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MusicWatch Weekly: sax attacks!


A squadron of saxophone sorcerers descends on Oregon’s music scene this week, many combining jazz with classical influences.

Soweto Kinch plays and raps Thursday.

British saxman and MC Soweto Kinch has been blending jazz, funk, hip hop and poetry in original ways for years, garnering a passel of prizes in the UK and Europe for both his instrumental mastery and his compelling compositions. Fans of all those genres and those who dismiss pigeonholes should check out his shows at Portland’s Jack London Revue Thursday.

Also thanks to PDX Jazz, two more sterling saxophonists, Lewis & Clark College alum Tim Berne and Chris Speed, join Bad Plus bassist and drummer Reid Anderson and Dave King in a tribute to 1960s jazz avant garde legends Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, and Dewey Redman in Broken Shadows’s concert Friday at Portland’s Old Church.

And on Saturday, PDX Jazz brings young Norwegian sax phenom Marius Neset to the Old Church. Influenced by sources from Grieg to Radiohead, his trio music also seems to channel ’80s jazz sax masters like Michael Brecker.

Saxophone doesn’t always mean jazz. Portland saxophonist and ArtsWatch contributor Patrick McCulley has demonstrated his excellence in composed contemporary classical music (at Cascadia Composers, Classical Revolution PDX, March Music Moderne, Creative Music guild and elsewhere) as well as his own original improvs and creations using circular breathing, multiphonics, growling and other extended techniques. He’s recording an album of new compositions for solo saxophone and will give us a taste in a Saturday performance at Portland’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3880 SE Brooklyn St.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Patrick McCulley premiers new compositions Saturday.

That same night at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, in an Astoria Music Festival concert, you can hear Los Angeles Opera Orchestra saxophonist Chika Inoue, violinist Olivia Tsui and cellist Rowena Hammill playing classical sax masterpieces by Debussy, Milhaud, Leonard Bernstein, and the world premiere of a new piece by Todd Mason, Daybreak, commissioned by the festival.

Idit Shner plays standards at Eugene’s Jazz Station.

University of Oregon music prof Idit Shner plays and teaches both jazz and classical music. She’s performed many of the classical saxophone standards with symphony orchestras in Israel (source of many terrific contemporary jazz musicians) and also commissioned and performed contemporary post-classical music for smaller ensembles. Her Quartet plays American songbook standards Saturday at Eugene’s Jazz Station. And if your sax jones still isn’t satiated after this week, well, there’s always Portland’s Quadrophonnes June 30 at Alberta Street Public House.

Jazz doesn’t always mean saxophone. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker brings his own, funkier yet still original New Breed quartet (which, yes, includes saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi) to Portland’s Mission Theater Wednesday.

Another jazz guitar star, Fareed Haque, has recorded for jazz’s esteemed Blue Note label, worked with Dave Holland, Joe Henderson and other legends, even taught jazz studies at Northern Illinois University. But he also teaches classical guitar there, has played all the major classical guitar concertos and worked with early music authority Stephen Stubbs, the Vermeer Quartet and many symphony orchestras, as well as Sting.

Fareed Haque gets funky Thursday.

The Pakistani / Chilean virtuoso has played in Latin bands, studied various South Asian musical forms, and added tabla (as well as DJ) to his ‘70s fusion-drenched jazz ensemble. Plus, thanks to his work with his band Garaj Mahal, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and others, he’s a player on the jamband scene. He’s in at least three other bands. But the name of the band he’s bringing to Jack London Revue Thursday, Funk Bros (not the Motown guys) shows what Haque’s up to now.


All Classical Radio James Depreist

Like Kinch, GoGo Penguin has been imbuing British jazz with outside influences, mostly various species of electronica, yet performed by an acoustic piano trio. Their sparkling sounds appear on Blue Note records but have also cheekily upstaged Philip Glass by touring their own soundtrack to Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi. They’re playing with the always fun Portland duo Korgy & Bass Sunday at Portland’s Revolution Hall.

Despite the title, you’ll find some saxophone at Matt Hannafin’s CD release show John Cage: Four Realizations for Solo Percussion Wednesday at Portland’s Performance Works Northwest. Along with Hannafin’s percussion, you’ll hear Lee Elderton on sax and clarinet, fellow Creative Music Guild stalwarts Brandon Conway and Branic Howard on guitars, and singer Margaret McNeal, and see dancers Emily Jones and Taka Yamamoto in music by Cage and fellow mid-20th century modernists Christian Wolff and Toshi Ichiyanagi, now probably better known as Yoko Ono’s first husband than for his intriguing avant garde music.


Fear No Music has commendably devoted its splendid season to contemporary classical music that squarely addresses the social issues that confront us today. Thursday’s noontime Worldwide Welcome bonus concert presents “new music from countries across the world that have been recently maligned and misunderstood in our national conversation,” including Arturo Corrales of El Salvador (​Folk You, Too​ for piccolo, violin, and piano), Joshua Uzoigwe of Nigeria (​Ukom​ for piano and hand drum), and Haitian-American Nathalie Joachim’s ​Aware​ for solo flute and electronics. Singer Arwen Myers stars in the Portland premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s ​Presidential Address.

American composer George Walker.

