Chamber Music Northwest First Baptist Church Portland Oregon

MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

Notes for an extra day: A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet.


Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

If you’d rather move your feet instead of banging your head, head up to Mississippi Pizza (not Studios!) in North Portland, where Virginia López’s “Cuban Salsa Orchestra” Melao de Cuba celebrates its fourteenth anniversary in the charming pizza joint’s backroom, the mysterious Atlantis Lounge. Or, if you’d rather just sit still and listen to some Americana-Classical hybrid music, you can check in with Friends of Chamber Music and their latest concert: the “not classical, but not not classical” quartet Invoke, performing at The Old Church in downtown Portland, is your third pick for tonight, tonight, tonight. Here with that story is Senior Editor Brett Campell:

We’re seeing more and more composers melding “classical” music from the European art music tradition with American roots music influences, from Sam Amidon and Nico Muhly to Oregon’s own Daniel Heila. This young Austin-based classical quartet meets Appalachian string band writes and commissions original new American music for their quirky combo of violin, viola, banjo, mandolin, and cello, and the music incorporates elements of classical (including minimalism), jazz and American roots music. It’s part of Friends of Chamber valuable Music’s Not-So-Classic series, which continues to impress with music that appeals to a broader swath of music lovers than just typical classical chamber concerts.

Leap Day

It’s the oddest damned thing: our calendar has this goofy hiccup, an “extra” day cropping up quadrennially in a month which is suspiciously short to begin with (even this year it’s still shorter than all the others). Three possibilities present themselves this Saturday, February 29th. The first is as weird as the day: Jon Mikl Thor’s concept metal group, the hieronymous THOR, invades the unholy Dante’s on West Burnside Saturday night. With him are an equally ambitious concept band, Stovokor, named for the Klingon underworld.

These guys–no joke–dress up as Klingons, gnarled foreheads and all, and taunt the audience’s measly humans while performing grindy metal in the glorious Klingon language (“You have not experienced Shakespeare until you have read him in the original Klingon.”) And the best part of all this is that THOR and Stovokor are both equally good theater and good metal. Qapla’!!!

Beacon Sound on Southeast Grand takes off its record store Clark Kent glasses and puts on its intimate venue Superman cape for Saturday’s Leap Day celebration with local polymath musicians Marcus Fischer and Ted Laderas. These dudes have been making music together for ages, one result of which is 2012’s terrifically Enotastic Tessalations. Also performing: Portland-based pianist-composer Derek Hunter Wilson and Local Services, who describe themselves as “avant-garde hold music” (with some justification, it turns out, although to my ears they sound more like Dolphin Midwives jamming with Tony Levin on acid).

The third of your Leap Day Offerings involve some of our favorite Portland musicians: flutist-composer Tessa Brinckman is coming up from Ashland for the next installment of the Extradition Recital Series, Saturday evening at the charming little Performance Works NW theater off Southeast Foster. Brinckman will start the show with her new solo work Box | Grown Men Sing, an electro-acoustic meditation on solitary confinement and climate change with live bass flute and waterphone backed by Brinckman’s multi-layered fixed-audio accompaniment.

She performed a few solo pieces like this when we saw her with her flute-percussion duo Caballito Negro in 2018, and this is what we had to say at the time:

Brinckman recited her poem “Your Rocket Ship is a Corncob” as a lead-in for her solo composition Blazing World, an ode to 17th-century speculative fiction writer Margaret Cavendish. Brinckman’s poetry mashed up Ramones lyrics, a breakdown of the sordid labor history of a computer chip, lines about a Puerto Rican moon landing, and a quote from the “Earthseed Book of the Living I” invented by Octavia Butler in her novel Parable of the Sower: “The child in each of us knows paradise.” Brinckman’s music united Baroque flute melodies with electroacoustic accompaniment based on Australian astrophysicist Paul Francis’ sonifications of the Orion constellation and a black hole. Dense stuff, appropriate for a wintry cave ceremony.

Now, you’ve read all about the Extradition coalition here on Arts Watch, so you won’t be surprised to see some familiar names on the roster for this concert’s second half, Eva-Maria Houben’s Haiku for Seven, in which seven of the Wandelweiser composer’s earlier “haiku” compositions will be layered atop each other by Brinckman, percussionist Loren Chasse, clarinetist Lee Elderton, trombonist Annie Gilbert, violist Jacob Mitas, cellist Collin Oldham, and Extradition’s steadfast chaos wrangler Matt Hannafin playing, no doubt, some variety of unbelievable percussion from his vast storehouse of gongs and bells and ceramic shards.

