MusicWatch Weekly: jazz tributes

PDX Jazz Festival leads this week's Oregon music highlights

Today’s jazz is often about tributes to yesterday’s jazz, especially the post-bop through fusion music of the late 1950s through the ‘70s. It’s easy to understand why — that music is a pinnacle of human artistic achievement that still delights millions of us daily and nightly. But many of us worry that the worship of the old can crowd out development of the new, as happened for a century in classical music, which is still in recovery. Granted, unlike classical music, jazz by its nature is always new, encouraging musicians to update whatever they’re playing every time they take the stage. But as rock climbers know, it can be harder to really take the leap into the next phase of your art form when you’re still clutching the old approaches with one hand.

Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah

Thanks in part to the 80th anniversary of the revered Blue Note record label, plenty of worthy tributes ennoble the 2019 BIAMP PDX Jazz Festival. Fortunately its curators, chiefly artistic director Don Lucoff, have included some of today’s forward looking jazz artists too…

• … beginning with tonight’s opening concert featuring Christian Scott aTunde Adjuah at Portland’s Star Theater. The young composer/ trumpeter/ improviser/ producer/ instrument designer is one of the century’s most musically ambitious artists in any field. Scion of one of New Orleans’s most renowned musical families, he builds on jazz traditions and wins awards for his virtuosity, but looks forward artistically. His “Stretch Music” embraces a wide variety of artistic influences while remaining musically accessible to broad audiences. Scott’s landmark 2017 Centennial Trilogy addressed many of our most pressing social issues (anti-immigrant xenophobia, racism, demagoguery, gender bias) while still swinging, and he’s also contributed enormous amounts of work and creativity to youth education and other worthy causes, scored films, worked with musicians as varied as Thom Yorke, Prince, and McCoy Tyner, founded a music festival, and more. He’s a major part of jazz’s future.

The rest of the first week offers an impressively wide range of the varied music we foolishly try to lump into a single four-letter word: fine singers like Kendra Shank (who also plays a Broadway House concert in Eugene Sunday) and Veronica Swift (with fab pianist Benny Green), venerated masters like Pharoah Sanders, Harold Mabern and Patrice Rushen, rising stars including Aaron Diehl Trio, top current acts the Bad Plus, Steve Turre and Ralph Peterson, the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra (named after a holy shrine of the music) and so much more.

For all the starry national names though, maybe the most valuable part of the festival is the showcase it offers local jazz musicians who offer comparable, sometimes superior performances year round. Many of those shows are free, and the first week’s constellation of local stars shines particularly bright. Check it all out.

Chamber Music

Long before jazz emerged, a mythical Greek dude strummed a mean lyre. The ancient Greek myth of Orpheus, the musician who pursued his lost love to hell and almost all the way back, has been told and retold in songs, operas, musicals and more through the centuries. But it’s never been told like this. In Orpheus Unsung, a multimedia concert presented by Third Angle New Music couple of contemporary classical music stars team up to evoke the Orpheus story as a “wordless opera” with only electric guitar and drums.

One time California rocker turned Princeton prof and composer Steven Mackey has done as much as anyone to organically integrate electric guitar into contemporary classical music, while composer/drummer Jason Treuting’s band So Percussion is the country’s leading percussion ensemble, collaborating with everyone from Steve Reich to Matmos. Using multi-media visuals, looping and effects pedals, gongs, and other percussion, along with guitar and drum kit, they incorporate influences from classical to post-rock to various experimental genres to tell a story almost as old as music itself.
Wednesday and Thursday. Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St.

Other notable chamber music events:

Portland Baroque Orchestra (really an ensemble this time, with lutenist John Lenti and violinist Monica Huggett, string ensemble and soprano Arwen Myers) play and sing wonderful English music by Locke, Purcell and Blow Friday at First Baptist Church.

• Guitar deity Pepe Romero gives a recital at Portland’s Eliot Chapel Friday.

Pepe Romero plays Friday in Portland

• Classical pianists Shai Wosner and Orion Weiss play music by Schubert, Brahms, and American Pulitzer Prize winner David Lang on Sunday at Portland’s Congregation Beth Israel, courtesy of Chamber Music Northwest and Portland Piano International. The latter commissioned  Portland composer David Schiff’s Six Songs without Words, which  local pianists will play to open the program.

Smetana Trio plays Arensky, more Rachmaninoff, and their namesake Sunday at the University of Oregon’s Beall Hall.

• All-Classical radio’s Lovefest Concert stars Darrell Grant, Kenji Bunch & pianist Monica Ohuchi, Hunter Noack, and many more Portland music love interests Tuesday at Portlands’s Newmark Theatre.

