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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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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.

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

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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MusicWatch Weekly: still burning

Spontaneous Combustion festival continues to light a fire under the West Coast's new music scene

The Oregon portion of the valuable new Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival isn’t even half over and already it’s produced a pair of the finest contemporary classical concerts in recent memory: a spectacular performance of music by Gyorgy Ligeti and one-time Oregonians Lou Harrison and Benjamin Krause by Eugene’s Delgani String Quartet, and a sublime and varied solo recital by Boston flutist Orlando Cela that revealed some gems by young, lesser known composers (a welcome hallmark of the festival so far) as well as Astor Piazzolla and others. Oregon rarely gets performances by rising young national performers who play this music full time, with adequate rehearsal.

One of the most exciting recent additions to Oregon’s new music scene, the festival continues through Feb. 2 with major new music performers including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate and City of Tomorrow wind quintet. Tonight (Wednesday) at Portland’s Classic Pianos, 3003 SE Milwaukie Ave., New York’s Iktus Duo plays flute and percussion music by Oregon’s Lou Harrison and less well known composers including Joseph Pereira, Adam Vidiksis, James Romig, Bruce Hamilton and more.

On Friday, at The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., New York’s Sandbox Percussion (which has premiered many new compositions, performed at prestigious festivals, collaborated with LA’s visionary The Industry opera company, and includes young percussion phenom Ian Rosenbaum, who so impressed Chamber Music Northwest audiences with his sensational performances of electrifying music by the fabulous rising young composer Andy Akiho) plays his music, works by American composing eminence Steve Reich and more.

The Delgani Quartet reprises the most dazzling of the pieces they played so brilliantly in Portland in their hometown at United Lutheran Church, 2230 Washington St. on Sunday afternoon January 28 and Tuesday night January 30. The great late 20th century avant garde composer Georgy Ligeti’s Métamorphoses Nocturnes takes off from where his countryman Bartok’s magnificent masterpieces left off — but turns into an impish, kaleidoscopic carnival ride (complete with drunken waltz) that had the Portland audience both chuckling and cheering. The other quartet on the program, Beethoven’s op. 131 from 1826, was considered as avant garde in his time as was Ligeti’s at its birth in 1954. It’s now deservedly regarded as one of the greatest compositions ever written, and one of Beethoven’s own personal favorites.

Isata Kanneh-Mason performs Friday and Saturday in Portland Piano International’s Rising Star series.

New music by an Oregon composer — and one of Portland’s most valuable musicians, pianist/ composer/ educator Darrell Grant, tops the program at Isata Kanneh-Mason’s recital Friday at Friday, Jan 26: 7:00pm at Portland Piano Company, 8700 NE Columbia Blvd. and Saturday at Community Music Center, 3350 SE Francis St. Grant’s Darker Angels: Reflections on Hiawatha, (commissioned through Portland Piano International’s admirable Rising Star program that pairs new music by Oregonians with emerging young piano talents) draws on source material from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s 24 Negro Melodies, which in turn was based on Negro spirituals, West African folk themes, and the composer’s own encounters with W.E.B. DuBois and Paul Lawrence Dunbar. Appropriately, the multiple-prize- winning 21 year old British prodigy, part of a distinguished family of acclaimed young musicians, also plays music by that late-19th century fellow Afro-British musician, as well as Prokofiev’s short, early third sonata, Beethoven’s “Pathetique” sonata and Ravel stately, melancholy Pavane for a Dead Princess.

Amplified Repertory Chamber Orchestra of Portland has galvanized Portland’s classical music scene by using well-designed sound amplification and state-of-the-art lighting effects to enhance its performances of classical music in ways most other concert goers have come to expect. Their performances Friday at Eugene’s Whirled Pies and Saturday at Portland’s Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St., ArcoPDX unveil a couple of firsts for the band: vocals and classically enhanced arrangements of non-classical works, three songs by Depeche Mode, the ‘80s synth lords whose music ruled dance clubs and eventually stadiums, and whose recent tour was one of the biggest of the year. The shows also include dark classics by J.S. Bach, Dmitri Shostakovich, Arvo Part and more.

