FEATURED

Noise Fest 2018 preview: art of noise

Eugene-based festival extends a century-long experimental music tradition

By DANIEL HEILA

Wherever we are, what we hear is mostly noise. When we ignore it, it disturbs us. When we listen to it, we find it fascinating. — John Cage.

On Saturday, Eugene’s WOW Hall will tremble, throb, and reverberate with the tweeter-searing, woofer-warping sounds of Noise Fest 2018. The festival, which resurrects itself every year or so, is a day of genre-stretching, noise-based performances that run the gamut from glitch (technology pushed to its limits) to noise pop, No Wave to industrial and post-digital “organized sound” (Edgar Varèse’s definition of his music).

The festival is the brainchild of designer, artist, and noise musician Don Haugen, who started it in the early 2000s when he was associated with the newly formed Downtown Initiative for the Visual Arts (DIVA). The large gallery space at DIVA (now a Buy 2 convenience store) was the scene of endlessly creative expressions of noise in all its guises, including virtual silence, violent caterwauling, circuit-bent sweetness, and rich feedback decomposition.

klowd and Don Haugen at Noise Fest.

A couple of memorable acts from the first festival come to mind: Portland artist Daniel Menche’s foundation-shaking, additive, minimalistic performance, using only a contact mic at his throat, a few foot-pedal effects, and a giant speaker cabinet. Menche ended his set by doing a backward flip onto his bank of foot pedals which he then beat into silence with his fists (he happened to have a fractured collarbone at the time). And IDX1274, a dude dressed in work clothes and a snap back, who dropped an active microphone onto a steel plate and then attacked it with a power grinder.

Continues…

Describing a work of art as “classic” can mean many things, but it usually connotes a sense of durability, of solidity, of wholeness. Those qualities are likely to come in handy for the four theatrical classics currently being run through the modernizing, re-energizing, hybridizing, multi-disciplinary mill of the CoHo Lab.

Continuing to emphasize the development of new work, CoHo Productions has hosted four projects for workshop time during the past two weeks. On Sunday evening it will present excerpts from the four plays in-progress:

Crucible — Philip Cuomo, CoHo’s producing artistic director, flexes his creative artistic muscles with a radical take on the Arthur Miller classic, re-imagined with the help of the CoHo Clown Cohort. Consider it a follow-up to his highly successful comic-yet-poignant clown version of The Glass Menagerie.

 

Scary clowns: A cross-wielding Maureen Porter terrorizes Olivia Weiss in rehearsal for Philip Cuomo’s clowning adaptation of “The Crucible.” Photo: Jessica Dart

House of the Living — director Samantha Shay’s dance-theater interpretation of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler as “psychosexual grande ballet.”

Girl v Troll (or Dam Things) — A.R. Nicholas (collaborating with a cast that includes such fine actors as Nick Ferrucci and Cecily Overman) braves a troll’s lair, but somehow infuses an internet-age story with the tragic princess Electra as a sort of Greek chorus.

Fire & Meat — writer/director Eve Johnstone looks at the ancient poem Beowulf by way of John Gardner’s perspective-shifting 1971 novel Grendel, employing both feminist analysis and puppetry.

Continues…

MusicWatch Weekly: hot summer jazz

Smoke gets in your eyes, jazz gets in your ears this week as summer festivals continue despite the blazes

What began as an informal neighborhood musical soiree has blossomed into one of Portland’s jazz treasures. The fifth annual Montavilla Jazz Festival  at Portland Metro Arts, 9003 SE Stark, is headlined by the Grammy-nominated team of primo pianist Randy Porter’s Trio with jazz singing living legend Nancy King, performing the music from their recent Grammy-finalist album featuring Cole Porter tunes and more. The lyrical jazz duo of flugelhornist Dmitri Matheny and pianist Darrell Grant also reunites after too long a break, co-leading a quartet in new chamber jazz compositions.

