MUSIC

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith

Choral organization's 'Souls' concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns

“This year, a lot of us are feeling the need to make sure our art is responding to the times we are in,” says Resonance Ensemble founder and director Katherine FitzGibbon. On Sunday, the acclaimed choral organization presents a concert that revolves around religious conflict and misunderstanding — part of a season-long emphasis on music and other arts that revolve around pressing social issues.

‘Souls’ is the second of three concerts in Resonance’s 2017-18 season, whose programming explores contemporary concerns through art. “Resonance has always had a desire to do concerts that have themes that connect deeply with people,” says FitzGibbon, whether connected to social justice or personal topics. “Because we sing choral music where the texts are paramount, we get to overtly explore these questions.”

Resonance Ensemble performing in 2015. Photo: Alan Niven.

Actually, the ensemble’s intensified focus on social issues started earlier, immediately after last year’s presidential inauguration, with sharp political commentary in some pieces in the choral ensemble’s February 2017 “Dirty Stupid Music” cabaret show. Resonance’s next concert last June focused on grief and healing, with works by Portland composer Renee Favand-See and singer-songwriter Nikole Potulsky about the loss of children, and also an original song by Portland theater artist Vin Shambry about “the decline of compassion and other changes in the political climate and how he was experiencing it personally,” FitzGibbon recalls.

The ensemble then decided to organize this season around a trio of urgent social concerns. For November’s “Voices” concert, “we collaboratively explored a lot of music that’s not part of the canon so much,” she explains. “There’s nothing wrong with the canon, but we had to think critically why certain works are in the canon and others aren’t — which composers’ voices are underrepresented. Especially in the divisive political climate we’re experiencing, we need to be really mindful of whose voices who are — and aren’t — at the table in the arts and particularly in Portland.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: musical warming

PDX Jazz Festival, symphonic concerts, chamber music gems, and mixes of choral and opera music keep Oregon listeners warm this week

It’s a chilly week in Oregon, but there’s plenty of jazz, of both the hot and cool variety, to keep us warm. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch’s preview of this year’s PDX Jazz Festival, check out the extensive calendar for the many fine concerts we haven’t the space to list here. On Wednesday at Mission Theater, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, one of jazz’s  most acclaimed rising young ensembles, combines avant garde improv, 21st century compositional approaches and jazz tradition with a sense of fun.

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That same night at Jack London Revue, Kandinsky Effect, takes a different approach to contemporary jazz. The French-American trio electronica meets jazz combo swirls funk grooves and rock beats with relaxed sax melodies.

If your tastes tilt more trad, catch legendary South African/New York bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble also Wednesday, at Revolution Hall. No less than Nelson Mandela called the former Dollar Brand “South Africa’s Mozart,” and Duke Ellington thought enough of him to arrange his American record debut. He’s been blending African and American jazz influences ever since, and this ensemble, which includes cello and flute as well as more traditional jazz instruments, is one of the 83-year-old composer/pianist’s best.

On Thursday at Newmark Theater, an all star lineup of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington,saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and Portland-native bassist Esperanza Spalding celebrate the great composer/pianist Geri Allen, who died last year. Portland’s own great jazz pianist/composer, Darrell Grant, opens with a solo tribute. Afterwards, check out yet another great Oregon original, multi instrumentalist George Colligan, leading another all star trio from his New York years with the great bassist/composer Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White. And for a nightcap, catch young Portland saxman/composer Ian Christensen’s quartet at Portland5’s Art Bar.

Esperanza Spalding performs in a tribute to Geri Allen. Photo: Andrea Mancini.

On Friday at Mission Theater, still more Portlanders (pianist Randy Porter, drummer Charlie Doggett and more) join another tribute show: soul jazz septet Under the Lake’s celebration of Houston’s groovy ‘70s band the Crusaders (earlier called Jazz Crusaders) featuring pianist Joe Sample. Also Friday: terrific pianist Marcus Roberts’s long-term trio with drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin, double-billed with guitarist Russell Malone’s quartet at Newmark Theatre.

Another ‘70s-’80s plugged in jazz tribute follows Saturday at Revolution Hall with Miles Electric Band’s tribute to the visionary musician called jazz’s Picasso, Miles Davis, featuring members of his various electric ensembles including his nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr., Neville Bros/Rolling Stones bass great Darryl Jones, sax titan Antoine Roney and more.

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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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PDX Jazz Festival preview: tributes

This year's jazz celebration offers homages to recently passed masters as well as today's sounds

by ANGELA ALLEN

The past year saw a number of members of jazz royalty ascend to jazz Valhalla: Jon Hendricks, Al Jarreau, Geri Allen, Thara Memory and Hugh Masekela, among others. But jazz lives on. This year’s  Portland Jazz Festival provides an array of platforms for living musicians to honor jazz’s passed masters, and to continue the tradition with their own music.

