MusicWatch Weekly: A song and a dance

Irish songs, Latinx bienestar, Balkan Brass, Viking musicians, and the return of Federale

As the great Pacific singer, dancer, composer, percussionist, instrument builder, and calligraphist Lou Harrison loved reminding us, “music is basically a song and a dance.” This week’s selections might be all over the genre map–cumbia psicodélica; twisty Balkan brass; rowdy cinematic rock and other local uncategorizables; clarinets and percussion and laptops; songs from Ireland and World War I; a siege catapult’s worth of jazz–but all of it hews to this basic formula. Sing. Dance. Repeat.

You’re probably going to get snowed in with the cats and the chessboard next week, so now’s your chance to clear your throat, lace up your red shoes, and get into some music.

Tonight, tonight, tonight

We already talked about Blue Cranes and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble in November’s monthly column, so hopefully you’ve already bought tickets and hired a babysitter. In case you haven’t, this is your reminder that their Siege of Cranes concert, featuring the tight-knit BC quintet and PJCE’s eight-piece horn section, is happening tonight at Holocene. Get on it, Portland.

You could go up to T.C. O’Leary’s on Northeast Alberta to hear Irish folk songs–and even sing along if the mood strikes you–every month. But the special guests on tonight’s Oíche na namhrán (“night of song”) deserve a mention: Uilleann piper Preston Howard Wilde and harpist Elizabeth Nicholson will join regular host Michael Steen-Orr for tonight’s shindig. No doubt the harp in question is the lovely diatonic variety used by Taliesen and Dolphin Midwives, and that’ll be sweet–but it’s those pipes we’re curious about. You’re probably picturing the noisy bagpipes of countless cheap jokes, but these are different; sweeter, gentler, more Irish. Have a listen to Wilde right now and tell me you don’t want to go order up a Jameson’s and sing along.

Tonight at Revolution Hall on Southeast Stark, local cumbia supergroup Orquestra Pacifico Tropical joins angelena singer-songwriter San Cha and Portland singer-songwriter Luz Elena Mendoza for Una Noche de Bienestar: Building Hope in the Immigrant Community. It’s a beautiful word, “bienestar”–it simply means “well-being,” but there’s something special, even magical in that pairing of the oh-so-common “bien” with the slippery verb “estar” (which you learned all about in first-year Spanish). All proceeds from this concert go to a local organization which takes this lovely word as its name: affordable housing nonprofit Bienestar.

You’ve probably been wondering what you can do about the creeping gentrification and income inequality plaguing this old port town, and you’ve definitely been wondering if you can do it while sweating your ass off to groovy Latinx psychedelic dance music. Here’s your answer.

Gods who know how to dance

Speaking of gentrification, our favorite Big Show of the Week is up at Mississippi Studios in North Portland, where hometown cinematic gunslingers Federale return from Texas to show off their badass new album No Justice (no, seriously, listen to this one). You ever hear a band come off tour? It’s always a riot: these guys have been on the road together doing nothing but playing and perfecting their newest, coolest, most exciting shit, and now they’re coming home to show off the results.

In other words: this one’s going to be a doozy, folks, so fill up your hip flask, call that babysitter, put on your dancing boots, and grab your bus pass.

Just down the street from Mississippi Studios, you got Mississippi Pizza. They don’t necessarily have the same big names and famous drum heads as the Studios, but there’s still good fun to be had there (and, of course, better food). Friday night, local Balkan brass band Krebsic Orkestar does their thing there for three damn hours. This wild strain of busy music is heaven for complex meter enthusiasts, and hell for dancers who can’t count past four.

Also on Saturday, up in downtown Vancouver at the cozy Magenta Theater, it’s the hilariously named Ne Plus Ultra Jass Orchestra. This local big band is so committed to their vintage vibe they even use the dirty old-timey spelling of “jazz”–and I’ll leave you to work out what that means for yourself.

For something a little cleaner, head to Portland State’s Lincoln Performance Hall Saturday and Sunday for Oregon International Ballet Academy’s Nutcracker, featuring choreography by OIBA Artistic Director (and Oregon Ballet Theater principal dancer) Xuan Cheng and OIBA Executive Director Ye Li. Metropolitan Youth Symphony performs Tchaikovsky’s beloved score, which is in this writer’s opinion the only really worthwhile holiday music.

Or, for something a little dirtier, head to Doug Fir for crusty high-kicking Portland pronk quartet Nasalrod, scuffing up the wood paneling Tuesday night with a pair of other local bands: glitterpunks Internet Beef and noise-popsters Wet Fruit (celebrating the release of their self-titled first album).

“And let each day be a loss to us on which we did not dance once!”

