MUSIC

MusicWatch Weekly: jazzing Portland

Jazz reigns this week in Portland, but the state has plenty of other recommendable musical choices, from classical to contemporary

Jazz is all around Portland for the next couple weeks as PDX Jazz Festival’s 15th annual celebration commences Thursday. Angela Allen has ArtsWatch’s preview, and here’s a few recommendations among this week’s shows. But don’t stop there. With so many performances by excellent musicians, local and national, scattered around the city, many, many other fine choices abound. And don’t neglect the local artists. Even though we say we can see them anytime, let’s face it: that means we often take them for granted. Now, when jazz is front and center, use the festival as a chance to not only see legends you’ve heard on airwaves and recordings, but also to check out the outstanding jazz artists among us. I’ve often found their performances superior to, and more affordable than, much bigger names.

Edna Vazquez performs with Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble Thursday through Saturday.

For example, Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble’s show with Edna Vazquez Thursday at Portland’s Old Church, Friday at Mt. Hood Community College and Saturday at Hood River’s Columbia Center for the Arts continues the innovative series that pairs a dozen local jazz musicians with local singer-songwriters, all performing new, made-in-Portland arrangements of their music for jazz orchestra.

Among the big names, Luciana Souza’s Saturday show at Revolution Hall (doubled billed with the Bad Plus drummer Dave King’s other trio) mingles words by famous poets (Elizabeth Bishop, Leonard Cohen, Octavio Paz, Gary Snyder and more) with original music by a sublime singer who’s worked with classical artists like Osvaldo Golijov as well as jazz stars like Herbie Hancock. Violinist Regina Carter’s band honors Ella Fitzgerald in a double bill Sunday with Seattle guitar god Bill Frisell and bassist Thomas Morgan, whose new CD was one of my last year’s favorites. That duo also plays The Shedd in Eugene on Saturday.

For more forward-facing jazz sounds, check ensembles featuring composer-performers bassist Ben Allison, young pianist Tigran Hamasyan, and drummer Scott Amendola. Jazz guitar fans have a wide range of shows this week: Portland avant jazz guitarist Mike Gamble, local Brazilian Guitar Duo, and renowned Julian Lage and his trio, with a glimmering new album that really displays his varied gifts.

Improvisation fans can also check older, non-jazz styles at Portland Baroque Orchestra’s weekend concerts at First Baptist Church and Reed College. One of Italy’s finest Baroque fiddlers, Riccardo Minasi, leads Portland’s own period-instrument ensemble in rarely performed concertos by Baldassarre Galuppi, Giuseppe Antonio Brescianello, and, of course, Vivaldi.

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PDX Jazz Festival preview: tributes

This year's jazz celebration offers homages to recently passed masters as well as today's sounds

by ANGELA ALLEN

The past year saw a number of members of jazz royalty ascend to jazz Valhalla: Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Geri Allen, Thara Memory and Hugh Masekela, among others. But jazz lives on. This year’s  Portland Jazz Festival provides an array of platforms for living musicians to honor jazz’s passed masters, and to continue the tradition with their own music.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the festival, in its 15th year, will present close to 200 musicians, many of them local. About 100 events (about half of them ticketed) feature longtime jazz luminaries and emerging musicians for 11 days from Feb. 15 through Feb. 25.

The music of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk served as previous festivals’ organizing principles. This year’s lineup focuses on tributes to a number of late musicians. “It’s a snapshot, an inner glimpse at what makes jazz great,” says PDX Jazz Executive Director Don Lucoff.

Vocalist Kurt Elling will pay homage to the late Jon Hendricks alongside Hendricks’ daughters Michele and Aria, Portland vocalist Nancy King and the Portland State University Jazz Vocal Ensemble at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Revolution Hall. A free jazz conversation with Elling will be at noon on Feb. 15 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

The Geri Allen tribute, featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, sax player Ravi Coltrane and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding will memorialize Allen, who Spalding calls “a divine prism of pure heart and artistry.” That show is at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in Newmark Theatre. PSU professor and composer Darrell Grant worked with Allen and calls her his most important influence. He will be on stage with a solo or two.

