The debate rages on: What is the best venue in Oregon? Let the Ashland Shakespeareans have their Allen, Angus, and Thomas; let the Eugene Bachköpfe have their Silva, Beall, and Soreng; let the Rip City socialites have their Schnitz and their Newmark and their Keller; let the myriad choirs have their myriad churches. We say, now and forever, that the actual best venue in Oregon remains the wood-paneled East Burnside basement at Doug Fir Lounge.
No, dear reader, do not argue. Obviously we are being somewhat facetious: The “best” of anything is almost perfectly subjective. If you actually want to get a drink at Doug Fir, or go out for a smoke, or do anything other than listen to music and get sweaty–well, it’s far from ideal. That’s what McMenamins is for. If you want classical music, you’re probably not going to find it here (which is a damn shame, because a string quartet would sound lovely in that basement). But if you want Portland nuts like The Shivas and !mindparade doing their mad thing on a Friday night–yeah, Doug Fir’s your jam.
That literally is happening, this particular Friday night, March 17, also known as the day the snakes drove Saint Patrick out of Ireland. The Shivas–a long-running Oregon band named for a Hindu god who rather conveniently presides over both creation and destruction–emerged from Portland’s mysterious millenarian house show milieu, so named because the impoverished squatters whose unpermitted basements hosted these all-ages riots loved peppering their stonery speech with big words like “milieu” and “millenarian.” This was Back in the Day, of course, when well-educated working class weirdos with more taste than money could still afford to live within sixty blocks of The Willamette.
As for !mindparade–no doubt you’re debating with yourself whether that “!” in their name represents cultural appropriation. I recommend abandoning that particular train of thought and easing into the lushness of the finest in Oregon Psychedelic Baroque Pop. Yes, we said “Psychedelic Baroque Pop”–listen to recentish bands like of Montreal or Polyphonic Spree for reference (or, if you’re of a certain age, consider the ELO phenomenon, and the whole Beatles / Beach Boys / Jones-era Rolling Stones / Barrett-era Pink Floyd thing, and also the entirety of French music from 1950 onwards).
The band describe their most recent “album”–a single 24-minute track called Skyscapia, released last month–like this:
“It’s an ambient record! It’s a rock record! It’s Skyscapia! It’s the freeest record we’ve ever made. Ultimately, this album is a study on cycles between form and formlessness.
“Skyscapia began with a bed of ambient group improvisation which was then sculpted stream-of-consciousness writing + recording methods in the studio. Nothing was pre-written before the recording process of this piece.”
Sounds groovy, non?
Shivas and !mindparade perform at Doug Fir Lounge Friday, March 17. Tickets and information here.
True talent doesn’t need categories
Working class weirdo Chuck Palahniuk famously described Portlanders as always having three distinct identities (one of his three was working as a diesel mechanic and manual writer for Portland’s famed Freightliner Trucks). Enter rootsy multi-instrumentalist Tony Furtado, performing March 18 at Abbie Weisenbloom House in Southeast Portland, another of Oregon’s greatest venues (and one I really shouldn’t be talking about in public–the first rule of house shows is you don’t talk about it in public).
But this particular venue is well known enough to have its own online reservation system, and you probably can’t sneak off to the basement to roll a spliff, and they have house rules about masks and quiet hours and other bourgeois concerns–so we’ll talk about it anyways. For Tony’s sake.
Here’s what the Weisenbloom House mailer has to say about Furtado:
Tony is an evocative and soulful singer, a wide-ranging songwriter and a virtuoso multi-instrumentalist adept on banjo, cello-banjo, slide guitar and baritone ukulele who mixes and matches sounds and styles with the ﬂair of a master chef (he’s also an accomplished sculptor, but that’s another story). All of the music of America is in Tony’s music. Relix hit the nail on the head when writing of Tony: “True talent doesn’t need categories.”
Good luck finding that Relix review; the only source for that appears to be the artist himself. But nevermind that detail, it’s apt. I mean come on, baritone uke and cello-banjo? What the hell is that about? And will sculptures be on display this weekend? Is Tony going to cook for his fans or what? Or is that “master chef” line just an excessively mixed metaphor? Reserve your seat now to find out.
