Back from the jazz ether: Dorough+Frishberg and Grace Kelly

Two Portland Jazz Festival shows manage to span jazz eras

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods play at the Hollywood Bowl.

Grace Kelly and Phil Woods play at the Hollywood Bowl.

By TERRY ROSS

Editor’s Note: Due to certain techno-goblins two Portland Jazz Festival reviews were disappeared in the vast ArtsWatch internet apparatus. Having returned to us, they find their place in the sun.

Dave Frishberg & Bob Dorough
Saturday, February 23, 2014
Winningstad Theater

It was a bittersweet afternoon at the Winningstad.

Sweet because ageless singer-pianist-bebopper Bob Dorough (90 years old!) acted like a man 25 years younger and sounded like he did on his records made 50 or 60 years ago.

Bitter because Portland’s Dave Frishberg, now in his eighties, didn’t.

The show was billed as a reunion, a bringing together of two old friends (they met more than 50 years ago) to sing their signature songs, play piano together a bit, and reminisce musically before an audience, a concept they’d done a number of times in the past but never in Portland.

And so it was, except that Frishberg kept blanking on the words to his own songs, and even the keys they should be played in. Dorough, patient and concerned, fed him cues, shouted out keys, and tried to keep the gig a dual act, but it was pretty much a no-show by Dave. He admitted as such, on stage, to Dorough, and even apologized to the audience, not once but three times. It was damned sad.

Curiously, Frishberg did manage to get through an opening piano duet, Duke Ellington’s “Rockin’ in Rhythm,” and later he did a fine solo break bit on another Ellington due, “The Mooch,” which he followed with a vintage stride number, solo. But he was otherwise at sea on vocals and piano playing, and the closing number, “I’m Hip,” which Frishberg and Dorough wrote together (Frishberg the lyric, Dorough the tune), was a fizzle.

Dorough, meanwhile, was alternately sweet and strong. “My New Celebrity,” a song Johnny Mercer wrote for Blossom Dearie, was, as everything is with Dorough, quirky and touching. So were “There’s Never Been a Day,” “Nothing Like You,” and Dorough’s oddly titled 1952 song “Love Came on Stealthy Fingers.” Altogether hotter were the bebop numbers “Where You At?” and another original, dedicated to Dizzy Gillespie, “To Be or Not to Bop.” Dorough alternated stabbing jabs in both right and left hands with a driving bass and filligree flourishes at the top of the keyboard.

Frishberg did succeed in delivering one vocal number, all by himself, an hilarious tune in parody of “major” motion picture themes called “Jaws,” with a trademark Frishberg rhyme on “frightening” and “sphincter-tightening.” But otherwise, except for Dave’s occasional piano triumphs, it was all Dorough. Which ain’t a bad thing.

Here’s hoping that Dave Frishberg gets his mojo back. And that Bob Dorough lives forever.

Grace Kelly Quartet
Saturday, February 26, 2014
Jimmy Mak’s

Once confined to “girl bands”—remember cross-dressing Tony Curtis playing tenor in Some Like it Hot? — female saxophone players have begun making their mark in the mainstream jazz scene. One of the best of the bunch, Grace Kelly, just 21 years old, lit up the Portland Jazz Festival schedule.

Born Grace Chung to Korean parents in Wellesley, Mass., in 1992, Kelly has astounded teachers and jazz stars since her childhood. Now fully grown, she demonstrated serious chops and deep harmonic understanding in her first Portland gig at Jimmy Mak’s. With a trio of men who sounded as if they’d played together for a long time (they hadn’t), Kelly showed off her skill on the alto and soprano saxes and added acceptable vocals in her generous Jazz Festival appearance.

The bill o’ fare was mostly Grace Kelly originals, spiced with arrangements and insider jazz standards. After an upbeat opener, Kelly gave us an original blues before jumping into what has become an anthem for her, a tune called “Don’t Box Me In,” in which she sang the liberating lyric and added a potent alto sax solo. “Autumn Song” and “Nighttime Star” followed, both GK originals from one of her recent albums — at her age, she’s already released seven!

The first half of her set ended with an upbeat tune by hard bopper Benny Golson, “Along Comes Betty,” in which Kelly pulled out all the stops. She then closed with her own arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” which started slow and soulful but soon enough became an uptempo exercise in total funk.

The woman can PLAY. She never put a finger wrong, whether modulating furiously to keep up with the excellent pianist Quinn Johnson, who came close to stealing the show a couple of times, or racing through scales and arpeggios like the best of the bebop honkers. She can play soft and slow, but she prefers loud and fast.

Still, who can tell what a player of her talent will evolve into? There don’t seem to be any limits on her musicianship, either technical or intellectual. Here’s hoping the Portland Jazz Festival invites her back for a bunch more years, so we can all find out who Grace Kelly will finally be when she grows up.

At this point, this reviewer hustled down NW 14th to Ivories to catch the end of Rebecca Kilgore’s set with Dave Frishberg, with Lee Wuthenow and David Evans sitting in on tenor saxes. Frishberg still seemed shell-shocked after his meltdown the previous Sunday, but Becky was better than ever, and Wuthenow and Evans improvised together to mellow effect (mostly) without stepping on each other’s toes. When Kilgore sang an upbeat “Mountain Greenery,” I felt as if I’d returned to jazz’s beginnings in embellishing melodies and finding melodic gold in hoary old tunes. The atmosphere at Ivories couldn’t have been more different from Grace Kelly’s set at Jimmy Mak’s, but the world of jazz is big, with plenty of room for stylists like Kilgore and Frishberg and young honkers like Kelly. Hell of an evening.

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