In conjunction with Black History Month, the festival, in its 15th year, will present close to 200 musicians, many of them local. About 100 events (about half of them ticketed) feature longtime jazz luminaries and emerging musicians for 11 days from Feb. 15 through Feb. 25.

The music of John Coltrane, Dizzy Gillespie and Thelonious Monk served as previous festivals’ organizing principles. This year’s lineup focuses on tributes to a number of late musicians. “It’s a snapshot, an inner glimpse at what makes jazz great,” says PDX Jazz Executive Director Don Lucoff.

Vocalist Kurt Elling will pay homage to the late Jon Hendricks alongside Hendricks’ daughters Michele and Aria, Portland vocalist Nancy King and the Portland State University Jazz Vocal Ensemble at 7 p.m. Feb. 16 at Revolution Hall. A free jazz conversation with Elling will be at noon on Feb. 15 at PSU’s Lincoln Hall.

The Geri Allen tribute, featuring drummer Terri Lyne Carrington, sax player Ravi Coltrane and bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding will memorialize Allen, who Spalding calls “a divine prism of pure heart and artistry.” That show is at 7 p.m. Feb. 22 in Newmark Theatre. PSU professor and composer Darrell Grant worked with Allen and calls her his most important influence. He will be on stage with a solo or two.

Luciana Souza blends music and poetry at PDX Jazz Festival.

Add to those tributes Bobby Torres Ensemble playing the late Al Jarreau’s “Breakin’ Away” music at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 19 at University of Portland’s Buckley Center, a new venue this year. At the Old Church, vocalist Allen Harris will team up with saxophonist Richie Cole to commemorate Eddie Jefferson at 7:30 p.m. Feb. 20. Portland sax player Devin Phillips and his trio will pay their respects to John Coltrane and Sonny Rollins at 8 p.m. Feb. 24 at the Jack London Revue.

This year the festival locus shifts more to southeast Portland from downtown. The newly renovated Revolution Hall, with a 850-seat capacity, will host eight headliner shows, including the Brazilian poet-singer Luciana Souza/Dave King Trio double-bill (Feb. 17); violinist Regina Carter performing Ella Fitzgerald hits in a double-bill with the Bill Frisell and Thomas Morgan Duo (Feb. 18); and 83-year-old South Africa-born pianist Abdullah Ibrahim and his 1983-born Ekaya ensemble on Feb. 21. Ibrahim (a/k/a “South Africa’s Mozart” and Dollar Brand) will be onstage without his fellow South African trumpeter Hugh Masekela, who died earlier this year. Expect to hear tributes to Masekela.

Tickets for headliner shows range from $29 to $69, but many performances cost far less, most notably at such smaller venues as  Mississippi Studios, Mission Theater and Classic Pianos. And many gigs are free at hotels and restaurants.

The festival ends at Rev Hall with saxophonist Javon Jackson’s Jazz By Five show on Feb. 25, which will open with Portland drummer prodigy Domo Branch’s group. Branch, 17, is a student at Grant High School and a mentee of sax player Devin Phillips. Aside from Jackson, Jazz By Five includes heavyweights NEA Jazz Master Joanne Brackeen, trumpeter Randy Brecker, Miles Davis’ drummer Jimmy Cobb, and Bill Evans’ bassist Eddie Gomez. Can’t get better than that.

“(Pianist) Kenny Barron said this is a ‘real festival, one of the best in the world,’” Lucoff notes. “Esperanza Spalding is returning for the fourth time since 2011. [Legendary saxophonist] Jimmy Heath loves it.”

Even with so many notables having passed on recently, today’s living legends still relish the chance to continue the music at the Portland Jazz Festival.

Other notables:

• Vocalese, the art of singing jazz improv, is front and center at Al’s Den throughout the festival. Vocalists appearing at Al’s include Shirley Nanette, David Watson, Kathleen Hollingsworth, Jeremy Joyce, Robert Moore, Alyssa McDonald and the Laurent Nickel trio.

• Up and coming offspring of Portland jazz elders will appear. Singer Tahirah Memory, daughter of Thara Memory who died in 2017 and taught young Portland-area musicians through his American Music Program and mentored bassist/vocalist Esperanza Spalding, will join the eclectic band of Lisa Fischer & Grand Baton at 7 p.m. Feb. 20 at Revolution Hall. Vocalist/percussionist Haley Horsfall, daughter of longtime Portland pianist/vibraphonist Mike Horsfall, will play with guitarist Cameron Morgan from 5-7 p.m. Feb. 20 in a free gig at the AC Hotel.

• Next-generation emerging jazzers, local and from out of town, pop up frequently throughout the 11 days at Mississippi Studios, the Old Church, Mission Theater, and hotels and restaurants. Check them out.

• There are many free events. Jazz Conversations cost nothing, and some are interviews with big names like Elling, Ibrahim and Ravi Coltrane.

