sharp, brittle, and funny play about the meanings of art and friendship for Readers Theatre Rep, which performs, appropriately, inside Blackfish Gallery. For a change, this production’s fully staged, without scripts in hand. And as usual, it’s just 8 bucks a pop. Two performances, Friday and Saturday.
El Muerto Vagabundo at Milagro. Portland’s Hispanic theater and cultural center presents its 21st annual Day of the dead show, a premiere conceived and directed by artist-in-residence Georgina Escobar. It’s about a nearly homeless orphan kid who runs under a bridge and enters the Underworld, where Los Alvidados – the lost and dispossessed – gather for refuge and rest. Stories and other surprises ensue. Opens Friday.
The art museum fills in the blanks. The past week’s biggest arts news by far was the Portland Art Museum’s announcement of a $50 million drive ($75 million, including $25 million to add to the endowment) to build a new Rothko Pavilion to bridge the museum’s north and south wings and make access to the galleries much easier. The project comes with a 20-year agreement with the children of Mark Rothko, who grew up in Portland, to loan major Rothko works on a rotating basis. That will help fill a major gap: the museum owns only two small works by the 20th century giant.
DIAVOLO goes to work. White Bird’s founders call Jacques Heim, artistic director of this architecturally infused dance troupe, “our favorite crazy Frenchman,” and Nim Wunnan declares in his review that the honorific is both fond and close to the mark: “the personality of Diavolo makes it work. It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that Heim has worked with Cirque de Soleil considering this structure: a theatrical, somewhat tongue-in-cheek story arc is embellished and explored by acrobatic choreography and inventive sets.”
Giants 3, masterpieces 1. Martha Ullman West reviews Oregon Ballet Theatre’s new “Giants” program and discovers, despite excellent work by the dancers, only one of three pieces is a true masterwork: George Balanchine’s legendary Serenade.
From the mountains to Bluebeard’s Castle. Bruce Browne reviews the Oregon Symphony’s performance of Bartok’s tense one-act opera – “a danse macabre of butchery, love, sex,” with elaborate glass set pieces by Dale Chihuly – and finds himself delighted by the short accompanying piece Among Mountains, by 28-year-old composer Chris Rogerson: “It was love at first hearing and can’t wait to hear it again.”
Sub-standard hero at the food court. Artists Rep’s fast-food comedy American Hero, Marty Hughley declares, is tastily acted and produced, but the quick-and-easy script leaves you with that empty feeling.
Riding the rails with Steve Reich. Third Angle’s tribute to the 80-year-old contemporary music master, Matthew Andrews writes, was all that much beter for being performed among the vintage trains at the Oregon Rail Heritage Center.
Hir: Everything is everything. Christa Morletti McIntyre reviews Defunkt Theatre’s down-in-the-dirt production of New York performance scene icon Taylor Mac’s kitchen-sink dramedy.
Truth to tell: American wrongs and rights. Jeanne Sakata’s Hold These Truths, a smart and involving solo play about a real-life hero of the fight against World War II Japanese American internment camps, is deftly performed by Ryun Yu at Portland Center Stage – and, as we discover, it seems all too telling about our own times.
Jingzi Zhao’s lens on dance. In her most recent DanceWatch Weekly, Jamuna Chiarini chats with the Portland photographer, whose series of portraits of dancers in unlikely yet everyday spots is on view this month at the Multnomah Arts Center Gallery. (And as always, DWW includes a full calendar of coming dance events.)
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