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MusicWatch Weekly: sizzlers and swashbucklers

A new new music festival erupts in Oregon, plus chamber music and live film scores enliven this week's concert scene

A hot new source of contemporary music has ignited in Oregon. Although, given the incendiary events of the summer and fall, its name might be a tad, er, heated for a West Coast music fest, Spontaneous Combustion New Music Festival, which runs January 20-February 2 in Eugene, Portland and Seattle (with additional West Coast cities intended next year), includes major new music voices including daring New York cellist Ashley Bathgate, City of Tomorrow wind quintet, NYC’s Sandbox Percussion Quartet, and more. Saturday’s concert at Portland’s Old Church concert hall features Eugene’s own Delgani String Quartet, the state’s finest chamber ensemble, performing Portland native Lou Harrison’s majestic String Quartet Set, influenced by medieval Western European and Turkish music, among others; a quartet by the great 20th century avant garde composer György Ligeti; and a new composition by recent University of Oregon graduate Benjamin Krause, which you can read all about in Gary Ferrington’s ArtsWatch story. The busy Delganis also play Ligeti and Beethoven Sunday at Salem’s Prince of Peace Episcopal Church and next weekend in Eugene.

Delgani String Quartet performs in Portland and Salem.

On Monday at the Old Church and Tuesday at Eugene’s New Zone Gallery, Boston flutist Orlando Cela plays music by fellow flutist and contemporary American composer Robert Dick, the great Argentine nuevo tango composer Astor  Piazzolla, and more. Tuesday’s concert at the Old Church brings one of the most talked about younger contemporary classical ensembles, Boston’s Hub New Music, which plays music by Oregon-born, Wisconsin-based composer David Drexler, the premiere of a new half hour piece by Robert Honstein, and a composition by erstwhile Seattleite Laura Kaminsky, whose music we last encountered in Portland  a couple years back. We’ll tell you all about the remaining concerts in this exciting new series created by Cascadia Composer and new Portlander Scott Anthony Shell in upcoming MusicWatches.

Portland Mini Musical Festival returns to Fertile Ground this weekend.

Speaking of new artistic creations, as you’ve been reading all over ArtsWatch, one of Oregon’ most valuable artistic incubators, the annual Fertile Ground Festival of New Works, is back, and at least one of those, Mini Musicals 2018, running thrice at Portland’s Winningstad Theatre this weekend, is of special interest to music fans like all of you. We sure liked last year’s edition.

Last weekend, the Oregon Symphony gave a dazzling performance of Stravinsky’s immortal The Rite of Spring accompanied by newly created visuals tailored to the century old music. (Stay tuned for our review.) This weekend, it reverses the process. Although neither Keith Richards nor Johnny Depp is scheduled to appear, the Oregon Symphony and Pacific Youth Choir play Hans Zimmer’s score to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl to accompany a screening of the film.

Douglas Fairbanks swashes his buckles in “The Mark of Zorro,” accompanied by musicians from Vancouver Symphony.

More swashbuckling original music accompanies the Vancouver Symphony’s Chamber Music Series screening of Douglas Fairbanks’s spectacular adventure flick The Mark of Zorro Sunday at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre. The original score by Colorado based composer/conductor/silent film score specialist Rodney Sauer features members of the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra. Check MusicWatch next week for info about an even more exciting silent film score screening and live performance.

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MusicWatch Weekly: revolutionaries

Concerts celebrate 20th century geniuses

Oregon music this week features the work of a couple of revolutionaries from a century or so ago whose imagination has left its mark on the present and maybe even the future, enhanced by today’s technology. Tesla: Light, Sound, Color (Thursday-Friday Hult Center’s Soreng Theater, Eugene; Saturday, Newmark Theatre, Portland; Monday, Tower Theatre, Bend) brings the eccentric genius inventor/engineer to life via music, dance, digital imagery and even physics experiments. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch preview and Rachael Carnes’s ArtsWatch review.

This weekend’s Oregon Symphony’s concerts at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall feature the revolutionary dance score that helped transform 20th century music, Stravinsky’s The Rite of Spring, enhanced by digital projections.  We talked about it a lot on ArtsWatch during the centennial year. The rest of the program rocks, too —  Bartok’s fab, faux-lky second violin concerto and one of the middle-ish (but not middling) period Haydn symphonies we don’t hear often enough. His 70th was also innovative in its way, adding timpani and trumpets to the composer’s arsenal, which he would later use to great effect in other orchestral works.

