Edna Vazquez with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble review: homeward sound

Portland mariachi singer/songwriter's music shines in new, original arrangements for jazz band


In an interview with Edna Vazquez on Beyond Category – the PJCE Podcast a few days before her February concert with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE), executive director Douglas Detrick asked the Portland singer-songwriter about Portland as a home, and her sense of home. You’ll have to listen to the podcast to find out her answer, but Detrick followed up by confessing that whenever he attended her performance, it felt like home for him.

Edna Vazquez’s grandfather listened to the big band music of the 1940s and as a child, Vazquez loved its melodies and motion. Although her own music is rooted in mariachi, she finds that jazz is a parallel genre.

Edna Vazquez performed with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble at Portland’s Old Church. Photo: Douglas Detrick.

Vazquez’s mariachi music felt right at home in new arrangements for jazz ensemble at her 2018 PDX Jazz festival performance at The Old Church with PJCE. The concert was repeated in Gresham and Hood River.


Film picks: “Faces Places” and “The Death of Stalin”

Octogenarian Agnes Varda teams with young artist JR for a mobile art project while Armando Iannucci, the creator of "Veep," applies his satirical skills to Soviet Russia

Who doesn’t love Agnes Varda? Anybody who isn’t thoroughly charmed by the venerable, diminutive legend of French filmmaking probably isn’t worth knowing. If any 88-year-old can be said to be precocious, it’s her, and her latest (please, not her last!) effort, the Oscar-nominated “Faces Places,” is perhaps her most endearing and thought-provoking movie yet.

Some of the energy in “Faces Places” doubtlessly derives from Varda’s co-director, the visual artist known as JR. His signature project involves wheatpasting enormous photographs in public places, to incongruous effect. (He once made the Louvre pyramid seem to disappear.) In the latest iteration of this method, he and Varda drive around France in a van shaped like a camera and that serves as a giant photo booth: people climb in, get their picture taken, and a giant blow-up prints out from the side of the vehicle.

Agnes Varda, JR, and a goat in “Faces Places”/Courtesy NW Film Center

The title begins to make sense now, even if the rhyme is better in the original French: “Visages Villages.” In various hamlets, factories, and farms, ordinary folks are mythologized by having enormous images of themselves slapped onto the buildings they inhabit. Or used to inhabit–in one instance, a mural of long-dead miners transforms their onetime lodgings into a testament. In another, a giant goat head pays homage to the power of horns. Three woman married to workers at the port of Le Havre get their due by staring down at the dockyard from a stack of dozens of shipping containers.


Tudor Choir review: wall of sound

Seattle ensemble’s concert of early English and contemporary American choral music offers intriguing programming but monochromatic performance


The Tudor Choir re-opened for business this month. On hiatus since 2015, the ensemble presented one concert in their hometown of Seattle and two more in the Portland Metro area, at St. Mary’s Cathedral and in Hillsboro’s St. Matthew’s Church. The latter is a wonderfully accessible venue with a reverberant acoustic, challenging but with potential for this concert’s Tudor period music in which melismatic lines and reiterated melodies are woven through cleanly defined harmonies – when the choir and director find a way to bring this to the fore.

To a degree, the performance undermined that perfection of detail by creating a uniform wall of sound that obfuscated inner phrasing, was mostly uni-dynamic throughout, and void of nuance. There were, however, many wonderful duets that provided sonic and textural relief from the unvarying full-voiced mass sections.

Seattle’s Tudor Choir performed in Hillsboro, Portland, and Seattle. Photo: Sarah Wolf / Catholic Sentinel.

These concerts presented the music of two composers from an England in ecclesiastic turmoil. The music of John Taverner and John Sheppard represented some of the earliest examples of English choral polyphony. With insightful programming, however, founding conductor Doug Fullington ventured to the opposite extreme and paired that duo with two contemporary American composers: Jeff Junkinsmith and Nico Muhly. The gap of four centuries was bridged by subject matter and a common tune.

The performance, however, never quite rose above the purely technical. The music was not allowed to bloom and breathe. Of the thirteen voices, all but one was featured as a soloist throughout the ten-work program. Each was sumptuous, well trained with near perfect intonation. The entire ensemble blended vowels; entrances and releases were as one.


MusicWatch Weekly: Pacific voices

Choral concerts featuring contemporary sounds highlight this week's Oregon music

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus is hosting the Beijing Queer Chorus — China’s first LGBTQ choir — in a week-long community residency that culminates in a pair of public concerts.

Beijing Queer Chorus performs Friday and Saturday at Reed College.

Friday and Saturday’s Pacific Voices shows at Reed College’s Kaul Auditorium feature both original and traditional music from across the Pacific region, including Mexico, Ecuador, New Zealand (a Maori traditional song), Korea, Japan, Hawaii, Canada, the Philippines, a Taiwanese aboriginal tune, and of course songs from China and Oregon. PGMC will return the favor with a tour of China this summer.

Another choral tradition comes to Oregon with Cappella Romana’s performances of The Akáthistos Hymn Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral. Composed for the fine Portland vocal ensemble, British composer/priest/conductor Ivan Moody’s 1998 setting of the ancient poem to the virgin Mary (which he’s coming from London to conduct here) combines Byzantine chant melodies, Russian choral textures, and original tunes in a solemn, soaring and ultimately rousing rendition.

The Oregon Chorale celebrates home and family in its concerts in Beaverton Saturday and Hillsboro on Sunday. The contemporary choral program includes Eat Your Vegetables, a fun three-movement piece (one titled “Aversion to Carrots”) by Seattle composer John Muehleisen, whose music is getting a lot of Oregon play lately, plus other contemporary music by Eric Whitacre, Lee Hoiby, Sydney Guillaume, Dan Forrest and more.

