MusicWatch Weekly: How to decide

Your guide to choosing a balanced musical diet

I know what you’re thinking. “Hey Mr. Music Editor Guy, how the [redacted] am I supposed to pick one of these million shows you’re always telling us about?” Good question, dear foul-mouthed reader. The short answer, as always, is: follow your bliss!

But you want a real answer, don’t you? Normally, you might use genre as a guideline. But genre is dead and can’t help you anymore. Instead, I have three recommended methods for picking a weekend of concerts. First: rely on institutions. Second: use this newfangled interweb thingy to listen ahead of time to whatever’s happening on whichever morning/afternoon/evening you happen to be free. Third: ask your friends!

Rely on institutions

It may sound strange to hear a certified Discordian Pope telling you to rely on institutions, since any organization stuffy enough to earn the name “institution” is pretty reliably unreliable. But Oregon is blessed with several well-established music organizations that have earned our Trust in such matters.

Two of these are Cascadia Composers and Fear No Music, both of whom celebrate contemporary “classical” music and the (usually living) composers who create it, both of whom have concerts at The Old Church in the next week (Cascadia Saturday, FNM Monday). Stay tuned for Senior Editor Brett Campbell’s FNM Hearings preview tomorrow, and he’ll have something to say about Cascadia in just a moment. For now, I’d like to tell you about two other Portland institutions with shows coming up: School of Rock and Creative Music Guild.

Yes.

I already told you all about School of Rock and the Little Girl Ozzy story, so here’s just a list of what the kids are doing at Portland institution Doug Fir Lounge this weekend: One Hit Wonders and Yacht Rock Saturday, Iron Maiden vs. Judas Priest and the whole damn Repo Man Soundtrack Sunday. The shows start early–like, 11:30 a.m. early–so get your ass out the door and grab some Delicious Donuts around the corner.

Portland’s Creative Music Guild specializes in getting high-quality gonzo improv/experimental musicians paid for their work, and that’s one of the best things any institution can do. CMG’s Outset Series at Turn Turn Turn in North Portland (N. Williams and Killingsworth, at the intersection where no cars go) is consciously organized around that model, and although I’m not saying that experimental musicians who are good enough to get paid make better experimental music, I am strongly implying it. Their Outset Series concert tonight–as in Wednesday the 18th of September, tonight–features drum-and-bass duo The Crenshaw, the “musique concrète duel” of Caspar Sonnet and Juniana Lanning, and Machado Mijiga’s “lo-fi hip-hop” Gohan Blanco.

“Okay,” you might say, “but what the [redacted] is any of this stuff, anyways? How does this help me decide what to listen to?” And here’s where we move into phase two of our operation.

JFGI

If internet were still all text-based like some dreadful ‘80s movie, you’d have to content yourself with colorful descriptions like:

“The Crenshaw can allude to tensely repetitive footwork and juke beats, explosive art rock, ambient minimalism and delicate free improvisation all in the span of 3 minute songs that employ stuttering drums, warped synths, dastardly bass/voice counterpoint and self-effacing or darkly humorous lyrics”

and:

“A veritable smorgasbord of fuzzywuzzy lo-fi sounds, delivered on a pupu platter of multi-instrumental, cross-genre improvisations, chops, and loops. An experimental descent into the mind of a sleepless Portland native, with pit stops in familiar places you’ve never been. Close your eyes, open your ears, and free your mind; but don’t forget to stop and smell the roses.”

That all sounds pretty great to me, but internet has come a long way and there are entire ecosystems of music “websites” that allow you to listen to anything that you want.

Anything that you want.

The Crenshaw sounds like this. Caspar Sonnet and Juniana Lanning sound like this and this, and Machado Mijiga’s bandcamp is just full of yummy retro goodness. Put your headphones on and make up your mind already. Show’s tonight, get moving!

The interwebosphere even has videos on it these days. That’s Machado Mijiga playing sax up there, etc. You might also enjoy this video of Portland’s masked mystery men, Kulululu, who perform at this weekend’s Rontoms Sunday Session and may well get you all excited about Being Kulululu.

You are Kulululu, too.

Internet is also how you find out about Adrian Belew, who’s performing at the Aladdin Theater on Friday. Belew is best known as King Crimson’s longest-running front-man–and he still incorporates some Crim songs into his solo sets–but to me he’ll always be the guy that David Bowie poached from Frank Zappa, resulting in the infamous “fuck you, Captain Tom” incident in Berlin. A few years later, half of Talking Heads tried to talk him into replacing David Byrne (Belew’s answer: “excuse me while I take this call from Robert Fripp.”)

Between Crimcartions, Belew toured with Nine Inch Nails and produced a little Christian rock, and has spent the last several decades pursuing a solo career marked by weirdo pop music about animals and prog albums with Danny Carey and Les Claypool. He’s a perfectly ordinary dude with no fashion sense, mean guitar chops, a love for bizarre technology, and an exquisite ear for melody unmatched by any Crim before or since. The present author caught him at the Aladdin several years ago with Tony Levin (another Crimster) and it was the best thing ever. Highly sophisticated playing from prog musicians who have been practicing their craft every day since the ‘70s, bouncing around and having a great time.

&

And since I’m your friend and you would never have otherwise heard of Adrian Belew, that brings us to method number three.

Ask your friends

It’s no secret that the present author is pals with some of the artists herein written of, so I don’t mind telling you I heard about Northwest Art Song from one of my composition teachers, PSU professor Renée Favand-See, who has a piece on NWAS’s Fem Love concert at The Old Church on Sunday afternoon. I also heard about it on [redacted] from FNM’s Kenji Bunch and 45th Parallel’s Greg Ewer, who are on the program with Pink Martini cellist Pansy Chang and singers Arwen Myers, Laura Thoreson, and Susan McDaniel.

