Oregon ArtsWatch

 

‘Oregonophony’ review: turning place into sound

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble concerts feature original music incorporating recorded sounds of Oregon -- but not necessarily the sounds you’d expect

By  CHRISTINA RUSNAK

What does Oregon sound like? For its spring 2017 concert, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) sought proposals from Oregon composers for music that would incorporate recorded sounds from Oregon. The music selected for Oregonophony evolved from the diverse auditory inspirations of two experienced professionals and three emerging jazz composers.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performed ‘Oregonophony’ in Salem and Portland. Photo: Lynn Darroch.

Assimilating sounds of Oregon into the five musical pieces underscored the presence and importance of external sounds as part of our contemporary musical palette and of our lives. For me, this concert also reflected in music the way Oregon is changing.

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Photography review: Photographs from the cold and wet

Corey Arnold's depictions of life at sea and Aleksey Kondratyev's ice fishermen contain a sublime shiver

By LAUREL REED PAVIC

Cold and ice were not the first things that I wanted to ponder mid-May, especially not this one, coming after a cold and rainy spring. But Blue Sky Gallery and Charles A. Hartman Fine Art both scheduled “cold and ice” shows before they could have known what we would be facing, so the perception of mockery with a late-arriving spring is probably unintentional. Neither Aleksey Kondratyev’s Ice Fishers (Blue Sky) nor Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams (Charles A. Hartman) indulges springtime escapism. Instead they demand begrudging weather optimism: There’s always someplace colder than here.

Corey Arnold’s photographs are mesmerizing in their figuration of another life, one far more dramatic and dangerous than my own. Arnold spent eight seasons as a commercial fisherman in the Bering Sea. Though he no longer works in the industry directly, the current body of work was shot in Dutch Harbor, Alaska, in the Aleutian Islands. Aleutian Dreams returns to the subject of fishing and the sea while also chronicling life in a place with little division between “civilization” and the “wild.” Bald eagles rummage through garbage bins or patriotically adorn flagpoles (Dumpster Diver and Bald Freedom) and foxes roam the streets (Roadside Friend).

Corey Arnold, “Tad and Octopus”, 2017, Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Arnold’s approach to human subjects has changed in this series. Earlier photographs confirmed stereotypical expectations: the bearded man in waders (Ben and King (2009)) or the sea-hardened, turtlenecked figure in The Irish Skipper, Rossaveal, Ireland (2010). Aleutian Dreams includes no faces. In Rob and Skate, Rob’s face is entirely blocked by the fish, and in Tad and Octopus Tad’s head is covered by his orange hood so that all we see is his apparently gentle cradling of a limp octopus: an awkward pieta for the ocean set. In Pedro Mending, the hood of his outerwear shadows his face so the figure becomes an apparition in yellow against black net. People are named but faceless, subsumed by the enormity of the sea life and gritty necessities of the task at hand.

The experience is beautified and sanitized, expunged of visceral realities such as biting wind or stench of fish. The way dreams should be—all of the nice parts, the adventure without the discomfort: The Deadliest Catch translated from reality television to the art gallery, more beautiful and poignant and without the foul language or acerbic personalities.

*****

Aleksey Kondratyev’s photographs have less apparent drama. All are untitled. Most are single figures in billowing plastic bags against a snowy backdrop. Honestly, my first thought was the parental injunction against putting plastic bags over one’s head. This only confirms my coddled and well-mitttened upbringing. The Ishim River is in Kazakhstan, where it is cold. Not Portland “when is the snow going to melt” cold, but horrifically, brutally cold, up to 40 degrees below Fahrenheit cold. These makeshift plastic shelters are the only protection from these temperatures as the figures bend to the business of ice fishing.

Aleksey Kondratyev, Untitled, 2016, archival pigment print, 24″ x 30″/
image © Aleksey Kondratyev/Courtesy of Blue Sky Gallery

The shelters have a strange geometry, some are human-shaped ovoids while others are more directly reminiscent of their rectangular bag origins. Some appear sturdier than others, a blessing in the form of thicker-ply or even woven plastic. A few are patched with yellow tape. All are ingenious adaptations of the idea of “shelter.”
The figures inside the bags are vague forms hunched over unseen portals to the river below. Far more visible are the necessary tools: a plastic bucket, a hand-cranked drill, a can of Nescafe, a folding chair (at least some nod to comfort?). Particularly curious are the images of two or three fishermen right next to one another, but in their own shelters: a telling depiction of isolation in community.

Kondratyev includes several close-up images through the plastic. These are enigmatic. Condensation and ice mar the undulating plastic surface. Without the context of the shelter images, I would have no idea how to read these smaller works and yet their intimacy and draw is undeniable.

