ArtsWatch Weekly: and all that jazz

Portland Jazz Festival joins the parade of arts festivals in town; a new "Swan Lake" flies at Oregon Ballet

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Festival Town. (And Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day.) Three film celebrations – the Portland Black Film Festival, the Cascadia Festival of African Films, and the big-kahuna 40th annual Portland International Film Festival – are still spooling out stories on screens around town.

And on Thursday the PDX Jazz Festival 2017 roars into action with a packed program through February 26 arranged loosely around an homage to jazz centurions Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich, each born in 1917. Things kick off Thursday with a blast of Branford Marsalis, a thump of bass virtuoso Thundercat, and more, and the festival continues with the likes of the fabulous Heath Brothers, The Yellowjackets, and more. It’s not all old-style and it’s not all new, but a healthy-looking blend of tradition and exploration.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell offers tips for this week’s shows, beginning with Thursday’s Marsalis quartet appearance “with the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Ralph Peterson’s trio in separate shows Friday, the hip jazz-rock fusion band Kneebody and the old-school all-star band The Cookers on Saturday. On Sunday, you have a choice of pop jazzers the Yellowjackets with Mike Stern, avant jazz guitar deity James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, or rising piano star Aminca Claudine Myers (or see all three!).”

2017 PDX Jazz Fest honoree Dizzy Gillespie, at Deauville, France, July 1991. Photo: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia Commons

In his preview PDX Jazz Festival: Signs of Life, Campbell sets the table more completely, talking about the state of jazz in Portland and internationally. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:

Jazz as we’ve known it will live on in recordings and videos and tribute bands, but jazz as a living, vital art form will evolve to fill the needs of the 21st century. Or it won’t, and it’ll die. What’s less important than the survival of “jazz” or “classical music” per se is the extent to which their artistic values and accomplishments enrich 21st century music.

That’s what’s happening in Portland now. Alongside preservationist old jazz played by contemporary artists, the artistic elements that made jazz so powerful are finding their way into today’s musical forms. Artists like Portland’s own Esperanza Spalding understand that and are using jazz’s riches to make new, 21st century treasures. With new venues emerging and old ones returning, and new generations of musicians creating jazz-tinged music for the 21st century alongside traditional jazz masters, Portland’s jazz scene appears less to be dwindling than evolving.



Xuan Cheng in rehearsal for OBT’s “Swan Lake,” opening Saturday at Keller Auditorium. Photo: Yi Yin

OREGON BALLET THEATRE’S NEW SWAN LAKE. OBT artistic leader Kevin Irving has shaped a new version of the classic story ballet, keeping the Tchaikovsky score and adapting the original Petipa/Ivanov choreography, but with a twist: In Irving’s hands much of the dramatic focus swings to Prince Siegfried, through whose eyes the audience will see the tale of Odette and Odile unfold. Opens Saturday at Keller Auditorium and continues through Feb. 25.




Brett Campbell picks some of the top sounds of the coming week, noting that “our government may be walling off foreign visitors, but our music stages welcome the richness they bring”:


Israeli mandolin virtuoso Avi Avital deploys the instrument that reached the peak of its development and influence in 18th and 19th century Italy to play music from England, Bohemia, Germany and Georgia. Consorting with a quartet of young Americans, the Dover Quartet, at the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall Saturday and Portland5’s Newmark Theatre Wednesday, he’ll play enticing music by JS Bach, Smetana, 20th century Georgian composer Sulkhan Tsintsadze, and contemporary English composer David Bruce.

Portland Classic Guitar brings Iranian American guitarist Lily Afshar to Marylhurst College.

 On Friday, Portland Classic Guitar brings renowned Iranian guitarist Lily Afshar (who’s long taught at University of Memphis) to Marylhurst University’s St. Anne’s Chapel to play music from her forbidden homeland, nearby Azerbaijan, Spain, Italy, and more.


Portland Opera‘s new winter series opens this weekend with Songs of Love and War. Beginning Friday at the intimate Gregory K. and Mary Chomenko Hinckley Studio Theater in Hampton Opera Center and continuing through February 25, it features six of the company’s soloists singing songs from some of the great early Baroque masterpieces, Claudio Monteverdi’s madrigals. Christopher Mattaliano directs each dramatic song as a vignette.

Portrait of Claudio Monteverdi, Bernardo Strozzi, ca. 1639, oil on canvas, 33.1 x 27.8 inches, Tyrolean State Museum Ferdinandeum, Innsbruck, Austria


Speaking of Baroque masters, Portland Baroque Orchestra brings international J.S. Bach scholar and keyboardist John Butt over from Britain to lead performances of Bach’s ever-popular Orchestral Suites and more, Friday and Saturday at downtown Portland’s First Baptist Church and Sunday at Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.