The premiere of Muehleisen’s Pleaides’ Path highlights Consonare Chorale’s St. Paddy’s day concert at Portland’s Imago Dei, 1404 SE Ankeny St. Along with the Seattle composer’s new setting of a text by Consonare music director Georgina Philippson, the program does include the obligatory Irish reference (“Little Potato”), as well as The Peace of Wild Things (composed Jake Runestad, one of today’s hottest choral composers, whom you’ll be hearing more about here shortly), works by an Estonian composer named Pärt — no, not that one, but Pärt Uusberg — and more.

Jason Sabino leads Oregon Chorale. Photo: Don White.

Whitacre’s music, along with compositions by Northwest native Morten Lauridsen, the late American composer David Maslanka, Williametta Spencer and more at Clark College Concert Band and Concert Choir’s free concert Saturday at the college. On Wednesday, the college orchestra’s concert features one of the area’s finest singers, Vancouver native Laura Beckel Thoreson, in Prokofiev’s The Ugly Duckling, plus music by Darius Milhaud, Paul Dukas, Rossini and more.

Symphonic Sounds

Speaking of symphonic music, Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra plays a new Concerto for Chamber Orchestra by the winner of this year’s winner of PCSO/Cascadia Composers Composition Competition, Sean Osborn. The concerts, Friday at Portland’s First United Methodist Church and Sunday at Gresham’s Mt. Hood Community College Theatre, also include Dvořák’s Symphony No. 7 and Robert Schumann’s Piano Concerto in A Minor with soloist Sara Davis Buechner.


Portland Mini Musical Festival review: brief encounters

Fertile Ground Festival musical showcases benefit from focus on relationships

It’s hard enough to produce believable character relationships in a full length musical, what with the characters breaking into song and dance in the midst of their encounters. Yet even in under 15 minutes each, most of the six short works in this year’s edition of the Portland Mini Musical Festival at downtown Portland’s Brunish theater managed that difficult trick, mostly by focusing on a single relationship each.

Raimer and Carver in ‘Work Friends.’ Photo: David Kinder.

Work Friends, the most thoroughly successful of the lot, showed how even in just a few minutes, deftly drawn characters can evoke real sympathy — all while singing and dancing. Aubrey Jessen’s touching and hilarious office bromance earned genuine guffaws for its beautifully blocked cubicle dance, Jessen and composer Mont Chris Hubbard’s uproarious lyrics, and a winning, multifaceted (singing/dancing/acting) performance by Collin Carver. Kurt Raimer and Courtney Freed also excelled. An office worker longs for a closer connection to his charismatic but oblivious office mate, but doesn’t know how to make it happen— until an eavesdropping colleague stages a welcome intervention.


Zakir Hussain & Rakesh Chaurasia preview: a conversation in concert

Kalakendra brings one of the world's greatest percussionists and a bamboo flute master to perform traditional Hindustani music


In my thirty-odd years as a lover of all kinds of music, I have seen Zakir Hussain perform live four times: twice with Remember Shakti, and twice with Masters of Percussion. On every occasion, the California-based tabla titan has astounded me with the depth and breadth of his musical intelligence: not only his fine attention to detail and his willingness to be a supportive accompanist, nor his wide-ranging curiosity and generosity with international collaborators such as John McLaughlin and fancy-pants Steve Smith, nor his exuberance and pedagogical approach to performance (sometimes giving mini-lessons mid-concert).

What really stayed with me was that Hussain, one of the world’s most renowned musicians, was always trying something new, whether it was some advanced technique or a unique instrument. And of course the global collaborations and conversations continue, most recently with a bunch of my own kin.

Zakir Hussain & Rakesh Chaurasia perform Sunday in Portland.

At this Sunday’s concert at First Congregational Church in downtown Portland, Hussain performs Hindustani classical music with bansuri master Rakesh Chaurasia, nephew of the world-famous bansuri player Hariprasad Chaurasia, with whom Hussain has been playing for decades. Like Hussain, Rakesh has augmented his pursuit of classical excellence with a modern musician’s taste for cross-cultural collaboration. He has recorded with Greek composer Alexandros Hahalis (have a listen to “Firebird”) and a ton of Indian musicians, and even has his own fusion group, Rakesh and Friends (have a listen to their 2013 debut, with its Yes-like closer in seven). His classical playing is, of course, impeccable.

In a phone interview with Hussain and email exchange with Chaurasia, we discussed how they plan a performance, how newcomers might best approach listening to Indian music, and how a concert is really a conversation.


‘The Holler Sessions’ preview: jazz rant

A podcast interview with Seattle theater artist Frank Boyd, whose one-man show is a 'love letter to jazz' disguised as a radio broadcast

Podcast interview by DOUGLAS DETRICK

Editor’s note: Staged as a live jazz radio broadcast, Seattle-based actor/writer Frank Boyd’s one-maniac show The Holler Sessions is a portrait of a jazz-head(case) / radio DJ who evangelizes for the music in uproarious, often profane riffs. The show originated at Seattle’s On the Boards and went on to well-received performances in New York and beyond. In this podcast, ArtsWatch contributing writer Douglas Detrick, who’s executive director of Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, interviews Boyd about this production, which even includes some live music. Click on the embedded player below to hear the conversation.

Frank Boyd created and stars in “The Holler Sessions” at Artists Repertory Theatre.

The Holler Sessions runs at Artist’s Repertory Theatre this week only, March 8-11. Use the discount code HOLLER20 for $5 off your ticket at www.artistsrep.org/ or by calling 503.241.1278.

Want to read more about Oregon jazz and theater? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!
Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.