Oregon music on record 2015: Worldly and jazzy

New CDs of Northwest jazz and global music

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time; this one covers releases of special interest to fans of global sounds and jazz. See our previous posts in this series for Oregon early music and contemporary classical CDs, and don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

seffarineDe Fez a Jerez
Oud player/flamenco guitarist Nat Hulskamp is one of Oregon’s most experienced world music stars, playing in various ensembles and venues around town for years. With help from a 2015 Project Grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Seffarine, his primary duo with Moroccan singer Lamiae Naki, recorded their ten original compositions with famous flamenco musicians Tomasa “La Macanita,” percussionist Luís de Periquín, and Diego del Mora (Paco de Lucia’s favorite guitarist) in the Jerez, Spain (known for its pervasive Gypsy culture), with further recording sessions in Portland.

Sung in Naki’s native Arabic as well as French and Spanish and accompanied by flamenco guitar, oud, Persian kamancheh and sehtar, bass and percussion, the new album soulfully embraces flamenco, Moroccan, Persian, Malagasy, jazz and Brazilian influences, courtesy of Persian multi-instrumentalist Bobak Salehi (Hulskamp’s partner in the Portland ensemble Shabava) on kamancheh (spike fiddle), sehtar and tar (lutes) and violin, bassist Damian Erskine, Malagasy percussionist Manavihare Fiaindratovo and Indian tabla player Anil Prasad.

Such an extreme range of diverse voices could easily turn into a contrived multicultural mush, but it all feels seamless and natural, tied together by Naki’s plangent vocals and Hulskamp’s flamenco flourishes and their original songwriting voice. Fans of groups like the Gipsy Kings, Oregon, or Portland’s Al-Andalus will find much to enjoy, and this enchanting album deserves international attention.

Gamelan Pacifica
Seattle’s Gamelan Pacifica continues the tradition, established largely by Portland-born American composer Lou Harrison, of making traditional Javanese percussion ensemble music a living multicultural tradition, not an ethnomusicological museum. That’s not surprising, since the ensemble was founded and led by one of Harrison’s earliest proteges, composer and musician Jarrad Powell, who now teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, where the instruments are based. And like Harrison, the composers here are so familiar with traditional Javanese karawitan (gamelan music) that they can fruitfully experiment within its structures.

Harrison himself is represented by his masterful 1982 Double Concerto for Violin and Cello with Javanese Gamelan, one of the pinnacles of the Portland-born composer’s many hybrids of Western and Javanese music.  Although for me, the plodding, overly decorous second movement estampie, featuring only the three soloists, lacks the original Mirecourt Trio recording’s eruptive urgency, elsewhere, Pacifica’s more languorous reading makes a worthy and appealing — and better recorded — alternative approach to this world music classic.

The mixed cultural influences are apparent from the outset, as the very name of Powell’s stately Gendhing Tala combines Indonesian and Indian musical forms. The similarly hybrid music sounds entirely organic, though because of the Javanese instrumentation necessarily more evocative of that tradition. It’d be fascinating to hear an interpretation for classical Indian instruments.

Gendhing Sesegan, by the contemporary Javanese composer and instrument maker Al. Suwardi, travels in time rather than space, gleefully combining traditional interlocking imbal (similar to what Western musicians would call hocket) patterns with contemporary forms and dynamic range. The resulting galloping rhythms perfectly reflect Pak Al’s (as everyone calls him) genial, gentle personality. When I performed in this piece with the composer leading Portland’s Venerable Showers of Beauty in concert during his Portland residency a couple of years ago, it totally charmed Portland audiences. Like Powell, Suwardi skillfully deploys polyrhythms, syncopations, and modal intricacies.

nourishmentSeattle composer and GP member Stephen Fandrich’s Ketawang Harmonic marries — with startling success — another Javanese gamelan form with the kind of di-phonic singing we associate mostly with Tuvan throat singers, although the practice extends elsewhere. GP member Jessika Kenney’s Ainahom continues the Seattle world music vocal artist and composer’s productive mingling of Javanese and Middle Eastern influences, this time applying a Javanese melodic technique called miring to the poetic maqam form. Kenney’s alluring voice (singing a poignant text by 12th century poet Muhyiddin Ibn Al-Arabi) entwines with Javanese rehab (two string fiddle) and suling (bamboo flute). Even though set in the Javanese pelog tuning system and played on Indonesian instruments, it evokes the poet’s home thousands of miles away.

Gamelan Pacifica looks to its own national traditions in still another hybrid: a spiffy gamelan interpretation of American minimalist composer Philip Glass’s Opening. Then again, since Glass’s music itself draws heavily on cyclical Indian rhythmic notions, it just goes to prove Lou Harrison’s oft-stated dictum that all music is hybrid music.

Âme Oubliéehurst
Adam Hurst
On his 14th album, the evocative solo cellist adds accordion, guitar, percussion and gypsy and other world music rhythms to invigorate his usual moody sounds. It’s a treat for fans and newcomers to his music. You might hear Hurst play some of this music solo if you happen to traveling in or out of PDX airport, as he’ll be performing there. Some of his abstract sculptures also grace the airport’s art exhibition space this month.

The Golden Mean
Joe Manis
When Eugene tenor sax master Joe Manis teamed up with Portland jazz keyboard giant George Colligan (who’d moved to town to teach at Portland State after building a sterling rep on the New York jazz scene), the resulting creative combustion of two strong improvisatory voices propelled Manis’s 2012 trio album North by Northwest. The two have been working together in various combos since then, and that developing chemistry (along with the sympathetic drumming of Manis’s longtime collaborator Kevin Congleton, who appears on both albums) is apparent on their second SteepleChase Records CD.

manis golden meanThe mix of Manis originals and covers (of composers from Duke Ellington to Soundgarden to film composer John Barry) covers a range of styles, tempos, and emotions, but most tracks radiates a relaxed vibe. Not that there’s anything slack or tired here — in fact, there are moments of aggressive urgency — merely the positive familiarity that makes this set feel like the product of a tight band rather than merely a pair of formidable soloists (Manis on tenor, Colligan on B-3 organ, with one exception) sparring, not that there’s anything wrong with that.