*****

Both Arnold and Kondratyev make photographs dealing with fish and ice, but the real parallel here is the venerable artistic tradition of the sublime. The sublime has many meanings in philosophy, but the one most familiar in art is Edmund Burke’s 18th century definition: the sublime is equal parts awe and terror. The sea has always been a favored subject in the consideration of the sublime, beautiful and dangerous. It was especially popular subject when people were dependent on it for transportation, trade, military protection, even light. Caspar David Friedrich and Joseph Mallord William Turner both painted several churning sea images. Arnold’s Dark Sea and Shifting Sea link directly to these predecessors.

Corey Arnold, “Colliding Sea”, 2015,
Archival pigment print/Courtesy Charles A. Hartman Fine Art

Kondratyev’s embrace of the sublime is less obvious but offers a fitting commentary for the contemporary world. Ice fishing is a traditional and historic practice on the Kazakh steppe. Plastic bags are a modern invention. The shelters represent a marriage of tradition and convenience: they lend a modicum of control in an unforgiving landscape.

Control, however, is an illusion. A plastic bag doesn’t protect against sub-freezing temperatures. The way we talk about climate change implies that we have some control over nature. We made the mess; we can fix the mess. But nature doesn’t care about us. Weather isn’t benevolent or malevolent. We are always outmatched. Our best efforts and most fervent attention, while urgently necessary, amount to little more than a film of plastic held together with some yellow tape.

Be in awe. Be terrified.

And be glad that it isn’t actually that cold.

NOTES

Corey Arnold’s Aleutian Dreams continues through May 27, 2017, at Charles A. Hartman Fine Art, 134 NW Eighth Ave.

Aleksey Kondratyev’s exhibition continues through May 28, 2017, at Blue Sky Gallery, 122 NW Eighth Ave.

Sexmob, Asher Fulero Band, Jazz is PHSH review: three degrees of fusion

A Portland triple bill features bands that combine jazz, rock, funk, jam, and other ingredients in varying proportions

By PATRICK MCCULLEY

Jazz has come to mean a lot of different things to a lot of different people. So when you combine jazz elements with other styles of music, it tends to make what genre you’re listening to hard to pin down. Is it jazz? Is it jazz fusion? Or is it something that isn’t jazz but gets put in that category anyways? I found representations of all three categories on stage at Portland’s Star Theater one night last month.

Sexmob, the New York based jazz punk-rock fusion quartet, has been tearing it up for twenty years. Their instrumentation, with Kenny Wollesen on drum set, Tony Scherr on electric bass, Briggan Krauss on alto saxophone, and Steven Bernstein taking the lead on the rarely seen slide trumpet, makes for an interesting combination. I’d never seen the the slide trumpet played live before, it looks and plays like a miniature trombone, but sounds very much like a trumpet, with the addition of being capable of playing smears and glissandi typically associated with trombone. I would be hard pressed to name anyone else who played this instrument, a fact I’m sure that Bernstein took into account when deciding to first take up the instrument.

Sexmob’s Steven Bernstein

Sexmob’s music, like their bandleader’s instrument, is equally unique. Yet the ensemble actually does exactly what jazz musicians have been doing for decades. Sexmob comes at you with a staggering variety of styles and melds them together. This is what was exciting about listening to them play. One moment slide trumpet and saxophone are playing familiar pop melodies over a grooving second line drum pattern, the next they are blasting middle-eastern or klezmer infused solos over a raucous punk rock feel.

Alto saxophonist Krauss takes his style straight out of the John Zorn playbook, to great effect, with carefully crafted noise juxtaposed with melodious and rhythmically decisive improvisations. The entire ensemble has a talent that you tend to expect of great jazz musicians: balancing the avant garde with the mainstream. They craft musical environs familiar for the audience, like quoting melodies of pop tunes as they play a warm-up jam, and then take you on a journey through their personal style. Sexmob’s confluence of styles, confident stage presence that could only come from decades of experience, and their ability to achieve these within a wider interpretation of jazz, is testament to the depth of talent these musicians possess.

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Calmus review: polish and precision

A wonderful German vocal ensemble's Shakespeare-themed concert 

by TERRY ROSS

In a classical music world full of a cappella vocal ensembles, the German group Calmus stands out.

First of all, they sound gorgeous, miraculously so. The five of them — soprano Isabel Jantschek, countertenor Sebastian Krause, tenor Tobias Pöche, baritone Ludwig Böhme, and bass Manuel Helmeke — have wonderful voices, but so do the members of Stile Antico, The Tallis Scholars, and any number of other groups. There are, after all, many, many lovely voices in the world. But Calmus sounds especially good because of their unparalleled ensemble precision. It’s not a cold and implacable precision, but a cohesion of timbres, phrasing, and breathing that can only be the result of talent and a great many very carefully planned rehearsal hours.

