Amenta Abioto

In praise of Ramona & ‘Lonesome Dove’

ArtsWatch Weekly: Remembering Beverly Cleary, Larry McMurtry, and composer Stephen Scott; revolutions & the way things change

HERE AT ARTSWATCH WE LIKE TO LOOK FORWARD: Where are our culture and its art taking us? But culture is a cumulative thing, and every present and future is built upon a past – on the people and beliefs and events and achievements that have shaped us. They amplify us and help explain us to ourselves. So today we pause to honor three storytellers who have left us recently, but whose memories and achievements remain a part of us: the children’s novelist and memoirist Beverly Cleary; the novelist of Western life and culture Larry McMurtry; and the musical innovator Stephen Scott, known for his “bowed piano” compositions.

Author Beverly Cleary with her tabby cat, Kitty, in 1955. Photo: Cleary Family Archive

BEVERLY CLEARY, CREATOR of the wonderful world of Ramona Quimby and Henry Huggins and the scintillating cast of extraordinarily ordinary kids living extraordinarily ordinary lives in a somewhat antique yet eventful-in-an-everyday-sort-of-way Northeast Portland neighborhood, died last Thursday at the almost biblical age of 104 (she would’ve been 105 on April 12). Her loss is felt not just in her native Oregon but anywhere and everywhere you might bump into a gang of kids, a teacher, a librarian, or a couple of parents happy to see their kids absorbed in the mysteries and delights of a good book. Cleary was born in McMinnville and spent her early years on a farm near Yamhill and then moved with her family to the Portland neighborhood that became the epicenter of action in a string of children’s novels that for verve and wit and imagination beat the pants off most anything assigned in class.

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Black Music Matters, Vol. 3: Smell the roses

Amenta Abioto takes a walk, Tony Ozier conceptualizes

Last year, Third Angle New Music released a list of local composers they’d be working with on their new “Soundwalks” series. It was an exciting list, and the series is now five episodes in, including this month’s episode with percussionist and sound wizard Loren Chasse. The biggest names in that lineup are Darrell Grant and Andy Akiho, with the entire series being a study in artistic diversity, but one name stood out: Amenta Abioto. Because out of all the various local and/or living composers Third Angle has worked with over the years (and in series like this one), Abioto is the Oregonian musician I’d most like to see in a Caroline Shaw-style profile concert.

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MusicWatch Weekly: What (else) is going on?

ARCO turns up, Geter turns on, “Kevin” takes the night off

Last week we talked all about how everyone should be making albums right now, and hopefully you all nodded your heads and muttered, “hell yeah!” Okay, good, we’re happy to have you on board. You know what you can do to make that happen? You can support the artists who will make it happen–by supporting what they’re doing right now.

And what are they doing right now? Well, the big news on our desk today is ARCO-PDX performing Beethoven in Pioneer Square at 6:30 this Saturday evening (tomorrow!), playing for–ahem—whoever happens to be downtown just then, all while keeping distant in local artist Bill Will’s Polka Dot Courthouse Square installation.

ARCO says:

Thanks to technological advances, passersby will be able to enjoy the music either from their seats on the semicircular steps, or by weaving their way through the players for a one-of-a-kind immersive experience!

This is clearly the exact right ensemble for Polka Dot Square: among other things, the “amplified” part helps a ton when you’re not only outside but six feet away from the other players, and the “repertory” part helps when the point of the concert is not about building the repertoire but putting it to use.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Everything is popular to someone

"Popular" and "classical" music, from Third Angle to School of Rock

This weekend’s concerts are pretty evenly split between “classical” music and “popular” music, so I think it’s time we talk about how you can tell the difference between them.

Humorist and Florida man Dave Barry discovered a pretty good definition in his son’s encyclopedia:

But we also need to define “classical music.” A little farther on in the World Book, we come to the section on music, which states: “There are two chief kinds of Western music, classical and popular.” Thus we see that “classical music” is defined, technically, as “music that is not popular.” This could be one reason why the “average Joe” does not care for it.

He has a point, sort of, but let’s break this down for real. First let’s dispose of some common half-assed theories. To start, “classical” music isn’t necessarily any more “intelligent” or “sophisticated” or “difficult” than “popular” music, and vice versa for ostensibly poppy characteristics like “accessible” and “simplistic” and “folk-based” and “relevant.” Consider Duke Ellington, Carla Bley, Björk, tUnE-yArDs, Brian Wilson, Imogen Heap, and the damn Beatles for “pop” (this is just off the top of my head–I’m sure you have your own favorites). Consider this bit of inspired Mazzolia and this bit of insipid Mozartiana for the rest.