Portland Chamber Orchestra’s Sunday afternoon concert at Portland’s New Song Community Church does include 20th century classical composers Astor Piazzolla and American Pulitzer Prize winner George Walker. PSU prof Tomas Cotik plays his fellow Argentine’s Four Seasons of Buenos Aires, which beautifully blends Vivaldi with South America. But the show also features Portland’s fine Shabâvâ Ensemble performing Persian on authentic instruments and a new setting of Maya Angelou’s “I Rise” by another American composer, Charles Creasy.

Speaking of American composers, how about catching music by some of our own? Cascadia Composers’ annual free admission In Good Hands show Saturday afternoon at Portland State’s Lincoln Hall features locally grown new music for young piano students.

One of Oregon’s summer music delights, Astoria Music Festival, offers a preview of this year’s chamber music shows Thursday at Portland’s Old Church Concert Hall. The Frenchified focus (great sonatas by Debussy and Poulenc, a piano trio by Saint Saens, and a trio sonata by Jean-Baptiste Loeillet) features St. Paul Chamber Orchestra violinist Maureen Nelson, award winning Russian cellist Sergey Antonov, and fellow Astoria veteran pianist Cary Lewis.


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On Tuesday, those mourning the break between the end of Portland Baroque Orchestra’s season and the inception of the Oregon Bach Festival can console themselves with the festival’s candlelight baroque concert at Grace Episcopal Church, featuring superb soprano Arwen Myers, Philharmonia Baroque Orchestra violinist Noah Strick, PBO cellist/viola da gambist Adaiha MacAdam-Somer, and Eugene keyboard queen Julia Brown in music by the three Bs of German baroque mastery — Bach, Biber and Buxtehude — plus a Telemann cantata.

On Monday, the festival echoes last month’s Mahleria outbreak with a performance of his fabulous Song of the Earth, featuring Met singers MaryAnn McCormick and Allan Glassman in Arnold Schoenberg’s chamber orchestra arrangement recently seen at Chamber Music Northwest and elsewhere. The concert also features Oregon Symphony principal oboist Martin Hébert as soloist in Mozart’s lilting Oboe Concerto in C.

Speaking of opera soloists, on Sunday, German-born Seattle-based soprano Christina Kowalski sings famous arias and duets by by Mozart, Rossini, Offenbach, Delibes, and more at Vancouver’s Kiggins Theatre with chamber musicians from Vancouver Symphony. Also in Vancouver Sunday night, Clark College Orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony and a new cello concerto by its music director, Donald Appert, featuring Houston Symphony’s Jeffrey Butler.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus goes Broadway Saturday.

And speaking of opera, check last week’s MusicWatch for details on the music/theater combos continuing: Portland Center Stage’s Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (read Marty Hughley’s ArtsWatch review), Mocks Crest’s The Light in the Piazza, and The Shedd’s Roberta. Portland Opera’s Faust  ends Saturday at Keller Auditorium; read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch review and Paul Maziar’s ArtsWatch interview with designer John Frame.

If that’s not enough stage music for you, check out Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s United States of Broadway show Saturday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, featuring show tunes with American geographical references — just in time for Pride Week!

Feel free to drop more musical recommendations, saxually explicit or otherwise, in the comments section below.

Want to read more about Oregon music? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!


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Want to learn more about contemporary Oregon classical music? Check out Oregon ComposersWatch.

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Photo Joe Cantrell

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Brett Campbell is a frequent contributor to The Oregonian, San Francisco Classical Voice, Oregon Quarterly, and Oregon Humanities. He has been classical music editor at Willamette Week, music columnist for Eugene Weekly, and West Coast performing arts contributing writer for the Wall Street Journal, and has also written for Portland Monthly, West: The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Salon, Musical America and many other publications. He is a former editor of Oregon Quarterly and The Texas Observer, a recipient of arts journalism fellowships from the National Endowment for the Arts (Columbia University), the Getty/Annenberg Foundation (University of Southern California) and the Eugene O’Neill Center (Connecticut). He is co-author of the biography Lou Harrison: American Musical Maverick (Indiana University Press, 2017) and several plays, and has taught news and feature writing, editing and magazine publishing at the University of Oregon School of Journalism & Communication and Portland State University.


One Response

  1. I vote for moving this grabber of a sub-header into the headline position: “Saxophonic sensations ensorcel Oregon stages”.

    Let the sounds of sibilance reign over PoTown, Ore. Terrific teaser article providing background into so many different uses of the saxophone that this piece deserves a headline like the one authored by overnight police bulletin editor Vincent Musetto, truly a muse to us newsprint junkies and who was as woke as can be at the NY POST on that fateful shift of April 14, 1983 when events out in Queens conspired to create the by-now legendary headline: “Headless Body In Topless Bar.”

    The range of that reedy instrument in our fair state is staggering. Wish I could get up to the Liberty Theater for Saturday night’s Astoria Muses Fest especially for to hear L.A. Opera Orchestra Chika Inoue’s saxy appearance in quite a variety of pieces composed far from jazz stages and other more familiar contexts. Opera being the one musical form I’ve never given a fair and open-eared listen due to the histrionics when I often turn to my musical muses for nuance and conversational subtlety. Had I known any operas used saxophones I mighta latched on to some cultcha.

    Now the four dynamic women improvising in the Quadraphonnes and harnessing their inspired and sublime lunacy of the ordinary at Alberta Street Pub on a long hot summer’s night should be something to treasure.

    Keep on uncovering these heady highs even in the low places of our state. And don’t bury your header above your lede…
    Buzzed in Beaverton
    Mitch Ritter\Paradigm Shifters
    Lay-Low Studios, Ore-Wa
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