Portland state of the arts

Speaking of PSU, various Viking-related events warm up the weekend. On Saturday, the Zephyr Clarinet Choir performs their fall concert at 3 in the afternoon up in Lincoln Recital Hall. I know, I know–as the great musicologist Adam Smith once noted, “musicians of the same section seldom meet together, even for merriment and diversion, but the conversation ends in a conspiracy against the public.”

But when the present author first heard this windy horde a couple years back (on a lark, following my ear toward the reedy sounds drifting out into the Lincoln Hall hallways where I was photographing show posters), the nearly two-dozen clarinetists were playing an impressive set of classic clarinet choir repertoire (I’ll bet you didn’t know there was such a thing) and a blissful arrangement of Nino Rota’s tasty 8 1/2 music. A bunch of clarinets shouldn’t really sound this good; it should be a nasty reedy mess. But somehow, it works.

On Saturday (and today; they’re playing the School of Music’s Noon Concert while I’m writing this, and you can livestream that right here) Zephyr plays all-clarinet arrangements of de Abreau, Elgar, Fillmore, and Lehár (the last featuring guest vocalist Angelica Hesse), along with an exciting new composition: the world premiere of Clarinet Masquerade Waltz by contrabassoonist-composer Nicole Buetti. 

“Buetti, Buetti…” you’re thinking. “I’ve heard that name before.” Yes you have, friend, because I’ve been raving about her ever since I heard the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra perform her Odyssey Overture last year. And Portland Columbia Symphony Orchestra is giving the delicious, dark, playful overture another pair of Pacific Northwest performances on this weekend’s Scheherazade and Other Epic Odysseys concerts, which means you can hear this local composer’s music twice in the span of twenty-four little hours. Beat that, Kenji Bunch!

The next day, Sunday afternoon (also at 3, also in Lincoln Recital Hall), the PSU Percussion Ensemble puts on their fall concert. This tribe of thundering co-conspirators is led by Fear No Music co-founder Joel Bluestone, an extraordinary percussionist with even more extraordinary hair who promotes some of the best percussive music in town (PPG and the Hawthorne Bridge Drum Circle notwithstanding). The last time I heard them, they were playing astonishingly melodic interlocking patterns on marimbas, tuned toms, and pieces of metal. This time around, they’re playing Akiho, Colgrass, Rosauro, Levitan, Dean and Peck. Conspire away, fellow percussors.

That evening at 6, the PSU Laptop Ensemble performs at the new KEX hotel on MLK at NE Couch, with visuals by PSU School of Film Experimental Production. I don’t know why they stopped using their cute acronymic: as a part of PSU’s popular Sonic Arts and Music Production (SAMP) program, they briefly called themselves S.A.M.P.L.E. like some sort of Bond supervillain group. You’ve probably been meaning to check out this weird new “design-focused” Icelandic hostel anyways, right? And you say you have no idea what a “laptop ensemble” is or what kind of “music” they might make or whether you can “dance” to it? Here’s your chance to find out.

Finally, cap your Viking Sunday at The Liquor Store with PSU alum and drummer-composer extraordinaire Micah Hummel. This dude has been playing around with a set of Sunhouse Inc. Triggers for years now (we talked to him about his habit last year), and finally he’s debuting a solo drum project built around this intersection of technology and human creativity. You really haven’t lived until you’ve heard a drummer who doesn’t need anybody else.

Music for warriors

Opera Theater Oregon may have missed the Great War Centennial by a year, but–as with 45th Parallel’s Bernstein Centennial–that shouldn’t stop you from checking out OTO’s WWI Memorial in Song concert at The Old Church this Sunday. The program centers on songs by soldiers George Butterworth and Rudi Stephan, along with more songs by Ralph Vaughan Williams (who, like Nietzsche and Disney, drove ambulances), Charles Ives, Kurt Weill, Claude Debussy, Francis Poulenc, and Ivor Gurney. As always, the vocal lineup is first rate: mezzo Hannah Penn of In Mulieribus and As One fame, tenor William Goforth, and OTO Artistic Co-Director Nicholas “John Muir” Meyer.

That’s all folks! I leave the last word to Herr Nietzsche:

In song and in dance man expresses himself as a member of a higher community; he has forgotten how to walk and speak and is on the way toward flying into the air, dancing. His very gestures express enchantment. Just as the animals now talk and the earth yields milk and honey, supernatural sounds emanate from him too: he feels himself a god, he himself now walks about enchanted, in ecstasy, like the gods he saw walking in his dreams. He is no longer an artist, he has become a work of art: in these paroxysms of intoxication the artistic power of all nature reveals itself to the highest gratification of the primordial unity.

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