Consider Caroline Shaw.

The one common charge that comes pretty close to sticking is the one about “elitism.” Musical education, access to “classical” performances, spare time for lessons, money for instruments, etc.–these are all earmarks of privilege. Many of the best classicists of the modern era (from Bartók’s Mikrokosmos to Frank’s Academy of Creative Music to Oregon’s BRAVO Youth Orchestras) have tried to break down those walls, and it’s one of the few things the internet has ameliorated. Yet “classical” at large remains a fairily conservative and meritocratic world.

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Diversity dances: Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater

Oluyinka Akinjiola's troupe mixes a social justice message with choreography drawing on the joyous movement of the African diaspora

In what place in America could it be more necessary to express the black and brown perspective than right here in our organic-kale-kombucha-Subaru-loving, second-generation hippie town of Portland, also known as the city with the fifth highest percentage of white residents in America’s top 40 metropolitan areas?

When Oluyinka Akinjiola relocated back to Portland from Rochester, New York, the artistic director of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater joined the 6.3% of Portland residents who identify as Black or African-American, according to the World Population Review. “At the time I did not see dance in Portland that reflected an experience I shared, or even people that looked like me on stage,” Akinjiola remarked in an email exchange. “My only option was to create a path for myself as a choreographer and performer.”

Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater performed this weekend at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center/Photo courtesy of Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater

And create her own path she did. After securing two platforms (Subashini Ganesan’s New Expressive Works Residency Program and Linda Austin’s Alembic Co-Production series) in Portland to present her vision of creating space for people of color within the arts community,
she created Rejoice! Diaspora Dance Theater—one of the city’s very few predominantly black contemporary dance companies. Diversity in the company has always been a priority Akinjiola emphasizes through casting and choreography. To her, being in a creative environment with other people of color is vital to raising the awareness of the general population.

Over the weekend the company presented new works by Akinjiola, Michael Galen, and Jamie Minkus at the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center in a three-show run. The evening’s program, entitled UPRISE, featured work inspired by the despair that followed President Trump’s election, and, consequently the need for a collective uprising. The roots of UPRISE come from Freedom Is a Constant Struggle by American political activist and author Angela Davis, published in 2016. For Akinjiola, the book’s most important message was the need to bring diverse groups of people together: “That speaks to my soul being that my goal for Rejoice! is to remain a diverse company and represent the histories and perspectives of black and brown communities within the Americas.”

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Fin de Cinema’s “Beauty and the Beast”: spirit of discovery

Latest mix of classic film and Portland contemporary music captures Cocteau creation's mix of beauty and grit

by DOUGLAS DETRICK

Seeing a film with a new score played by live musicians — who, just like the audience, have their eyes on the screen as they play — is a treat for the eyes as well as the ears. A musician working in service of a film changes the currency being traded — the artist gives up some creative freedom, and in exchange the film offers a narrative that the audience would normally need to imagine on its own. In some ways the job for both is harder, since the audience must take in a film and new music at the same time, but the rewards can be great when both parties take the deal in the spirit of discovery.

That’s what happened at the January 11 screening of the film in the ongoing Fin de Cinema series curated by Gina Altamura at Portland club Holocene. Jean Cocteau’s 1946 film Beauty and the Beast floats like a cotton candy cloud through a dream world that is both strikingly gorgeous and alarmingly fragile. But for all the astounding visuals and innocent love between the two title characters, the film is driven by the greed and jealousy of the rest of the colorful cast of characters.

Jean Cocteau’s “Beauty and the Beast.”

This screening divided the film into three parts, with different musicians scoring each section in live performance: EDM-inspired loops and beats by Patricia Wolf, Like a Villain’s voice and effects pedals, and an ad hoc grouping of John Niekrasz on drums, Amenta Abioto on voice and mbira, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, and Noah Bernstein on alto saxophone. Each soloist and group captured both the film’s beauty and its underlying grit, without overplaying either element. Though the music had a sharp contemporary edge, the film still landed softly, like snowflakes on the eyelashes of its charmed audience like the filmmaker might have intended, more than half a century after it was made.

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