Luciana Souza blends music and poetry at PDX Jazz Festival.

Add to those tributes Bobby Torres Ensemble playing the late Al Jarreau’s “Breakin’ Away” music at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at University of Portland’s Buckley Center, a new venue this year. At the Old Church, vocalist Allen Harris will team up with saxophonist Richie Cole to commemorate Eddie Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20. Portland sax player Devin Phillips and his trio will pay their respects to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Jack London Revue.

This year the festival locus shifts more to southeast Portland from downtown. The newly renovated Revolution Hall, with a 850-seat capacity, will host eight headliner shows, including the Brazilian poet-singer Luciana Souza/Dave King Trio double-bill (Feb. 17); violinist Regina Carter performing Ella Fitzgerald hits in a double-bill with the Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan Duo (Feb. 18); and 83-year-old South Africa-born pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his 1983-born Ekaya ensemble on Feb. 21. Ibrahim (a/k/a “South Africa’s Mozart” and Dollar Brand) will be onstage without his fellow South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who died earlier this year. Expect to hear tributes to Masekela.

Tickets for headliner shows range from $29 to $69, but many performances cost far less, most notably at such smaller venues as  Mississippi Studios, Mission Theater and Classic Pianos. And many gigs are free at hotels and restaurants.

The festival ends at Rev Hall with saxophonist Javon Jackson’s Jazz By Five show on Feb. 25, which will open with Portland drummer prodigy Domo Branch’s group. Branch, 17, is a student at Grant High School and a mentee of sax player Devin Phillips. Aside from Jackson, Jazz By Five includes heavyweights NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen, trumpeter Randy Brecker, Miles Davis’ drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Bill Evans’ bassist Eddie Gomez. Can’t get better than that.

“(Pianist) Kenny Barron said this is a ‘real festival, one of the best in the world,’” Lucoff notes. “Esperanza Spalding is returning for the fourth time since 2011. [Legendary saxophonist] Jimmy Heath loves it.”

Even with so many notables having passed on recently, today’s living legends still relish the chance to continue the music at the Portland Jazz Festival.

Other notables:

• Vocalese, the art of singing jazz improv, is front and center at Al’s Den throughout the festival. Vocalists appearing at Al’s include Shirley Nanette, David Watson, Kathleen Hollingsworth, Jeremy Joyce, Robert Moore, Alyssa McDonald and the Laurent Nickel trio.

• Up and coming offspring of Portland jazz elders will appear. Singer Tahirah Memory, daughter of Thara Memory who died in 2017 and taught young Portland-area musicians through his American Music Program and mentored bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, will join the eclectic band of Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Revolution Hall. Vocalist/percussionist Haley Horsfall, daughter of longtime Portland pianist/vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, will play with guitarist Cameron Morgan from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 20 in a free gig at the AC Hotel.

• Next-generation emerging jazzers, local and from out of town, pop up frequently throughout the 11 days at Mississippi Studios, the Old Church, Mission Theater, and hotels and restaurants. Check them out.

• There are many free events. Jazz Conversations cost nothing, and some are interviews with big names like Elling, Ibrahim and Ravi Coltrane.

• Portland’s beloved Randy Porter, a Grammy–nominated pianist, will put on his “Porter Plays Porter” gig with singer Nancy King and the David Friesen Reunion Trio in a sold-out concert at 4 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Winningstad Theatre. Dr. Lonnie Smith’s concert is also sold out on Feb. 23 at the Winningstad.