Orchestral

In humanity’s quest to destroy life as we know it, today’s weapon of choice is human-caused climate change, perpetrated by the greed of our retro-industrial complex and enabled by their lackeys in Washington and right-wing media. But before that, our method of self-inflicted catastrophe was (and possibly remains) nuclear weapons. The man most responsible for turning them into potential planet killers was American physicist J. Robert Oppenheimer, who supervised the Manhattan Project that created nuclear bombs that destroyed Hiroshima and Nagasaki. Leading American composer John Adams set the story of Oppenheimer’s Faustian bargain with science in his 2005 opera Dr. Atomic. Inspired by everything from science fiction movie music of the 1950s, Adams’s searing, propulsive music was the best thing about it, and he assembled it into a symphony that highlights the Oregon Symphony’s concerts this weekend. It’s fittingly paired with another work inspired by the story of a dying, idealistic man who has been unable to perfect his art as death approaches: Richard Strauss’s 1889 tone poem Death and Transfiguration. Traditionalists will also appreciate another explosive work, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s famous Piano Concerto No. 2, with equally renowned soloist arc-André Hamelin pounding the ivories. And the Eugene Symphony detonates Doc Atomic again next month — stay tuned for that preview.
Saturday-Monday. Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, Portland.

Other orchestral concerts include Vancouver and Beaverton Symphonies, Corvallis-OSU Symphony, the Sunnyside Symphony’s American music show and more — the All Classical calendar has the 411.

Choral

• The Eugene Concert Choir, Eugene Concert Orchestra, soprano Danielle Talamantes and baritone Kerry Wilkerson sing maybe the most consoling and popular of all requiems, French composer Gabriel Faure’s beauty. The concert also features Ralph Vaughan Williams’s syrupy Serenade to Music and one of Paul McCartney’s less famous songs: “Celebration,” the final section of one of his classical compositions, the 1997 orchestral tone poem Standing Stone.
Sunday, Silva Concert Hall, Eugene.

Other attractive choral concerts this week:

• Blake Applegate, who leads the great Portland choir Cantores in Ecclesia, conducts Cappella Romana’s Renaissance music program (Friday at St. James Cathedral, Saturday at St. Mary’s Cathedral, Sunday at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church.

• Choral Arts Ensemble’s CAE Pops! Music at the Movies II show Saturday and Sunday at Portland State University’s Lincoln Recital Hall.

Celtic

When Natalie MacMaster married Donnell Leahy in 2002, they became the Beyoncé and Jay-Z, or June Carter and Johnny Cash of Canadian Celtic music. Both award-winning stars in that admittedly niche musical style, he’s from a legendary musical family and she’s a prize winning Cape Breton style fiddler and step dancer, though they come from slightly different Canadian branches of the vast Celtic music tree. Together, the familial fiddle duo offer high energy musical chemistry that should enchant any fan of Celtic music.
Monday, The Shedd, Eugene.

• There’s a lot more Celtic music coming soon, but tonight’s show with the venerable Chieftains at Portland’s Newmark Theatre tops them all.

The Chieftains play Portland Wednesday

• Finally, this weekend’s concerts at The Shedd offer a major event: a fully staged, as-faithful-as-possible re-creation of Kurt Weill and Bertolt Brecht’s final collaboration, The Seven Deadly Sins. Commissioned in 1933, the music drama was revived by George Balanchine for his New York City Ballet in 1958. Since that revival it has become Weill’s most-performed work. You may have seen Storm Large dazzle with the Oregon Symphony’s version recently. But as Shedd director James Ralph writes: “While the many re-creations over the years (either as a ballet in the mold of Balanchine’s more stylized choreographic re-visioning or as the un- staged and decontextualized concert piece widely presented by opera companies and orchestras) have served Weill’s superb score well, they have dulled and even obscured the original intent and power of Brecht’s libretto, a biting critique of capitalism and its capacity to destroy the human spirit…a socio-political morality play which turned a 4th century Christian theological construct on its head.”

Ralph and his creative team, as is their wont, plunged into historical research and reconstructed the original version, with a 26 piece orchestra (all they could fit onstage), dance, and chanteuse Siri Vik in the lead. Given the success of similar reconstructions of music by Gershwin, James. P. Johnson and more, this weekend’s shows promise a significant Oregon artistic achievement. In the first half, Vik sings a selection of songs from the rest of Brecht-Weill partnership: Mahagonny-Songspiel (1927), The Threepenny Opera (1928), Happy End (1929), and Rise And Fall of the City of Mahogonny (1930).

Streaming

PSU Faculty Jazz Concert. Thursday, 12:00 pm.

Live From Beall Hall: Alan Wood, trombone recital with Quintette de Bois. Sunday, 6:00pm.

Live From Beall Hall: Chamber Music on Campus. Monday, 7:30 pm.

Let us all know about other musical events that jazz up your week in the comments section below.

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