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.

There’s more Baroque music Thursday at Oregon State’s Benton hall when soprano Amy Hansen, tenor Nicholas Larson and Musica Maestrale lutenist Hideki Yamaya perform English songs.

Hansen and Yamaya perform in Corvallis Thursday.

Speaking of violins and Vivaldi, one of today’s most entertaining and accomplished violinists, Rachel Barton Pine, stars Thursday in Vivaldi’s familiar yet fab Four Seasons violin concertos, which so movingly evoke seasonal natural sounds. You’ve never seen them like this though, because the Eugene Symphony’s performance will be augmented by visual imagery of our own McKenzie River, chosen from over 600 photos and videos submitted by Eugeneans.

Rachel Barton Pine performs with Eugene Symphony Thursday.

Nature also inspired the program’s 21st century composition by a young California composer and former classmate of ESO music director Francesco Lecce-Chong who deeply impressed audiences last summer when she was a resident composer at Portland’s Chamber Music Northwest. Gabriella Smith wrote her colorful Tumblebird Contrails to recapture the rapture she felt at the seaside during a three-day backpacking trip in Point Reyes, California. Edward Elgar’s In the South conveys the warm relaxation the English Romantic composer felt when on vacation in Italy, reminiscent of similar Italian postcards by cold-weather composers like Mendelssohn and Tchaikovsky.

Just up the road, the Oregon Symphony showcases the great film music of John Williams (sans film) this weekend at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. And more contemporary classical music — this batch actually grown in Oregon — shines in concerts at Portland State University’s Lincoln Hall this weekend. On Saturday night, Cascadia Composers presents Oregon music performed by some of the state’s top classical players, and inspired by modern paintings, science fiction heroines, a cat, various avians, and other artistic stimuli. Featured composers include Elizabeth Blachly-Dyson, Denis Floyd, Jack Gabel, Matthew Kaminski, Stephen Lewis, Sheli Nan, Timothy O’Brien, Paul Safar, Dawn Sonntag, Daniel Vega, Linda Woody, and ArtsWatch’s own Jeff Winslow and Matthew Neil Andrews. The concert will also be live streamed on the Cascadia Composers Facebook page.

There’s a little Oregon new music on the menu Thursday at Portland’s Alberta Rose Theatre, written by one of Oregon’s own finest composers, Kenji Bunch, who also performs with his love interest, the superb pianist Monica Ohuchi. They’re one of several classical music couples (including Portland Baroque Orchestra’s Monica Huggett & John Lenti, Oregon Symphony’s Sarah Kwak & Vali Phillips, FearNoMusic’s Paloma Griffin Hébert & Martin Hébert and Marilyn De Oliveira & Trevor Fitzpatrick, and opera stars Angela Niederloh & Matthew Hayward) performing at All Classical radio’s  Lovefest Concert, a fundraiser that includes music by J.S. Bach, Prokofiev, Piazzolla, Mozart, Irving Berlin, and more.

The next afternoon in the same venue, check the next generation of Oregon contemporary classical music in a free concert featuring (mostly) string quartets by seven PSU student composers including Cascadia members Matthew Neil Andrews, JD Davis, Jake Rose, and Daniel Vega. It’s the debut of the university’s new Composers Consort, co-founded by Andrews.

The same afternoon, Danish String Quartet plays yesteryear’s quartet classics, by Bartok and Beethoven, along with folk music from Nordic countries Sunday at University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall.There’s more Beethoven in the redoubtable pianist Garrick Ohlsson recital at Corvallis’s LaSells Stewart Center Sunday, along with music by Scriabin and Schubert.

And speaking of Schubert, there’s still a couple chances to catch Portland Opera’s performances by baritone David Adam Moore of his searing song cycle Winter’s Journey at Hampton Opera Center through Saturday. 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.

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

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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

One Response.

  1. bob priest says:

    Ah, Luciana Souza, NOW we’re talking!

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