•  Biamp, a Portland audio-visual equipment company, continues to be the festival’s main sponsor.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

‘Living Things’ review: animating the everyday

Fertile Ground musical finds magic in unexpected places

Not all the characters in Archie Washington’s enchanting new musical Living Things are, strictly speaking, alive. Carnival bowling pins that get knocked over and set back up again over and over; components of a science fair rocket; a robot Mars lander and its orbital companion; a decommissioned rocking horse in a doomed shopping mall— all have speaking roles in this charming six-episode anthology, as do other creatures not generally understood by humans to be conversational: a fly, a moth, a butterfly, a potted plant.

Yet in Washington’s unbounded imagination, all those objects, animate and otherwise, have something to say, and plenty to feel. Even in the preliminary version showcased last month at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival,  Living Things magically takes us back to when we were kids and we imagined what everything around us— animals, plants, toys— might be saying or thinking or feeling. Some of us still do that, even after we’ve grown up, though not as often as we probably should.

Jenna Yokoyama, Sean Dodder, Netty McKenzie, Camille Trinka, Zachary Johnsen in ‘Living Things.’

A moth unexpectedly finds himself attracted to an injured butterfly, even though he can’t quite figure out what she is. “It’s Always the Pretty Ones,” sings the horny moth’s friend, warning him against getting too close, but he can’t help it.

That story’s resolution needs a little more action to believably motivate the moth’s final act of generosity, and in a later episode, I had trouble understanding the carnival bowling pins’ escape plan. Most of the episodes could stand a bit of trimming (none run longer than about 10 minutes or so), especially a short-lived housefly’s near-monologue— the most melancholy and least successful of the lot. Yet despite such minor blemishes, I was captivated by their stories, and I wanted these animate objects to achieve their goals —that’s the magic Washington imbued in them.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spanning the centuries

Music ranging from the Renaissance to today highlights Oregon performances this week

Pick a century, and there’s an Oregon concert to suit your taste this week. Working backward from contemporary to ancient, Saturday’s southeast Portland house concert by Ashland based duo Caballito Negro features flutist Tessa Brinckman and percussionist Terry Longshore playing music by David Lang, the West Coast premiere of rising American composer Wally Gunn’s Bare White Bones, a charming composition for toy piano and percussion by Christopher Adler, and new pieces by Brinckman and Longshore themselves that variously involve Baroque flute, hybrid flute, tabla, waterphone, and various electronic doodads.

Caballito Negro performs Saturday night in Portland.

Chamber Music Amici’s Monday concert at The Shedd presents a welcome mix of new and old sounds, by composers of African heritage. The excellent Eugene ensemble performs American composer Jonathan Bailey Holland’s 2016 String Quartet No. 2, Forged Sanctuaries, which celebrates the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service, whose mission is endangered today by our current rulers catering to greedy private interests. Holland has also addressed current topics like Black Lives Matter in other works. The enticing program also includes music by one of the finest 20th century American composers, William Grant Still’s lovely Lyric Quartette. And the band also plays a pair of chamber works by 18th century rock star Joseph Boulogne, Chevalier de Saint-George, the first composer of African ancestry to rock the classical world. Also a dashing fencer, soldier, violinist, conductor and more, his fascinating story and music are finally being rediscovered, but it’s a rare treat to hear his chamber music hereabouts.

Whole lotta jazz heading Portland’s way next week, but for now, try the jazz-influenced pop of Korgy & Bass, opening for Portland world music Tezeta Band Friday at Bunk Bar, or K&B composer/drummer/flutist Barra Brown‘s jazz trio Sunday at Turn Turn Turn.

Nostalgic for the 20th century? Third Angle New Music has you covered with New York composer Morton Feldman’s haunting 1982 Three Voices, a spacious, near hour long interweaving of words by American poet Robert O’Hara sung by three of splendid young female vocal ensemble Quince, Thursday and Friday at Portland’s Studio 2@N.E.W.

Portland pianist Rhonda Rizzo recently decamped to Europe, but she’s bringing Paris back in Portland for a Friday concert at Portland Piano Company with Molly Wheeler when the Rizzo / Wheeler Piano Duo plays 20th century music by Ravel, Faure, Chaminade, Poulenc, and a couple of distinguished visitors, Astor Piazzolla, and Samuel Barber.

