bill frisell

MusicWatch Weekly: jazz week

Blue notes flutter like autumn leaves through Oregon concerts this week, along with classical orchestral and chamber music

It used to be that Portlanders had to wait till winter’s PDX Jazz Festival to catch several strong jazz shows in a row. No more! Just check out this week’s improv-oriented offerings.

Jazzmeia Horn sings Wednesday night at Portland’s Old Church.

• Wednesday. One jazz’s rising young stars, Jazzmeia Horn (besides bearing the coolest first name ever) has won the two most prestigious international vocal jazz competitions, performed with top jazz artists, and regularly plays major NYC venues. PDX Jazz brings her to Portland’s Old Church Wednesday night.

• Thursday. Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble has been engaging in some cool collaborations lately, and the next one looks fascinating. Boundary-busting Portland composers Amenta Abioto, Sage Fisher (from Dolphin Midwives), and Floom’s Maxx Katz — whose music ranges from soundscapes to death metal to experimental improv — have scored new music to accompany the classic 1968 zombie film Night of the Living Dead, which they’ll perform Thursday night while the film and heads roll at Portland’s Holocene club. Rock those Halloween costumes!

•The pianist/guitarist team of Bryn Roberts and Lage Lund play their lyrical original music Thursday night at Portland’s Classic Pianos.

• Saturday. You may not instantly recognize the band name Circuit Rider, or even its leader, cornetist Ron Miles, but any jazz fan will recognize and revere the trio’s other two members: chameleonic / prolific Seattle guitarist Bill Frisell, and drummer Brian Blade. But Miles, who shares Denver roots with Frisell and who plays in Art Farmer’s lyrical tradition, really should be better known, and Saturday night’s trio performance at Lewis & Clark College’s Agnes Flanagan Chapel presented by PDX Jazz offers a rare and splendid opportunity.

• Sunday. The next night’s PDX Jazz show, this one back at Portland’s Old Church, is also a low-key winner. Danish guitarist/composer Jakob Bro (whose trio also includes bassist Thomas Morgan and drummer Joey Baron) recently released a pair of terrific albums on the great ECM label and make another highly recommended entry in this fall’s excellent PDX Jazz lineup.

For more jazz this week, check out the lineup at Eugene’s Jazz Station, which ArtsWatch’s Daniel Heila recently spotlighted.


Composer Andrew Norman

• One of the country’s hottest youngish composers, Californian Andrew Norman composed his 2015 “hyperactive fantasy” Split for the great LA pianist Jeffrey Kahane, who’ll perform it with the Oregon Symphony Friday at Salem’s Willamette University and Saturday through Monday at Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall, 1037 SW Broadway Ave.

Fronting an orchestra that includes abundant percussion (timpani, kick drums, slapsticks, guiro, temple blocks, opera gongs, triangle, flower pot, washboard, wood blocks, brake drum, bongos, splash cymbal, vibraphone, ratchet, log drum, tin cans, spring coil), Kahane, a frequent Oregon visitor, plays (musically speaking) a prankster who gradually becomes “more the pranked,” Norman writes, “an unwitting protagonist trapped in a Rube Goldbergian labyrinth of causes and effects who tries, with ever greater desperation, to find his way out of the madness and on to some higher plane.” The concert also celebrates Leonard Bernstein’s 100th birth anniversary with three orchestral episodes from his lively 1944 musical On the Town and Tchaikovsky’s fourth symphony.


Autumn Leaves: PDX Jazz’s fall season

Presenting organization brings internationally renowned jazz daddies and a mama to Oregon


Sold out.

It’s no surprise that the piano-driven Tord Gustavsen Trio’s Sept. 30 concert sold out weeks ago. But you still have more chances to catch cutting-edge jazz in Portland this fall, courtesy of PDX Jazz.

Gustavsen and his Norwegian group need a bigger venue than the 100-seat Classic Pianos in southeast Portland. He’s best known in European and Scandinavian circles, but everywhere, Gustavsen’s “reputation is growing,” said Don Lucoff, executive artistic director of PDX Jazz.The pianist and composer has played Portland twice before – once at the Mission Theater and before at Tony Starlight’s when it was on Northeast Sandy Boulevard. This time, a few days short of his 48th birthday, Gustavsen will be showcasing his trio’s newest CD, The Other Side, in part a tribute to his father who died last year and turned his son onto the piano.

Tord Gustavsen Trio

Under his own name, Gustavsen has produced eight albums and won numerous jazz awards. With his cerebral, minimalist melodies and spiritual, quietly expressive approach to the keys, he is often compared to pianists Keith Jarrett and Bill Evans – and certainly the two American keyboardists have been major influences.

As important as piano players are other artists, Gustavsen said earlier this month in a phone interview from Oslo. “The passion for expression and expressing as much as you can in every single note is so important. The best singers have cultivated that art. So Billie Holiday and (saxophonist/composer/bandleader) Wayne Shorter have influenced me as much or more as the pianists.”