Tony Furtado plays Weisenbloom House Saturday, March 18. Reservations, information, and more upcoming shows can be found on the Abbie Weisenbloom Presents website.
Another unclassifiable musician joins the ever-growing Third Angle New Music roster on the 19th. From one angle, Machado Mijiga looks like a classical saxophonist; from another angle, he looks like a jazz drummer; from a third angle he looks like a producer-composer-beatsmaster. We don’t know how many hats he’ll be wearing at Decibel Sound & Drink down in Dark Horse Town (aka Milwaukie) this Sunday. The 3A folks describe their series rather vaguely as “relatively free-form with about an hour of stories, recordings, and live music to share.”
We wrote about Machado’s multi-pronged artistry a while back, so we’ll just plunk down the two latest releases in his vast oeuvre. Loss was released at the end of last year, with a hilariously conceptual and kayfabian backstory:
The title sounds sad, but in this case, it refers to the process of mixing the album.
You see, every track on this album has been audibly degraded in some way or another.
The concept for this album is that, in some fictional world, each of these songs were part of their own separate tapes that you’ve just happened to come across in a dusty thrift store, some foreign surplus store, or perhaps even just leaning casually against your doorstep mysteriously.
What ancient wonders do these tapes hold? Why does the music sound so vastly different, yet all tied to this lossy faraway land?
The other, Uncharted, was released this very week–so you can probably expect that hat to be prominently displayed at Decibel on Sunday. Where Loss is mostly other people’s compositions (and features hot local players like Dario Paloma, Todd Marston, and Creative Music Guild maestro Mike Gamble), Uncharted “represents the most direct stream of consciousness in any album I’ve put out before,” according to Mijiga’s Bandcamp notes, which also feature this delightful album credit: “Literally Everything–Machado Mijiga.” This is Mijiga wearing his one-man-band hat, improvising and singing and laptopping into uncharted waters.
Machado Mijiga performs March 19.Tickets and information for 3A’s Decibel Series available here.
Fear No Music was founded on the premise that new music–that is, new classical music–is terrifying. There’s some truth to that, as anyone who’s heard Bartók in a horror movie or Schnittke in a music theory class can attest. It can be good scary or just annoying scary, and the really modern stuff can be downright irritating. In any case, classical performers and audiences alike have been known to shy away from anything more modern than, say, Wagner (1813-1883).
There’s more than one thing to be afraid of in new music, and FNM has made a habit of focusing on two of the most important. One, which is easy enough to overlook, is the continuity between new music and old music: for a long time (almost the entire twentieth century), so-called modern music was supposed to represent a sharp break with the past. “That old shit got us into two world wars, it’s the music of churches and kings and armies, kill it and build something new,” these dodecaphonophiles cried, and proceeded to make some of the most horrifying music the world has ever borne (consider Milton Babbitt). This mindset continues in the deliberately anti-melodic modern music you sometimes hear lauded as “fresh” and “challenging” and (worst of all) “interesting.”
The other classical voice that so many organizations are afraid of is the same voice everyone is afraid of: the voice of The Youth. And these two concerns, of course, are connected. The youth just love melody, and Beethoven, and all of it–and they also love Bartók, and Björk, and film music, and video game music, and everything else they can get their hands on, which is literally everything.
This is where FNM comes in. They’ve been known to play the “challenging” stuff–they’re not afraid of that, either, and they’re not afraid of you being afraid of it–but they’re also not afraid of modern music that sounds like music, and they’re definitely not afraid of The Youth. FNM’s concert this next Monday, March 20, is the second in their Legacies series, celebrating both the Young Composers Project and the musical traditions that form a continuum with modern music. YCP was founded by FNM co-founder Jeff Payne, who still helms it–together with YCP alum Ryan Francis (read more about YCP here, and here; and read about the first Legacies concert here and here).
This time around, the featured YCP composer is Ian Guthrie. After getting his B.Mus. at Marylhurst University here in Oregon, Guthrie moved on up via Texas to Florida (studying with Pulitzer-winner Ellen Taaffe Zwilich, which must have been pretty eye-opening) before settling into a teaching position in Kansas City. His viola-and-piano duet The Tempest Long Foretold opens the concert, performed by (who else?) FNM’s artistic director and executive director, Kenji Bunch and Monica Ohuchi.