I have literally no idea what this concert will be like. “Classical” musicians don’t usually maintain the same bandcamp-youtube presence as “popular” musicians do, and “composers” tend to branch out stylistically a lot more than “songwriters” do, so going to concerts like this one can be a total leap of faith. You might listen to some other music by the composers–Favand-See, Emerson Eads, Will White, and UO composition chair Robert Kyr all have works available on interwebs–but it won’t tell you much about what’s going to happen on this concert. All you know is that it’s music about women, written by local composers (one woman, three men), performed by some of the area’s finest musicians in one of downtown Portland’s oldest, loveliest-sounding institutions.

Ah, but you want more detail, don’t you? If only these “classical” concerts would happen more than once instead of just popping up like mushrooms and dispersing into the aether like invisible spores! I have good news for you, friend: a pair of Cascadians, Paul Safar and Ted Clifford, are doing just that. Safar and Clifford live in Eugene and Portland, so for their shared fiftieth birthday concert they decided to just put on the same show twice–once in each of their hometowns. Our friend Brett just happened to catch the first one last weekend, and he’s here to tell you all about it.

I wasn’t surprised that last Saturday’s 50/50 concert at Eugene’s Unity of the Valley Church (which repeats this Saturday at Portland’s The Old Church) was one of the most broadly appealing shows Cascadia Composers has ever produced. After all, the two featured composers, Portland’s Ted Clifford and Eugene’s Paul Safar, are both sterling keyboard players and write some of the most entertaining contemporary classical music in Oregon. What did surprise me was that even though the concert celebrated their 50th birthdays, the show was stolen by another musician.

It’s not that the compositions were subpar. Clifford’s Song of Remembrance, inspired by Oregon Poet Laureate Emeritus Lawson Inada’s poignant words about Oregon’s (and America’s) shameful World War II detention of Japanese American citizens, was even more powerful than I remembered from its Portland premiere a few years ago. Inada, a superb reader, wasn’t there to intone his text this time, alas, but Clifford fleshed out the texture with an added tenor sax part played by Tom Bergeron to go with jazz rhythm section, the composer on piano, and alto saxophonist Mary Ellen Grace.

Two other repeat hearings — Safar’s spirited Spider Star and Five — also thrilled me as much as they had the first time. Two new Clifford compositions — If the Heart Could Think It Would Stop, setting a wonderful Mark Sargent poem, and the delightfully playful piano solo Mood Swings, featuring ArtsWatch contributor Maria Choban — demonstrated the composer’s talent for both text setting and “classical” instrumentals. Both composers are real masters at melding poetry with music.

The performances were uniformly excellent, which is to be expected with world class talents like Bergeron and Choban involved. They delivered in spades, of course, as did the other ace performers, including members of Eugene’s Delgani Quartet, violinist Dave Burham, Salem pianist Asya Gulua and the rest. A solid, understated player who hails from the jazz world, Clifford eschewed the soloist’s typical showcases to devote his keyboard parts to expertly holding everything together and pushing the music forward. And Safar’s expressive, nuanced pianism deserves as much praise as his genial compositions — he’s one of the tightest performing ensemble classical pianists around. When most of the players converged in the first half closer, Clifford’s riotous evocation of a rambling Havana cab ride Koko Taxi, they had the audience grinning, laughing, and swaying along. It was the highlight of the night.

Still, the star of the show was vivacious vocalist Nancy Wood, whom Choban rightly calls “Oregon’s Barbara Hannigan.” Our state boasts quite a few superb solo classical singers, including a number of opera/theater music stars. For sheer musicality and riveting (though never showy) theatricality, I’d take Wood over any of them. Her artistry is well known in Eugene, where she performs in Cherry Blossom Productions with her husband Safar, but she performs too seldom elsewhere.

Wood gracefully inhabited Safar’s Spider Star and Clifford’s If the Heart… and Song of Remembrance, making every word clear while still blending perfectly with the instrumentalists, even when singing unusual intervals that don’t let singers rely on common classical or pop structures. She radiates the kind of (to use a Eugeney word) organic charisma that never feels forced, contrived, or histrionic when attempted by performers without her musical integrity and natural expressivity. She serves and invigorates the music she sings better than just about any Oregon vocalist I know, and she deserves a showcase concert that would let more Oregonians know what a gift she is to the state’s music scene.

Even though her performance almost eclipsed the two birthday boys, I’m sure it’s a gift they — and the audience — thoroughly appreciated. And it’s a gift that keeps on giving: Portland audiences are in for a treat in Saturday’s repeat performance at The Old Church — perfect for World Gratitude Day.

— Brett Campbell

Thanks Brett!

Decisions, decisions

“But, ugh,” you may say. “I don’t have time for all that headphone work and decision-making. Just tell me what to do!” I recommend a balanced musical diet. Get your ass out the door right now and catch CMG tonight to get your experimental fix. Rest up Thursday. Friday, Belewlewlew.

Saturday morning get up for donuts and School of Rock and then head downtown for Clifford and Safar. Sunday, spend your afternoon back at The Old Church with NW Art Song, then hop over to Rontoms to get your gonzo rocks on. Then, if you have the energy for it, Hearings on Monday.

Phew!

Want to read more music news in Oregon? Support Oregon ArtsWatch

Join the discussion

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.