This crew does this sort of mashup every now and then, dear reader, superimposing these sparse experimental scores like the sonic equivalent of a Colin Manning film collage, but with less “more” and more “less.” (The first time I heard them do the mashup routine was a few years back: Chasse, Hannafin, and Branic Howard sitting on the floor playing John Cage’s Branches while Terry Riley protege Michael Stirling sang Cage’s microtonal Song No. 85, a harrowing experience that I wish I could repeat every Sunday.)

Sun Day

Mr. Campbell has another couple of concerts to tell you about, although I don’t believe he or the present author or anyone else understands why they’re on the same day at the same time in different parts of town. One of these concerts is star choral composer Eric Whitacre’s collaboration with Ethan Sperry and Portland State University’s complicated choral ecosystem. That show is happening this Sunday at 4 p.m. on the PSU campus (in the basketball stadium, to be precise–it’s right next to the library), and you can read all about it right here.

Portland Columbia Symphony Spectacular Portland Oregon

The other vocal concert happening this Sunday at 4 p.m. is Safe Harbor, the long-awaited third installment of Resonance Ensemble’s thrilling eleventh season. Fittingly, this one’s across the river at Alberta Rose Theatre. Here’s what Brett has to say about it:

In Safe Harbor, his new composition commissioned by Resonance, Portland violinist/looper Joe Kye, who immigrated to the US with his family, blends folk music from his native Korea with American folk music and improvisation. Another world premiere, Portland composer Theresa Koon’s Mother of Exiles, adapts and reimagines Emma Lazarus’s famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty.

Resonance will also sing a major recent work, To the Hands, by Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Caroline Shaw (who’s coming to town next month), a song by Portland based Haitian-American composer Sydney Guillaume, and current music by Seattle’s Eric Banks, Resonance regular Melissa Dunphy, and Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Ysaÿe Barnwell.

The show also features an original new poem by Portland writer and Resonance Poet-in-Residence S. Renee Mitchell, and a monologue by Portland Experimental Theatre Ensemble’s Cristi Miles about the border crisis in her native El Paso. In this concert centered on themes of immigration and exile, the vocal ensemble is partnering with Immigration Counseling Services, the local nonprofit law firm that has long provided legal help to immigrants including those targeted by ICE.

For those in the central part of the state, Mr. Campbell has another Sunday Showdown for you:

More contemporary classical sounds waft from the University of Oregon’s Beall Concert Hall this Sunday, borne on the breath of Zéphyros Winds. The prize-winning wind quintet plays music for flute, oboe, clarinet, bassoon and horn by two of America’s leading composers, Jennifer Higdon (who just won another Grammy for a new work this year) and John Harbison, plus a new work the ensemble commissioned from David Sanford, Samuel Barber’s beautifully breezy 20th century classic Summer Music, and more.

Also on Sunday afternoon, at Eugene’s United Lutheran Church, the historically informed musicians of Oregon Bach Collegium play Baroque music written for and by Prussian King Frederick the Great—that rare monarch who actually played and composed music as well as paying for it.

Humululuman Day

There’s one last show to tell you about, and it’s a real doozy. Two of Portland’s strangest and most exciting current bands–Kulululululululu and Human Ottoman–are good pals, which should surprise no one since they share the same basic ethos: classical chops, punk energy, exciting grooves, and our favorite quality of all, The High Weirdness. The bonus is that when they play together, they’ve been known to really play together, combining setpet with quartet for a…what do we call that, an undectet? It’s a holy mess of blessed Portland bizarre, is what it is, and it’s at The Liquor Store on Tuesday (that’s the venue on Southeast Belmont, not an actual liquor store).

They themselves call it “Humululuman.” See you there!

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Music editor Matthew Neil Andrews is a composer, writer, and alchemist specializing in the intersection of The Weird and The Beautiful. An incorrigible wanderer who spent his teens climbing mountains and his twenties driving 18-wheelers around the country, Matthew can often be found taking his nightly dérive walks all over whichever Oregon city he happens to be in. He and his music can be reached at


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