Third Angle New Music’s Thursday and Friday shows at Portland’s Studio 2 @ N.E.W. shine the spotlight on cellist Marilyn de Oliveira and fellow musician family members and Oregon Symphony players in music by Portland’s own nationally renowned composer Kenji Bunch, 20th century British composer John Tavener, recent Pulitzer Prize winner Caroline Shaw, and young New York phenom Andy Akiho.

Marilyn de Oliveira takes center stage at Third Angle’s concerts.

Baroque Rarities

Even without the arias and more elaborate orchestration of his famous cantatas, Bach’s half-dozen (depending on how you categorize them) surviving motets constitute some of his richest and most complex choral music. It takes exceptional singers to perform them with only one voice singing each part, which affords a wonderful intimacy and transparency, and that’s what The Ensemble of Oregon brings to three of these masterpieces Saturday at Eugene’s Central Lutheran Church, Eugene, and Sunday at Portland’s Old Church. This all-star team drawn from Portland’s finest choirs also sing arias from two Bach cantatas. A bonus Bach cello sonata provides an instrumental interlude.

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‘Brahms vs. Radiohead’: classical mashup

Oregon Symphony plays a program that pairs the composer's first symphony with the band's 'OK Computer'

Many American orchestras, desperate to attract younger and more diverse audiences, now have special programs aimed at pre-retirement age music lovers. Several — in Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, Colorado — have hired young conductor Steve Hackman to run them. Hackman noticed that when highly trained orchestra musicians would play the typical mix of a few tuneful classics and simplified symphonic treatments of rock songs, “In the very beginning I was juxtaposing classical and pop selections, and they often took that as a bait and switch,” the 30-something Midwest native remembers. “You’re using a popular artist to bait the audience in — and then playing our requisite Brahms. I found that the orchestra players would switch off and wouldn’t give concert their best Beethoven or Debussy. So I thought, ‘Let’s craft this in such a manner that they can’t tell when we’ve turned the corner.’”

So a few years ago, he came up with a solution: Brahms vs. Radiohead, which Hackman brings to the Oregon Symphony this Thursday, January 4, asks OSO musicians to do far more than saw away on simple background pop chords while an aging rock frontman (or worse, a pale imitation of the original) belts out the melody. Instead, he created a program that includes Brahms’s glorious first symphony, and interpolates songs from Radiohead’s classic 1997 album OK Computer performed by three guest vocalists  — with accompaniment arranged in Brahmsian style.

Conductor Steve Hackman. Photo: Tom Russo.

Hackman made an ideal instigator of such a mashup. He grew up in a Chicago suburb as a pop music fan who gravitated toward classical music relatively late, but quickly developed enough facility to win admission to Philadelphia’s prestigious Curtis Institute. There he met the musicians who’d go on to form Time for Three, one of the most impressive and entertaining young ensembles who are bringing classical music into the 21st century by infusing memorized performances with rock/pop energy, enthusiastic audience engagement, and repertoire that goes beyond hoary 19th century standards.

Hackman reunited with the trio a few years later after quitting his first-step-on the ladder assistant conducting gig, disillusioned by the fact that audiences were two or three times as old as he, and that the music he was conducting offered little to listeners of his generation who’d grown up on pop. The classical world seemed disconnected from his other passion. Hackman played in rock bands, wrote and recorded his own songs, and soon began arranging songs for Time for Three. (An accomplished a cappella singer, he even made it pretty far in an American Idol competition.) Soon he was working with everyone from classical choirs like Chanticleer and the Tallis Scholars to pop musicians like My Brightest Diamond, Arlo Guthrie, Aoife O’Donovan and more.

Radiohead

Hackman’s choice of OK Computer to pair with Brahms’s symphony wasn’t random. The British band’s members boast classical training (guitarist Jonny Greenwood has scored films and written for orchestras) and its relatively complex music has long been a favorite of classical musicians like pianist Christopher O’Riley and critics including the New Yorker’s Alex Ross. In both, Hackman discerned a dark, brooding density, contrapuntal passages, harmonic similarities and other musical and emotional commonalities. His arrangements don’t mess with Brahms; instead they tailor the eight songs to the symphony’s sound world.

“The craftsmanship and technique with which a symphony orchestra approaches this music is special, miraculous,” Hackman says. “Fans of Radiohead are going to hear this music they love through a different lens. And they’re gonna see it played by one of the best bands they’ve ever seen.”

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