New Orleans blues, second-line groups and New Orleans funk add to his influences. The music of Swedish mid-century crossover artist, the late Jan Johansson, who is little known outside of Scandinavia, has rubbed off. Johansson played with Stan Getz and “bridged jazz sensibility with Scandinavian folk music,” Gustavsen said.


PDX Jazz Festival reviews: music and more

Regina Carter, Bill Frisell & Thomas Morgan, Luciana Souza, Tigran Hamasyan and young Portland visual artists were among the highlights of the annual celebration of jazz


From elite jazzers to startling up-and-comers, the 2018 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival spread the music around Portland Feb.15-25 with a 100-plus gigs, twice as many musicians, and a wide spread of venues and event prices, many free.

Following are some highlights, and trust me, I missed dozens of others worth talking up.


Brazilian singer Luciana Souza has always been a poetic musician (listen to her version of “Waters of March”), but these days she champions poets with a dedicated CD, convinced that we need more of them in our presently dark world. Her newest undertaking, Word Strings, is a drummer-less project with skilled stand-up bassist Scott Colley and gonzo Brazilian guitarist Chico Pinheiro from Souza’s Sao Paulo hometown. The trio tested out some Word String pieces Feb. 17 at Revolution Hall in a not-quite-sold-out concert.

Luciana Souza performing at PDX Jazz. Photo: ©2018 Mark Sheldon.

Souza studied in the United States at Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory, but she grew up in a lively music-and-word-crazy Brazilian household. Her mother, Tereza Souza, is a poet/lyricist, and father Walter Santos, a singer. Her 81-year-old godfather, Hermeto Pascoal, is a Brazilian composer whose “Forro Brasil” she played toward the end of the hour. The DNA and cultural influences help her to carry on Brazilian music traditions, yet she is boundless and genre-less in her approach to her past and to her art.

Souza’s group put to music poetry by Leonard Cohen, Charles Simic, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Emily Dickinson and Elizabeth Bishop (who lived in Brazil), much of it with samba and bossa nova shades, some with original arrangements. Souza loves to play a little drums and timpani, but not too much. Her sidemen were masterful at making the most of her inviting, haunting, fluid lyrical singing; they could have been soloing much of the time — Colley and Pinheiro are so good in their own rights.


ArtsWatch Weekly: tweet charity

"Hamilton" and Trump's tweets, artists in crisis, new holiday shows, shakeups at Disjecta and Post5, Moses(es) and more

And then he tweeted. The president-elect of these United States is, of course, a thumbmeister of prodigious proclivity, hurling 140-character putdowns and opinions into the Twittersphere with disruptive glee and strategical savvy. It’s a brave new political world out there, and Donald Trump has shown a mastery of its evolving mechanics.

This particular tweet, as most any arts follower knows by now, was a finger-wagging at the cast and creators of the Broadway musical hit Hamilton, a show that Vice President-elect Mike Pence had attended, and where he became the recipient of a post-show plea from the stage to recognize and support the American diversity that the people on the stage represented. It was a highly unusual shout-out, but these are highly unusual times, and Pence, who has a history of hardline opposition to LGBTQ rights (he is even widely believed to have supported shock therapy to “cure” people of their homosexuality, though says that’s not entirely true) seemed a highly unusual attendee at a Broadway musical, an art form suffused with gay culture.

Teddy Roosevelt advocated the "bully pulpit." Donald Trump prefers Twitter.

Teddy Roosevelt advocated the “bully pulpit.” Donald Trump prefers Twitter.

Was the Hamilton cast rude or presumptuous? Maybe, although its spokesman spoke softly and carried only a verbal stick, lecturing in the politest of tones. He implored the audience not to boo Pence, and yet boo it did, which in its own way is intriguing, because a theater full of people who can afford tickets to the highest-priced show on Broadway is hardly a cross-sampling of the downtrodden.

Pence, asked later about the incident, said he wasn’t bothered by it, and the pushback was “what freedom sounds like.”

Trump was not so mild. “The theater must always be a safe and special place. The cast of Hamilton was very rude last night to a very good man, Mike Pence. Apologize!” tweeted the man who tosses out insults with abandon and does not apologize.


Bill Frisell quartet review: Risking freedom

Jazz ensemble's creative, sometimes chaotic concert demonstrates the necessary risks and resulting rewards of musical liberation


Freedom is a thing to be shared. Something to be held together, watched over, nurtured, maintained, oiled, tweaked, and crafted. Disciplined, committed, passionate performers of jazz (and all its offshoots) know that the freedom inherent to the art form is something larger than their participation, has its own life, is a force to be reckoned with, an entity that permeates the circumambient social atmosphere and charges everything it touches with a sense of oneness, of being in a current, of having a momentum, of belonging and mutual respect. Some of these musicians bring a humble leadership to the care and feeding of the genre’s freedom. They understand the importance of power-with, have a gifted sense of how to bring out the best in others, know that the most effective leadership is by example. Yet  they can shine on their own and hold the weight of decision and move and act for the goodwill of others.