Maybe the most intriguing act on the program was inspired by Tamolitch Pool on the McKenzie River near Blue River. One of our area’s most magnificent natural spaces, its allure inspired Salem-based composer-pianist James Miley’s evocative, ambitious new Watershed Suite, which Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performs at Montavilla and at a free show Thursday at (appropriately) Springfield’s Roaring Rapids. Miley, a Willamette University music prof who directs Willamette Jazz Collective, combines classical and jazz influences in a multifaceted work that translates the complex beauty Oregon’s watersheds, including the mighty Columbia River and Klamath Basin National Wildlife Refuge, into music. One of the state’s most valuable music institutions, PJCE features top Portland area performers and also continuously nurtures both performances and recordings of new, original jazz music compositions some of Oregon’s finest emerging and accomplished musicians.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performs at this weekend’s Montavilla Jazz Festival.

Other performers constitute an all-star lineup of Portland jazz performers leading expert ensembles, including national award winning pianist/organist/drummer/trumpeter George Colligan’s fun, multigenerational new electric trio Other Barry and guitar demon Ryan Meagher’s Evil Twin, both celebrating cool new releases on PJCE’s label that you can hear at the links above. Erstwhile Portlander Nicole Glover returns from New York to jam with local greats, and the festival also includes omnipresent drummer Alan Jones, saxophonist Tim Willcox, Christopher Brown, jazz/funk trumpet star Farnell Newton, bassist Shao Way Wu, and sets featuring some of the top improviser/composer/performers from PJCE and Creative Music Guild.

Nicole Glover performs at Montavilla Jazz Festival. Photo: Diaz Duran.

Tonight, Roaring Rapids also features Bossa PDX, with Portland jazz pianist/singer Kerry Politzer, Colligan (who happens to be her spouse) on drums, sax titan Joe Manis, guitarist Enzo Irace (who shreds in Other Barry) and bassist Damian Erskine playing new arrangements of Brazilian classics. And there’s modern chamber jazz tonight in Portland, too, with Simone Baron’s piano trio in an intimate house concert at Casa Della Zisa, 4624 NE Fremont St.

Continues…

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb

Resonance Ensemble's Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community's struggles and celebrates its creativity

by MATTHEW ANDREWS

“One of the most common questions I get is ‘what is pride?’,” said Pride Northwest Executive Director Debra Porta at the Q&A following Resonance Ensemble’s June concert, Bodies. “It’s difficult to put into words.” This echoed Porta’s words from the beginning of the concert (an official Pride Week event), when she praised the pride and perseverance of those who “broke the universe into pieces” to be who they are and concluded that “Pride is a verb.”

The Cerimon House stage was lit with splashes of color, a rainbow of lights arrayed along the wall, a doubled Roy G. Bv coruscating out from central violets to perimeter reds. The concert commenced with Dominick DiOrio’s The Visible World, a sort of modern madrigal treating the struggle for marriage equality with a quilt of texts ranging from Oscar Wilde’s “De Profundis” and a love poem by Catullus to quotes from Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy and civil rights activist Paul Barwick. The title comes from Théophile Gautier’s quote “I am a man for whom the visible world exists,” but the piece was dominated by a line taken from a poster spotted outside Seattle City Hall in 2012: “Sorry it took so long.”

PRIDE Executive Director Debra Porta with Resonance Ensemble’s Katherine FitzGibbon at ‘Bodies.’ Photo: Kenton Waltz.

That phrase spooled out through the ensemble in a Proverb-type canon that immediately put me in mind of Renaissance counterpoint, Meredith Monk, Caroline Shaw, David Lang. The harmony often veered into very chromatic realms, not dissonant (if the word even means anything anymore) but those dense, jazzy, Manhattan Transfer jazz chords that Resonance knows how to sing better than anyone else in Portland. Wolfe-style post-minimalist pulsations and flashes of Gabriel Kahane’s populist lyrical sensibility elevated quotidian lines like “The petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives” while two millennia of queer poetry intermingled over drones and semitone shimmers and cascades of “sorry it took so long.”

Continues…

Oregon Bach Festival review: vision vacuum

Lacking a coherent artistic vision, venerable festival flounders

By TOM MANOFF

You can’t really assess what was at this season’s Oregon Bach Festival without acknowledging what wasn’t: erstwhile artistic director Matthew Halls, the multi-talented conductor whose questionable dismissal last year was widely covered throughout the arts world. Would this new season put an end to the shocking (for many) episode? Would this year’s music reassure audiences and musicians that OBF will continue at the highest levels of artistry? Most crucial, could the festival of founding artistic director Helmuth Rilling and Matthew Halls remain world class — without a music director?