Calmus performed at Portland’s St. Philip Neri church. Photo: John Green.

In a program of 25 selections on a Sunday afternoon concert at Portland’s St. Philip Neri Church on April 30, sponsored by Friends of Chamber Music, these five singers showed how all that rehearsing can pay off. Their show was the smoothest, the most polished I’ve ever seen. They started, sang, and ended each piece, exactly together, without looking at one another and without anyone setting a tempo; instead they made contact with their audience. Presenting their program in sets of about five selections each, they reduced interruptions for applause until after each set, and they moved from one selection to the next without retuning, having taken a pitch for just the first number.

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‘James Beard: America’s First Foodie’ review: Oregon’s own culinary pioneer

PBS documentary airing Sunday chronicles the life of a Portland-born champion of farm-to-table cooking

By ANGELA ALLEN

Portland’s food royalty stepped out in full force May 5 when Northwest Film Center screened James Beard: America’s First Foodie at Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium.

James Beard

Several notable Portland chefs, restaurateurs, brewers, food press and enthusiastic cooks appeared in the movie — and in the audience. Post-film, moviegoers among the standing-room-only crowd were invited to nosh on Beard’s famous onion sandwiches (on white bread with homemade mayo) at the convivial reception. Bon vivant Beard (1903-1985) would have been proud of that event; he loved to bring people together, and fresh local food was his way to do it.

Hard to believe this film, which airs tonight, May 21, on PBS’s American Masters and is available for streaming on the PBS website, is the first full documentary about one of Portland’s favorite citizens. Born in Portland in 1903 to an independent mother who ran a boarding house with righteous attention to market-fresh meals, Beard grew into America’s grand poobah of food. Before he dove thoroughly into the food world, he went to Reed College and was kicked out for having an affair with another man. (Later in 1976, Reed gave him an honorary degree.) He tried his talents at theater, but eventually food stuck as his calling.

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A Cascadia Composer in Cuba

A Portland composer brings her music to Havana, and returns with a new perspective on music in everyday life

by CHRISTINA RUSNAK

Editor’s note: with Cascadia Composers bringing Cuban contemporary classical music to Portland for a Friday concert performed by FearNoMusic, we’re sharing Cascadia Composer Christina Rusnak’s experience exploring the Havana music scene and recording her music there last year.

Politics may divide us, but music unites us. In 2015, I was invited by Parma Recordings to come down to Cuba with four other American composers to record our pieces in Havana, Cuba. The focus of much of my musical work is at the intersection of place and culture. To experience Cuban culture and music at this historic juncture – it seemed like destiny called! Along with supervising the recording two of my compositions, I was able to explore Havana and gain some insights on Cuban music, art, and life.

Approaching Havana. Photo: Christina Rusnak.

The piece I submitted was a short work to be sung by the women’s choir Vocal Luna. Written for a wedding, Parma asked if I could I write a companion piece for them to sing. “Yes” is a composer’s best friend, so I finished a funeral piece in January and sent them both off to be rehearsed for the Havana recording session in April 2016.

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Black Violin review: black & white

At the classical/hip-hop duo's latest Portland shows, the action happened as much in the seats as on the stage

by MARIA CHOBAN

Commotion at the corner of my right eye. People standing in the rows of the concert hall. No, wait. Grey and white haired women pushing to get to the aisle. Eyes follow to…

MOSH PIT!!!

Only a few feet away the aisle is bopping to Telemann-like riffs thumping from Black Violin. Playing the posh Schnitzer concert hall, full of older white classical music appreciators and younger African Americans, the classical violin-meets-hip-hop band returned to Portland to promote their album Stereotypes. And oh boy did the mosh pit break ‘em!

Black Violin performed at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

From the stage, violist Wil Baptiste exhorts me to “Put Your Hands Up and Wave Them Like THIS!” His partner, violinist Kev Marcus, nods appreciatively, in rhythm, continuing to plow through noodly passages perfectly in tune. Nat Stokes, Black Violin’s secret weapon on drums, builds a propulsive engaging and LOUD narrative under the flashy strings.

Meanwhile, DJ SPS turned this whole weird juxtaposition between straightahead rock-tight drumming and manic baroque strings into glass, dropping in today’s beats and disembodied vocals. Add columns of colored lights and a fog machine and you’d have to be dead or a snob to not giggle along with the infectious enthusiasm.

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