Portland Center Stage at the Armory Quixote Nuevo Portland Oregon

A beautiful combination: Billy Childs at the 1905

The pianist-composer and his touring bandmates performed an early set of new and recent tunes.

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Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.
Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.

On May 4, when Billy Childs and his stellar touring quartet took over the snug 1905 jazz club in NoPo’s Mississippi neighborhood for two back-to-back shows, nothing was missing–except CDs for sale. Childs’ most recent and perhaps most evocative album, Winds of Change, produced by Mack Records and released in late March, was sold out according to the band, so CD-seekers were out of luck.

Not a big deal: the live music, written by Childs, who’s known as much for his rich, harmonic piano-playing as he is for his original compositional voice, made up many times over for the lack of CDs. The 65-minute early set included four of Childs’ songs played by his traveling all-star quartet — not the same musicians on the CD (trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire, a headliner at this year’s PDX Jazz Festival; drummer Brian Blade; and bassist Scott Colley).

But certainly May 4’s towering trumpeter Sean Jones who hit stratospheric notes throughout, uber-talented Austrian-born bassist Hans Glawischnig, and ever-smiling energy-bunny drummer Christian Euman were up to the task of interpreting Child’s lush, complicated, longform compositions, as well as executing them in a straight-ahead fashion. Forget hip-hop. This was post-bop at its best without stalling in old-school cliches.

Sean Jones with Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.
Sean Jones with Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.

First up was the “Great Western Loop,” a meandering high-energy tune inspired by the 7,000-mile hiking trail that inches up from the bottom of California to Vancouver, B.C., with twists and turns into other trails. Childs, 66, said he prefers to be creatively moved by the trail rather than to hike it. “I doubt I’ll do that,” he said. It was clear with this tune, the show’s exciting opener, that Childs found “a beautiful combination of bandmates with complementary, warm ensemble-playing and inspired and refined solos,” said Portland pianist Randy Porter. He sat among other Portland jazz royalty including Portland State University music professor and composer Darrell Grant and Dan Davey, leader of the early-May recently resuscitated Mount Hood Jazz Festival. There were probably others among the appreciative fans who filled the sold-out 50-seat 1905, which Child referred to as “cool–a real jazz club.”

The group played two other lengthy pieces from the newest CD, including the title tune, “Winds of Change,” inspired by the mid-’70s films Chinatown and Taxi Driver. Childs is a lifelong Los Angeles resident and draws many of his musical inspirations from the movie world. He later reflected on his childhood with “End of Innocence,” a tune motivated in part by Herbie Hancock’s Speak Like a Child. Bassist Glawischnig closed his eyes for more than a few moments as his fellow musicians pushed ahead on the tune. He wasn’t dozing, he was preparing for a long lyrical solo. Childs has the grace and generosity to allow his bandmates to play out their improvisational hearts, and there was much of that solo exchange at the 1905.

Hans Glawischnig contemplates his upcoming solo while playing with Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.
Hans Glawischnig contemplates his upcoming solo while playing with Billy Childs at the 1905. Photo by Angela Allen.

The show’s first three pieces came from the Winds of Change. A number of its predecessors have won 16 Grammy nominations and five Grammys, and Childs is versatile: He also plays and arranges classical music. But the night’s fourth and final selection, “Dance of Shiva,” veered off in a different direction from the first three cerebral tunes. Off the 2018 Grammy award-winner Rebirth, “Dance of Shiva” delivered an unexpected fast-moving exotic vibe. The group performed the song introduced by a long Childs’ piano solo “that can’t go eight bars without metamorphosing. But it also has a commanding bass hook and thrilling harmonic tension-and-release,” according to an Allmusic review. Childs started to explain the song’s intricate rhythms, and then gave up, saying he didn’t want to “nerd out.”

And who was counting anyway? The piece was an exclamation point to a polished show.

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Seattle Opera The Life and Times of MalcolmX McCaw Hall Seattle Washington

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Photo Joe Cantrell

Angela Allen writes about the arts, especially opera, jazz, chamber music, and photography. Since 1984, she has contributed regularly to online and print publications, including Oregon ArtsWatch, The Columbian, The San Diego Union-Tribune, Willamette Week, The Oregonian, among others. She teaches photography and creative writing to Oregon students, and in 2009, served as Fishtrap’s Eastern Oregon Writer-in-Residence. A published poet and photographer, she was elected to the Music Critics Association of North America’s executive board and is a recipient of an NEA-Columbia Journalism grant. She earned an M.A. in journalism from University of Oregon in 1984, and 30 years later received her MFA in Creative Writing/Poetry from Pacific Lutheran University. She lives in Portland with her scientist husband and often unwieldy garden. Contact Angela Allen through her website.

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