Baroque on Steroids

OBF 2018 started June 29 at Silva Hall with audience favorite Monica Huggett leading the Festival’s 30-member Baroque Orchestra in four of J.S. Bach’s Brandenburg Concertos. In first half lineup of Brandenburgs 2, 4, and 5, No.4 was best performed, with Huggett’s virtuosic violin passages shimmering through Bach’s delightfully dense harmony and counterpoint.

The other two Brandenburgs fared less well with poor ensemble playing. The tempos were quite brisk and not all sections kept up with the pace.

Monica Huggett conducted Bach’s music at this year’s Oregon Bach Festival. Photo: Athena Delene.

The OBF Berwick Academy — the festival’s workshop orchestra of 30 young period instrumentalists — joined the OBF pros to make an unusually large orchestra for Bach, but suitable for Silva’s large space. Perhaps in keeping with this “Baroque-on-steroids” ensemble, Huggett led an irreverent (but somewhat charming) interpretation of Brandenburg One. The longtime Portland Baroque Orchestra leader and renowned Baroque violinist asked the audience to imagine that the two horn players in the ensemble were drunk, low-born musicians who had crashed a royal musical occasion. Whenever they played, Huggett pointed her bow to them, exhorting a loud, over the top effect. At other times Huggett stomped her feet with the music. Not your standard Bach, but the audience loved it. I remain on the fence. Since the concert I’ve listened to the work several times on CD with the score to restore the music to a more pristine version in my mind.

The concert ended with a tidy performance of Bach’s Orchestral Suite No. 4, led from the keyboard by visiting conductor Alexander Weimann, but, following the “Bach Bacchanale” that was the Brandenburg One, the Suite came off as too straight-laced.

Silva’s acoustic was problematic. The sound was unfocused and without warmth. But last year, in the same hall, a splendid OBF performance of Handel’s Hercules proved that some Baroque fare sounds fine in Silva space. But Handel’s textures are generally less dense than Bach’s, especially the Brandenburgs. How to use Silva (and its electronic enhancement system) is an ongoing issue for OBF, ideally addressed by a future artistic director.

Berwick Academy

My favorite performance of the festival was by the Berwick Academy. The first half of their July 3 concert featured Telemann’s Overture in E minor, Händel’s Concerto Grosso in A major Op.6, No.11, and the suite from his 1706 opera Rodrigo in B flat.

This performance featured what every good Baroque outing must have: a decisive, forward moving bass line from the continuo instruments. In too many performances, the bass line plods along with no regard for the melodic richness. But here, the energized and nuanced phrasing by the cello and double bass Berwick players enlivened the lower part of the musical structure.

Phrasing from the entire ensemble was wonderful. Renowned Dutch harpsichordist Jacques Ogg directed from the keyboard. Concertmaster Chloe Fedor was particularly elegant leading the string section, and moving with the phrasing almost like a dancer.

Continues…

Joan Tower: ‘The voice is in the risks’

The esteemed American composer, in Oregon for Willamette Valley Chamber Music festival, talks about music, teaching, risk-taking, and the future of classical music (not)

By MATTHEW ANDREWS

I love Joan Tower’s music. It’s right there in the Goldilocks zone: serious but not stodgy, zealous but not brash, subtle but not understated, big and bold but also immediate and intimate, fun and exciting and weird but also somber, emotive, complex, heartfelt. It’s expansive, stimulating stuff, neither overly planned nor chaotically aleatoric but organically developed from simple generative ideas, grown from seed to plant to harvest with a minimum of fuss and fluff.

It’s rich music that fills your soul like a hearty meal. When I’m done with a typical 13-to-15-minute Tower composition (say, 1976’s Black Topaz, or the Grammy-winning Made in America), I don’t want more, at least not right away; I want to savor. No obsessive munching on hours of Glass opera, no blissing out in Oliveros trances, no Kahane singalongs.

Tower is, above all, a narrative composer. Not in the sense that there is a poem or story dictating each detail like in a tone-poem by Strauss or Berlioz, but in the more abstract isomorphic sense that led Debussy to affix descriptive titles to the ends—not the beginnings—of his preludes. The music comes first, and has its own peculiar narrative language; titles and subheadings come later, as a description of music that has already been written.