Another pianist,  Lukáš Vondráček, plays music by composers from his Czech homeland (Smetana, Suk, Novak) as well as other 19th century Euro masters Beethoven, Brahms, Chopin, Liszt and Scriabin in his Portland Piano International recitals Saturday and Sunday at Portland State University.

For a mix of 19th and 20th century orchestral works, try the Oregon Symphony’s concerts Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday-Monday at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. The orchestra will record and perform American composer Walter Piston’s Pulitzer Prize winning seventh symphony, and also play Prokofiev’s volcanic 1924 second piano concerto (starring Natasha Paremski, so impressive in her last appearance with the orchestra playing Paul Schoenfeld’s music) and Tchaikovsky’s sweeping final symphony, with its (spoiler) surprisingly subdued and affecting closer.

Portland Opera presents five performances by baritone David Adam Moore of one of the 19th century’s greatest artistic achievements, Schubert’s searing song cycle Winter’s Journey  at Hampton Opera Center Friday through Feb. 17.  Despite its immortal beauty, it’s unfortunately rare enough to hear a complete Winterreise, but this one, accompanied on piano by the company’s chorus master and assistant conductor Nicholas Fox, is enhanced by “an evocative landscape of 3D projection mapping, designed by the NYC-based multimedia art collective GLMMR,” which includes none other than Moore himself as a designer. The fact that he’s performing in the piece makes this one more promising than some other multimedia productions in which the old razzle dazzle doesn’t always enhance the music.

Portland Opera brings digital visuals to its “Winter’s Journey” this week.

And speaking of Franz, the Schubert Ensemble of London also goes 19th century (Schubert, Faure, Hummel) in one of its final concerts Friday at Southern Oregon University Music Recital Hall.

Still too modern for you? Try Ensemble Primo Seicento’s performance of early Italian Baroque music for organ, harpsichord, cornetto, sackbut, recorder, and voice on February 11 at Eugene’s Church of the Resurrection, 3925 Hilyard St. Sunday. Unfortunately, that’s the same afternoon that another ensemble of early music specialists, Música Eugenia, plays Spanish music inspired by rivers and seas from the 13th – 21st centuries at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington Street. The show includes music for guitar, percussion and voice from the Spanish Renaissance, Baroque & Romantic eras, a 20th century piece by Federico Moreno Torroba) and a new Spanish song, written by the ensemble.

Musica Maestrale brings more Renaissance sounds to Tuesday night’s concert at Portland’s First Christian Church featuring American/English soprano Elizabeth Hungerford, soprano and  Renaissance lutenist Hideki Yamaya performing love songs by Dowland, Campion, Morley, Lawes, Purcell, and other English composers.

More recent vocal valentines are heartthobbing at Portland Gay Men’s Chorus soloists Sunday at Portland’s Old Church, and at Johnny Mathis’s Arlene Schnitzer concert hall show Tuesday with the Oregon Symphony.

Speaking of vocals, if you’ve recovered from last week’s choral confluence and are ready for more, check out another of America’s great touring vocal ensembles, Minnesota’s Cantus at Marylhurst University, whose interactive salon Monday builds a program with suggestions from audience members. Their Tuesday concert with choristers from Marylhurst, Reed and Lane Community Colleges includes still more Schubert and Richard Strauss, 20th century music by the great Finnish composer Einojuhani Rautavaara, who died last year and leading American choral composer Eric Whitacre, and a world premiere by one of today’s finest younger composers, Brooklyn’s Gabriel Kahane.


Got more recommendations? Please tell us all about them in the comments section below.

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

“Tesla” lab report

Harmonic Laboratory's ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results

Introduction

Harmonic Laboratory’s most recent experiment investigated the question: Can a creative cooperative based in digital media, dance, and music successfully add a new theatrical element to its existing compound to produce an integrative, immersive multimedia experience? This lab report examines the results.