Filling out the rest of the program: string quartets by Angélica Negrón and Katherine Balch, two successful and youngish composers (born 1981 and 1991) who’ve recently been enjoyed by Portland audiences (on concerts by 3A and OSO). Back when the symphony played Balch’s Chamber Music, I had this to say about it:
Balch’s music was sparse and, as promised, amelodic. Yet it was a compelling amelodicism, a shimmering sonic blanket quilted from microswaths of richly colored acoustic fabrics, harmonic in an aggressively non-functional way, halfway between the John Adamses. Waves of dazzling brass, swelling out from muted trumpets and trombone glissandi, surging across the stage to the horns. A sine tone emerged from a pair of intent trumpets and threaded its way around the orchestra through wavering winds and spectralist strings.
And finally, the legacy composer, the Oldest and Whitest and Dudeliest of Old White Dudes, the Hemingway of German Classical Music, Herr Ludwig van Beethoven. FNM will fearlessly perform his String Quartet in Bb Major, Op. 130, one of the most glorious of all undead compositions, a rich emotional melange that has survived almost two centuries of dread scrutiny and will probably outlive us all.
“Legacies II: Influence and Confluence” happens Monday, March 20, at The Old Church. Tickets and information available here.
The following Thursday, March 23, the cocktail party of Oregon Symphony musicians that calls itself 45th Parallel Universe performs a concert curated by clarinetist James Shields, featuring music by: Pacific Northwest favorite John Luther Adams (the quasi-naturalist, not the quasi-minimalist); the ever-fascinating Joan Tower, one of the greatest composers the US of A has managed to produce in the last hundred years; Andrew Norman, whose percussion concerto Switch so astonished us way back in antediluvian October 2016 (read about that here); and Andy Akiho, whom we love dearly and proudly managed to steal from Manhattan.
45||, like FNM, is resolute in its courage to play new music by living composers (and also not afraid to play Beethoven, Bach, whatever they damn well feel like). The ensemble for this concert isn’t one of the usual “constellations” (such as Pyxis Quartet, who recently performed Philip Glass with Paul Barnes and Cappella Romana) but an ad hoc assortment that happens to consist of nine of the best musicians in Oregon: Shields on clarinet and contrabass clarinet (worth going just to see that monstrosity), violinists Ron Blessinger and Emily Cole, violist Charles Noble, and cellist Trevor “Mr. de Oliveira” Fitzpatrick, Zach Galatis on flute instead of piccolo for a change, pianist Maria Garcia, and percussionists Michael Roberts and Stephen Kehner on marimba and vibraphone.
Sounds colorful, doesn’t it?
“Illuminations” happens Thursday, March 23, at The Old Madeleine Church. Tickets and information here.
Zakir is coming! Zakir is coming!
The greatest percussionist in the world is performing at The Schnitz next week, along with three other percussionists he considers cool enough to hang out with him, plus a sarangi player to hold it all together (Sabir Khan, son of the great Sultan Khan; the sarangi is a bowed instrument with forty-odd strings and a name which, appropriately, means “many colors”–sarangists often accompany percussionists in the Indian traditions).
The other percussionists–Tupac Mantilla, Melissa Hié, and Navin Sharma–are all badasses in their own right, and as always Hussain has chosen musicians from inside and outside his own tradition to complement his own. Sharma plays dholak, and studied with Hussain’s father Alla Rakha, who you’ve heard on a million Ravi Shankar records. Mantilla is Colombian, playing drum set and a variety of Latin American instruments. Hié is Burkinabè-French and destroys the djembe and other African instruments.
Just one of these players would be worth the price of admission: You absolutely need to hear Zakir at least once in your lifetime, and the man could easily entertain you all by himself for days without ever repeating himself (read our enlightening 2018 interview with Hussain right here). The others, forget about it. Even the sarangi guy is a monster.
Zakir Hussain’s Masters of Percussion perform Tuesday, March 21, at the Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall. Tickets and information available here.
Post scriptum (d’oh!)
Hey, remember what we said about Doug Fir Lounge and its supreme basement venue? Better go take advantage of it while you can, because that shit is over. We recently learned that Doug Fir is moving to the old Le Bistro Montage building under the Morrison Bridge. You can get the full scoop from Brooke Jackson-Glidden right here.