• Portland’s beloved Randy Porter, a Grammy–nominated pianist, will put on his “Porter Plays Porter” gig with singer Nancy King and the David Friesen Reunion Trio in a sold-out concert at 4 p.m. Feb. 18 at the Winningstad Theatre. Dr. Lonnie Smith’s concert is also sold out on Feb. 23 at the Winningstad.

•  Biamp, a Portland audio-visual equipment company, continues to be the festival’s main sponsor.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

‘Living Things’ review: animating the everyday

Fertile Ground musical finds magic in unexpected places

Not all the characters in Archie Washington’s enchanting new musical Living Things are, strictly speaking, alive. Carnival bowling pins that get knocked over and set back up again over and over; components of a science fair rocket; a robot Mars lander and its orbital companion; a decommissioned rocking horse in a doomed shopping mall— all have speaking roles in this charming six-episode anthology, as do other creatures not generally understood by humans to be conversational: a fly, a moth, a butterfly, a potted plant.

Yet in Washington’s unbounded imagination, all those objects, animate and otherwise, have something to say, and plenty to feel. Even in the preliminary version showcased last month at Portland’s Fertile Ground Festival,  Living Things magically takes us back to when we were kids and we imagined what everything around us— animals, plants, toys— might be saying or thinking or feeling. Some of us still do that, even after we’ve grown up, though not as often as we probably should.

Jenna Yokoyama, Sean Dodder, Netty McKenzie, Camille Trinka, Zachary Johnsen in ‘Living Things.’

A moth unexpectedly finds himself attracted to an injured butterfly, even though he can’t quite figure out what she is. “It’s Always the Pretty Ones,” sings the horny moth’s friend, warning him against getting too close, but he can’t help it.

That story’s resolution needs a little more action to believably motivate the moth’s final act of generosity, and in a later episode, I had trouble understanding the carnival bowling pins’ escape plan. Most of the episodes could stand a bit of trimming (none run longer than about 10 minutes or so), especially a short-lived housefly’s near-monologue— the most melancholy and least successful of the lot. Yet despite such minor blemishes, I was captivated by their stories, and I wanted these animate objects to achieve their goals —that’s the magic Washington imbued in them.

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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.

“Tesla” lab report

Harmonic Laboratory's ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results

Introduction

Harmonic Laboratory’s most recent experiment investigated the question: Can a creative cooperative based in digital media, dance, and music successfully add a new theatrical element to its existing compound to produce an integrative, immersive multimedia experience? This lab report examines the results.

Preliminary Observations

Over the past decade, Eugene-based Harmonic Laboratory (HL) has racked up an impressive record of multimedia collaborations involving installations, dance, digital media. (Reference: “The Original Tesla,” Oregon ArtsWatch.) Its new production, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, added a biographical element, a historical subject, and onstage science experiments to the mix.

Hypothesis

By adopting a recognizable subject that contains a built-in historical narrative, and adding onstage experiments to its newest performance, Harmonic Laboratory can broaden both its artistic scope and its audience.

Materials

  • Creative Heights grant from Oregon Community Foundation
  • Original music for string quartet and digital media by HL members Jeremy Schropp and John Bellona
  • Delgani String Quartet and other musicians from University of Oregon and OrchestraNext
  • Choreography, stage movement, costume, lighting & stage design by HL’s Brad Garner
  • Animation and projections by HL’s John Park
  • Guest animation work by Julia Oldham and Nathan Thomas
  • Dancers from Eugene Ballet and University of Oregon
  • University of Oregon Senior Physics Instructor Stanley Micklavzina and assistant Yohan Walter
  • Biographical facts from the life and work of American inventor Nikola Tesla
  • Performances in Eugene, Bend, and Portland.

Procedure

Tesla opened with a greeting from Garner, a brief overture, and a physics demonstration before actual stage action commenced: a Serbian roots group dance invoking Tesla’s southern European origins through an inward-facing, circular folk-dance like piece.

The next full dance number was inspired by Tesla’s invention of alternating current, followed by another physics demonstration. The first half closed with a bound-flow dance duet symbolically reflecting Tesla’s rivalry with Thomas Edison and a solo spotlighting Tesla’s showmanship, which helped him win support for his visionary ideas.

The second half began with animation inspired by energy field patterns and accompanied by Delgani Quartet’s performance of Schropp’s pulsating score. A pair of full company dances followed, one featuring projected white bird like animations recalling Tesla’s late in life affection for the pigeons who were often his only companions in the New York hotels he called home, and a second suggesting his ideas about wireless communication, some of which fueled the development of radio and later wi fi.

Another physics demonstration ensued before the show ended with a series of group dances accompanied by often dazzling, if sometimes predictable, animations and complementary music inspired by later chapters of Tesla’s life and the great inventor’s legacy.

Data

The experiment yielded useful data related to multimedia performance and context.

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