American composer Joan Tower.

Tower will be in Oregon for the opening weekend of the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival, whose founders Sasha Callahan and Leo Eguchi are among what seems like an endless river of Tower friends (David Ludwig is another name in that river, and when I mentioned him she said she had just been texting him). As this year’s composer-in-residence, Tower will attend open forums to discuss her work, and the first weekend’s concerts feature her fifth string quartet (“White Water”, which I remember quite fondly from Calidore’s performance at last year’s CMNW) and Rising for string quartet and flute, sandwiched between Haydn’s Joke and Beethoven’s second Rasumovsky quartet. Portland area superstars Amelia Lukas, Marilyn de Oliveira, Greg Ewer, Charles Noble, and Megumi Stohs Lewis join Callahan, Eguchi, and former composer-in-residence Kenji Bunch, whose String Circle for String Quartet features in the second weekend.

I spoke with Tower by phone while she waited to board a plane to Oregon and drink wine in the country with classical musicians.

On composing

“It’s totally organic. It’s like writing a novel. You start with a character and an environment with a particular profile and then you try and figure what that character is going to do.”

“What is technique? I don’t know. You see, I’m not a pitch person. The world’s all pitch pitch pitch, and that’s not what my music is about. It’s about everything else. The register, the texture, the rhythm, the action, is it going up, is it going down, all that other stuff is what I’m concerned about. Pitches are not that important to me. I can say that now. Pitches to me are like, okay, I’m going to use bricks, I’m going to use marble, but they mean nothing to me until I start shaping. They don’t drive the music, the music drives them. It took me a long time to figure that out, after all the schooling.”

“If you look at Beethoven, who is one of my biggest influences, he is very much about the texture, the rhythm, where is it going, where is it coming back to; those kinds of issues are very significant to Beethoven. If you just did just a pitch analysis of Beethoven, it’s not that interesting.”

Continues…

Carrington-Coltrane-Spalding: Celebrating Geri Allen

PDXJazz concert summons the generous spirit of the late pianist

by PATRICK McCULLEY

The February 22 PDX Jazz Festival concert at Portland’s Newmark Theatre was originally intended to showcase the music of the ACS Trio. But because of the untimely death of pianist Geri Allen (the “A” in ACS, Allen-Carrington-Spalding) the previous summer, the concert turned from showcase to musical memorial. The result was a worthy celebration of the life and music of an inspiring human being.

The night opened quietly and subtly with improvisations on jazz standards and popular songs by Portland pianist Darrell Grant, who collaborated with Allen during a performance at Reed College in 2009. Before playing, Grant took time to praise Allen’s bold voice, openness, and encouragement of “finding my own voice” in his playing. Before each song, Grant gently read lyrics to songs he was about to play, to provide the audience with a verbal connection to an otherwise instrumental medium, and then turned to the piano and began. The first song, Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” set a nostalgic and beautiful tone for much of the rest of Grant’s set. Particularly poignant was his improvisation on James Taylor’s (by way of John Denver) “Fire and Rain” with particular stress on the melody of “but I always thought I’d see you again.”

Pianist, professor and composer Darrell Grant.

There was something particularly enchanting about Darrell Grant’s playing that night. His improvisations, even during their wilder moments, seemed to have a hypnotically calming effect on the audience. Perhaps too calming, because it was at about this point in the set I could hear an audience member close to me snoring. The only thing surprising about that was how long it took for his friends to wake him up.

Audience etiquette, guys. It goes a long way.

The highlight of the set was an original composition, “The Compass,” that Grant said reminded him of the way Allen’s music “danced.” Opening with a deep, grooving, insatiable bass line played in the left hand, and a bluesy, spiritual accompaniment in the right, as the song continued, the bassline became a frame for an increasingly complex spiral of colorful, and chromatic improvisations that built and intensified until the melody’s eventual return.

When the trio of Ravi Coltrane (soprano and tenor saxophones), Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), and Esperanza Spalding (bass), began their set it was without grief, without a sense of mourning or hesitation, but with celebration. Their first song was rhythmically complex and fast, with a playful and punchy melody sung by soprano sax. The saxophone melody transitioned to a solo and afterwards an energetic interplay of bass and drums, and then a spitfire drum solo.

Continues…