Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

A fine sense of camaraderie and finesse: Rose City Brass Quintet at The Old Church

Local ensemble’s release show celebrates debut CD with gusto.

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The Rose City Brass Quintet, one of Portland’s newest groups, celebrated its debut recording with a robust concert on Wednesday evening, March 30, at The Old Church. The ensemble played several pieces from their debut album Disquiet, which features contemporary music. The selections aptly displayed the high-level talent of trumpeters Logan Thane Brown and Joseph Klause, trombonist/composer Lars Campbell, hornist Daniel Partridge, and tubist JáTtik Clark. They demonstrated a fine sense of camaraderie and finesse while exploring new entrees infused with dissonant textures and a dollop of jazz.

One of the things I noticed at the concert was the assortment of mutes that the group used. The mutes varied in shape, size, and (I’m guessing) density. Klause had a special holder for three mutes affixed to his music stand. Partridge sometimes wore a mute laced around his wrist. Clark effortlessly wielded a mute that was as big as a medium-sized dog, and in one piece used a mute that he fashioned from a large, plastic trash can lid. Yo!

The mutes got a work-out in Portland, written in 2020 for the quintet by Joey Sellers, a trombonist-composer based in Southern California. This delightful piece was inspired by four quadrants of the city: SW, NE, SE, and NW. The first, SW, offered devilishly tricky entrances and ping ponged around until the tuba moved to its upper register while all the other instruments grumbled in their lowest registers. The NE movement had a slow and mellow feeling that was very calming. The SE movement was imbued with car-horn-like honking, and jazzy overtones with sultry trumpets plus an improvisational passage by Campbell. The NW movement had slightly askew blasts augmented by trickles of tones and ended abruptly – kind of like a question mark. Overall, the piece captured the “keep it weird” spirit of Portland. 

Spin–a newly commissioned piece written by Dana Reason, who teaches contemporary music at Oregon State University–had a delightfully asymmetrical feel with an intriguing blend of melodic lines, bouncy syncopation, and crunchy chords. Campbell provided a wild off-the-cuff riff that was punctuated by interjections from his colleagues. Sporadic exchanges were followed by gentler passages that gradually built to an emphatic conclusion, suggesting that the spinning sounds finally came to a rest.

Buoyancy, a new number that Campbell wrote in response to Covid, created an atmosphere that drifted along. At one point, its narrative line seemed threatened by bleating interjections. Gradually, the positive side coalesced and took over so that the piece closed optimistically. 

The ensemble piped through their variety of mutes–including Clark’s trash-can lid–in Joyce Solomon Moorman’s Jazz Quintet. The piece featured good-humored wah-wahs, a blitz of pointillistic commentary, slow slides from the trombone, and a loping undercurrent from the tuba, which got the last word with a forte blast.

The concert opened with Celebration 2020, a fun fanfare that Moorman concocted to say goodbye to the year of the pandemic. It featured punchy trumpets, soaring lines for the horn, an undulating current for the tuba and trombone, and uplifting tutti chords. The quintet delivered it all with zest!

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Portland Area Theatre Alliance Fertile Ground Portland Oregon

Most of David Sampson’s Morning Music expressed an anguish lament for his brother, who was killed by the Ku Klux Klan and American Nazis in 1979–a sad event in American history known as the Greensboro Massacre. The piece conveyed intense feelings of mourning and emotional upheaval, before transitioning to a more hopeful place. 

The CD and the concert concluded with Brass Quintet by Portland composer Tomáš Svoboda. The five-movement work, inspired by Ludvík Vaculík’s A Czech Dreambook, captured the complex emotions of the author’s daily life under the communist regime in Czechoslovakia from 1979 to 1980. The opening movement laid out the desultory circumstances. The second offered waves of argumentation that would mellow and then erupt. The third countered the situation with a misshapen, off-kilter waltz. The fourth faded into sadness, and the final movement started with muted mutterings before generating an energetic outburst. 

An enthusiastic but sparse crowd attended the concert with a Q&A period afterwards hosted by former radio announcer Robert McBride. It was especially interesting to learn that Logan Thane Brown is the owner-maker of Thane Trumpets, which are sold world-wide right from Portland. What a hoot! 

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Photo Joe Cantrell

James Bash enjoys writing for The Oregonian, The Columbian, Classical Voice North America, Opera, and many other publications. He has also written articles for the Oregon Arts Commission and the Grove Dictionary of American Music, 2nd edition. He received a fellowship to the 2008 NEA Journalism Institute for Classical Music and Opera, and is a member of the Music Critics Association of North America.
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