More foreigners enrich Portland Chamber Orchestra’s intriguing strings-only concerts Saturday at Nordia House and Sunday at Agnes Flanagan Chapel, Lewis & Clark College led by Israeli-born music director Yaki Bergman. Brazilian pianist Jasnam Daya Singh’s (better known as Weber Iago) Jazz Concertino melds jazz, classical, and Brazilian sounds. Contemporary Polish composer Wojciech Kilar’s Orawa is inspired by ancient Polish mountain people. The concert also features the Northwest premiere of a Serenade for Strings by young American composer/producer Stephen Feigenbaum, and the closing Serenade for Strings features famous music by Tchaikovsky.


The Oregon Symphony offers a pair of broad-appeal shows at Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Renowned Portland rock singer and sometime Pink Martini co-diva Storm Large fronts the band in love songs and standards on Valentines Day (that’s tonight!), while on Feb. 18-19, Tango Pacifico (founded by OSO musicians) joins singer Pepe Raphael, bandoneon master Hector Del Curto and dancers in a tango program.

Storm Large rejoins the Oregon Symphony this Valentine’s Day. Photo: John Rudoff.


Eugene Symphony’s Thursday concert features Grammy-winning guitarist  Sharon Isbin playing the Concert de Gaudí that Christopher Rouse wrote for her, which is named for and inspired by the wild and wondrous Catalan architect Antoni Gaudí, along with another early ’90s Rouse composition, Rapture, and Ravel’s famous orchestral arrangement of Mussorgsky’s Pictures at an Exhibition.


Portland’s Choral Arts Ensemble also goes pop with funny/satirical songs (Gilbert & Sullivan, Tom Lehrer, PDQ Bach, Broadway numbers and more) on Saturday and Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall, 1620 SW Park Ave.



Courtesy the Oregon Historical Society Library, 2873-C, Folder 821.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO OREGON. Of course today is Valentine’s Day (we advise you to remember that), but it’s also the birthday of Oregon, born as a state on February 14, 1859. The Oregon Historical Society has marked the blessed occasion by pulling this photo, from the state’s 70th birthday party in 1929, out of its files. It shows Willard P. Hawley III, dressed as Dan Cupid, cutting the state’s birthday cake, which is decked out with 70 candles. Chester A. Moores is Uncle Sam,  and on the right is Miss Florence Mae Miles, who represents Miss Oregon. Lift a glass of pinot or a cool draft in their memory tonight, and think about how good Oregon’s looking for a 158-year-old.



ArtsWatch links

Scarlet Letter of the streets. Playwright Suzan-Lori Parks’ In the Blood is an “audacious, sometimes terrifying” contemporary reimagining of The Scarlet Letter, and the director and actors of Portland Actors Conservatory’s new production “pretty much knock it out of the park.”

PIFF: Insights into global anxieties. Movie critic Marc Mohan has taken a close look at the international film fest for ArtsWatch and come up with some fascinating observations: “What can these movies, considered as a whole, tell us about the seismic shifts of the past year, most notably the votes for Brexit and Donald Trump, that indicate perhaps the gravest threat to the tradition of liberal democracy since the Cold War? It’s too soon for any of these filmmakers to have worked in direct response to the events of the past twelve months, but can we glean any insight into the anxieties and concerns that presaged them?”

Elliot: a fertile seed, growing. Marty Hughley reviews Elliot, a Soldier’s Fugue, the opening play in Profile Theatre’s season of works by the talented writer Quiara Alegria Hudes, and declares it something of a downpayment on what’s to come: “a fertile seed, a contract with your playgoing future.”

Oregon Symphony: Russian revelation. Terry Ross has been writing some erudite and entertaining reviews of the symphony season for ArtsWatch, and his piece on the orchestra’s “riveting performance” of Prokofiev’s second violin concerto with guest soloist Stefan Jackiw is no exception: “It turned out to radically change my view of the concerto.” Bonus: Ross gives recommended recordings for the pieces on the program.

Chamber Music Northwest: romantic rarities. Ross knows his way around the chamber canon, too, and shines a light on the Miró Quartet’s and Montrose Trio’s light-shining on some Mendelssohn, Anton Arensky, and Dvorak.

Battle Trance & Blue Cranes: maximal music. While the four saxophonists of Battle Trance pushed their music to the extreme – “reaching down into the gut of the human soul to pull out some of the rougher emotions” – Portland faves the Blue Cranes tethered theirs in melody, rhythm, and fun. Patrick McCulley reviews the two groups’ recent show.

Sparrow and the whole shebang. Portland Center Stage’s new production of the Ethel Waters musical bio His Eye Is on the Sparrow, featuring Maiesha McQueen and pianist Darius Smith, puts the great popular/gospel singer into the context of her troubled and troubling times.

Tech and the beauty of dance. In her DanceWatch Weekly column, Jamuna Chiarini considers the tech-savvy Rainbow Dance Theatre and butoh artist Teresa Vanderkin, and talks tellingly about the mysterious things that transform movement into dance.



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