Preliminary Observations

Over the past decade, Eugene-based Harmonic Laboratory (HL) has racked up an impressive record of multimedia collaborations involving installations, dance, digital media. (Reference: “The Original Tesla,” Oregon ArtsWatch.) Its new production, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, added a biographical element, a historical subject, and onstage science experiments to the mix.

Hypothesis

By adopting a recognizable subject that contains a built-in historical narrative, and adding onstage experiments to its newest performance, Harmonic Laboratory can broaden both its artistic scope and its audience.

Materials

  • Creative Heights grant from Oregon Community Foundation
  • Original music for string quartet and digital media by HL members Jeremy Schropp and John Bellona
  • Delgani String Quartet and other musicians from University of Oregon and OrchestraNext
  • Choreography, stage movement, costume, lighting & stage design by HL’s Brad Garner
  • Animation and projections by HL’s John Park
  • Guest animation work by Julia Oldham and Nathan Thomas
  • Dancers from Eugene Ballet and University of Oregon
  • University of Oregon Senior Physics Instructor Stanley Micklavzina and assistant Yohan Walter
  • Biographical facts from the life and work of American inventor Nikola Tesla
  • Performances in Eugene, Bend, and Portland.

Procedure

Tesla opened with a greeting from Garner, a brief overture, and a physics demonstration before actual stage action commenced: a Serbian roots group dance invoking Tesla’s southern European origins through an inward-facing, circular folk-dance like piece.

The next full dance number was inspired by Tesla’s invention of alternating current, followed by another physics demonstration. The first half closed with a bound-flow dance duet symbolically reflecting Tesla’s rivalry with Thomas Edison and a solo spotlighting Tesla’s showmanship, which helped him win support for his visionary ideas.

The second half began with animation inspired by energy field patterns and accompanied by Delgani Quartet’s performance of Schropp’s pulsating score. A pair of full company dances followed, one featuring projected white bird like animations recalling Tesla’s late in life affection for the pigeons who were often his only companions in the New York hotels he called home, and a second suggesting his ideas about wireless communication, some of which fueled the development of radio and later wi fi.

Another physics demonstration ensued before the show ended with a series of group dances accompanied by often dazzling, if sometimes predictable, animations and complementary music inspired by later chapters of Tesla’s life and the great inventor’s legacy.

Data

The experiment yielded useful data related to multimedia performance and context.

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MusicWatch Weekly: choral confluence

Chanticleer, Cappella Romana and St. Olaf Choir headline the week in Oregon music

Vibrant voices lead this week’s Oregon music calendar, beginning with one of America’s oldest and most revered choral ensembles, St. Olaf Choir’s performance Thursday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral, Friday at Eugene’s First United Methodist Church and Saturday afternoon at North Medford High School.

Anton Armstrong leads St. Olaf Choir’s 2018 tour. Photo: Flight Creative Media.

Led for 28 years by Anton Armstrong, familiar to Oregon audiences through his long tenure leading youth choirs at the Oregon Bach Festival, this year’s group sports several members from Oregon and is performing music by Portland born, Salem-based composer/educator (and St. Olaf alum) Stanford Scriven, as well as a J.S. Bach arrangement by Seattle’s John Muelheisen and Sure On This Shining Night by Beaverton native Morten Lauridsen. The program contains mostly compositions by 20th and 21st century  composers including Eric Whitacre, Robert Scholz, Rosephanye Powell, Undine Smith Moore, Moses Hogan, Jean Berger, Carolyn Jennings, Ralph Manuel, David Conte, choir founder F. Melius Christiansen, plus the  Sanctus from Leonard Bernstein’s Mass and a selection from Ariel Ramirez’s Misa Criola.