Butterfly Blue
Halie Loren
The longtime Eugene-based singer is actually a bigger jazz star in Asia than her homeland, with three straight #1 jazz records in Japan and a string of sold out shows. Her new album’s title reflects the chanteuse’s own creative metamorphosis from jazz cat(erpillar) to pop/jazz singer, following the path of Diana Krall and others. She also adds more instrumentalists (William Seiji Marsh and ill DanGallo, guitars, David Larsen, saxophone, Joe Freuen, trombone, Dana Heitman, trumpet, Rob Birdwell, flugelhorn, Katherine Dudney, cello) to her longtime band: pianist and co-producer Matt Treder, bassist Mark Schneider and drummer Brian West, yet keeps the atmosphere spare and intimate.

lorenMixing jazz and songbook standards (“Stormy Weather,” Gershwin, Cole Porter, etc.) with lightly bluesy/soul tinged originals by Loren and guitarist Daniel Gallo, Butterfly Blue is sometimes reminiscent of another singer who started on a jazz label and moved pop-ward: Norah Jones.

Before You Know It [Live in Portland]
Ezra Weiss Sextet
On his seventh album, Weiss, one of Portland’s brightest jazz composer/arrangers (and the winner of several national awards) captures the in-performance energy of a group of Portland’s star jazzers (Farnell Newton, Devin Phillips, etc.) that used to tear it up at Portland’s late Ivories club. For all the live energy, though, the band never sacrifices the elegance of Weiss’s arrangements. Upbeat originals like “The Crusher” and “Winter Machine” contrast with moving ballads like “Don’t Need No Ticket” (whose title and soulful feel were both inspired by Curtis Mayfield’s classic “People Get Ready”) and a couple of solid covers.

Weiss Before You Know It CoverAlong with his tight arrangements, what distinguishes Weiss from many others cultivating the much-tilled post-Art Blakey-style ground are his emotional directness (including responses to the birth of his son, his love for his wife, and his reaction to the Sandy Hook massacre), and his gift for melody, as on the closing title track, a Weiss original that boasts a tune as memorable as some from jazz’s golden age.

Dreaming Awake
Barra Brown Quintet
A classical flutist who studied jazz drumming with Portland jazz drum legend Alan Jones, Barra Brown naturally gravitated to … indie rock? After performing with bands including Alameda, the Wishermen, Morning Ritual and others, Brown released his first jazz-oriented album under his own name in 2013, and Songs For a Young Heart turned out be one of the more intriguing recent local jazz debuts.

barra brownThis year’s Dreaming Awake continues to amalgamate the rock influences and hooky tunes of its predecessor, but also stretches out a bit more in traditionally jazzy ways, with the sax and trumpet team of Nicole Glover and Thomas Barber really connecting here, fellow indie rock/jazzer Adam Brock lending airy vocals there, strings elsewhere, resulting in a groovy album whose diverse influences lend it broad appeal beyond the jazz niche.

Stomp, Definedbridgetown
Bridgetown Sextet
Just before Andrew Oliver left Portland for London two years ago, the ace pianist and paragon of Portland’s jazz scene managed to squeeze in a new recording session for the Bridgetown Sextet, which he co-founded. Its third CD, Stomp, Defined, continues the band’s spirited romp through classic blues-fueled swing tunes by Jelly Roll Morton, King Oliver, Bennie Moten, and other pioneering proto-jazz legends of 1920s and ’30.

Andrew Endres Collective
Read my Willamette Week review of the young Portland jazzer’s not so desolate chamber jazz release.

Tricks of Light
Jessika Smith Big Band
The University of Oregon Jazz Ensemble’s former lead alto saxophonist Jessika Smith graduated last year with a Master’s degree and took over the Eugene Composers Big Band, leveraging her pre-grad school big band experience in Spokane.

Recorded at the UO with 21 of her favorite players, Tricks of Light is a surprisingly (for a first effort) tight, varied and accomplished debut that’s certain to appeal to fans of straight-ahead, large-scale jazz, while generally steering confidently clear of big band cliches. Although the band can cook when called on, the compositions offer the agility, spaciousness, nuance and range of moods and styles (including blues, Latin jazz and rock elements) more common in small combo contexts. Smith is an Oregon jazz star on the rise.

Restraintcatfish restraint
As many jazzers like Miles Davis showed, sometimes it takes more skill for virtuosos to hold back than to bring the fireworks all the time, as these musicians are more than capable of doing. Blue Cranes saxophonist Joe Cunningham (a/k/a Sly Pig) recorded some easygoing improvisations with guitarist Dan Duval and Ken Ollis — both mainstays of Portland’s young jazz scene — then enlisted a half dozen more Portland jazzers plus viola and violin duo Kyleen and Patty King to overdub more sax, bass, piano, clarinet, and Cunningham’s own various keyboards and percussion.

The title describes the result: a warm, pensive, restrained series of musical statements that float, drift, and unfold rather than (except for a few occasional busier moments, like on The Lovers of Roissy) erupting. It’s ideal for quiet, late night listening, though you might want to program out the closing {{Mothh}} lest you be jolted awake.


Black Heron and the Spoonbill
Read my Willamette Week review of avant-world music duo John C. Savage and Will Northlich-Redmond’s new album.

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

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