Choral glory continues with Chanticleer’s performances Friday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College, and Saturday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall as part of the San Francisco ensemble’s 40th anniversary tour. This year’s program, “Heart of a Soldier,” includes songs from across the ages on the sadly perennial subject of human conflict and its consequences by Renaissance European composers William Byrd, Thomas Tomkins, Clement Janequin, and Guillaume Dufay through some of the finest contemporary American composers including Jennifer Higdon and Mason Bates.

Friends of Chamber Music often brings Chanticleer to Portland.

Another superb vocal ensemble, Portland’s world-renowned Cappella Romana, brings over the great French conductor Marcel Peres (who helped rescue early music from dry, scholarly performances) to lead one of the great Renaissance masterpieces, Guillaume de Machaut’s Mass of Notre Dame Saturday at Portland’s St. Mary’s Cathedral and Sunday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church.

Pérès’s Ensemble Organum’s 1996 recording of the masterpiece by the the greatest composer/poet of the 14th century used Corsican singers versed in traditional embellishments that might resemble medieval vocal practices. Their intentionally earthier vocal textures and Peres’s emphasis on lower voices produced as much controversy as early music ever experiences — decried by devotees of later choral music’s restrained, pristine Anglican choirboy sound (which most previous recordings adopted), praised by those (like me) who cherished its folkier, emotionally expressive power. His approach should make an excellent match for Cappella’s singers (particularly its magnificent basses), themselves experienced in medieval Mediterranean vocal traditions.

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Sunwook Kim review: subtle touch, dynamic range

Versatile Portland Piano International recitalist knows when to exercise restraint — and when not to

By ANGELA ALLEN

Sunwook Kim opened his January 14 Portland Piano International recital with J.S. Bach’s Toccata, Adagio and Fugue in C Major, BWV 564, written for organ (think majestic, reverential, full-voiced) and ran furiously through the opening toccata. The word, toccata, comes from the Italian toccare, to touch, and Kim certainly had touch: his technical virtuosity, his fingers dancing like glittering lights, was unquestionable. But what about dynamics?

In 1900 when Busoni published his piano transcription of Bach’s original (likely written about 1712; most of the dates of Bach’s organ works are undocumented), he took plenty of liberties, including with dynamics, though like a harpsichord, an organ’s dynamics can be hard to express. But Busoni is reputed to have rescued Bach’s work from overwrought romanticism anachronistically imposed by other arrangers, and by the time Kim finished the three-movement piece, he showed he had far more than bravura in his tonal repertoire. The subtle touch and varying dynamics that surfaced there continued throughout his recital.

Portland Piano International presented pianist Sunwook Kim on January 14. Photo: John Rudoff/SipaUSA.

Kim won the prestigious International Leeds Piano Competition when he was 18. He was the first Asian to do so and the youngest winner in 40 years. Since then, the 29-year-old Korean pianist has carried a heavy load in his lithe hands to keep up the international reputation, but he’s doing quite well at it, playing with some of the world’s best orchestras including the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Concertgebouw and the Berlin Radio Symphony, among them.

Portland Piano International presented him on Jan. 13 and 14 in its Solo Series at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall. His two-hour recitals, featuring different repertoires, fell smack in the middle of MLK weekend. The 475-seat auditorium wasn’t full on Jan. 14 for the concert I heard, but he didn’t seem to mind. Blessed with sleek hair long enough to fling creatively but short enough to stay out of his eyes, he filled the hall with technically precise, multi-dimensional music, though he does have a jones for the Germans.

Kim knows their music well. He played works by Bach, Ludwig van Beethoven and Robert Schumann. Though he did not make a special request for the PSU Hamburg Steinway, he sounded quite comfortable with it. Europeans are used to playing Hamburgs over the New York version. The Hamburgs have a slightly thicker soundboard than the New York-made pianos, so their sound is a bit more subdued. Kim produced a lot of sound out of that Hamburg, and there was nothing subdued about his performance. Again, he was all over the range of dynamics.

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