However, freedom often spawns imbalance, or chaos. A truly gifted leader neither represses nor concedes in the face of chaos but trusts freedom’s way to forever seek equilibrium and cohesion. Pull your foot off the brake while skidding in snow, let the vehicle go where it needs to go; it will right itself.

Chamberlain, Haden, Frisell (L-R) at The Shedd.

Morgan, Chamberlain, Haden, Frisell (L-R) at The Shedd.

Bill Frisell is such a leader: a gifted instrumentalist who moves through and between disparate, contrasting communities of musical style, fostering artistry in every project he undertakes and who creates environments where collaborators can shine. The Seattle guitarist’s collaborators for last week’s performance at Eugene’s Shedd Institute (a stop on his tour of his latest release, When You Wish upon a Star, a tribute to the lasting appeal of TV and movie music) seemed an oddly matched lot: self-conscious, nervous, uncomfortable, stoic. Yet each one gave themselves up to their unique gifts: drummer Matt Chamberlain disappeared into his doggedly supportive, spontaneous, and shimmering participation (he had never played the set list until that night); bass player Thomas Morgan’s stunning right and left hand techniques pulled colors and textures, with endless sensitivity, from his beast of an instrument; and vocalist Petra Haden’s antisocial, alt-rocker vibe was shattered by the warmth, sensuality, and astounding range of her instrument.

As they crafted the freedom that exists between master musicians, and as they let it swell into the hall, and as the audience sat, energized, Frisell pushed, pulled, responded, directed, pulled back, all the while smiling and glowing with appreciation—a leader entirely dedicated to his cohorts and the audience who completed the evening’s performance.


ArtsWatch Weekly: vote, and other opportunities

Looking back, looking ahead: a week's worth of theater, dance, music, film, and art in and around Portland

After all that feuding and fussing it’s election day, and nothing on this week’s calendar is more important. In Oregon, with its vote-by-mail elections, that means today is last chance, not first chance. Remember, ballots must be received by 8 p.m. Tuesday, not just postmarked by today. That means it’s too late to mail your ballot: You’ll need to drop it off. You can do that at your branch library and other designated spots. If you haven’t turned your ballot in yet, stop reading this right now and get ‘er done. If your vote is safely cast, scroll on down and take a look at a few visual reminders that the United States has been doing this for a long time. Except for the Bingham painting, the images come from the Library of Congress’s 2012 book Presidential Campaign Posters: 200 Years of Election Art:

"The County Election," George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum

“The County Election,” George Caleb Bingham, 1852, oil on canvas, 38 x 52 inches, Saint Louis Art Museum




Northwest Filmmakers’ Festival. The 43rd edition of the Northwest Film Center’s annual regional showcase runs Thursday through Tuesday at the Portland Art Museum’s Whitsell Auditorium and Portland State University’s nearby 5th Avenue Cinema and Skype Live Studio. Shorts, features, and documentaries ranging from the battle over water rights to an internet horror tale to life in a modern medieval village.

Epoch. An evening of new dance from Samuel Hobbs (November) of push/FOLD and ArtsWatch dance columnist Jamuna Chiarini (The Kitchen Sink), with music by Hobbs and Lisa DeGrace. Friday and Saturday, BodyVox Dance Center.


Bill Frisell preview: Star-struck memories

Seattle guitar genius's 'When You Wish upon a Star' concerts stimulate music and movie memories in Eugene and Portland


When the image of Bill Frisell’s new album, When You Wish upon a Star, appeared on my computer screen, Henry Mancini’s Peter Gunn score fired up in my mind. I had instant recognition of the inspiration for the film-poster-esque cover design. Yeah, that one film, the one with that scene of the guy at the end of a dark hallway who opens a door and the light streams in around him. What’s the name of that movie?! After some time searching for the title or an image, I gave up. Not there. So, why did Peter Gunn load up and the guy at the end of the hallway open the door? Because music married to moving image has the power to draw upon our vast reservoirs of associative meaning and sensual experience to create pseudo-memories and deathless, ghosts of emotion. It doesn’t matter that the scene wasn’t in the show Peter Gunn, it doesn’t matter that the image in my head doesn’t exist. What matters is that I was stimmed: suddenly flooded with sensation and memory, delight and inquiry.

billfrisell-whenyouwishuponastar-cover72When You Wish upon a Star is Frisell’s new recording project and tribute to movie and television songs and themes from the last century, with Frisell’s own contribution from the 21st. He is conscious of the impact that movie and television music has on our emotional development and how it manipulates our memories and recollections. I allowed myself one peek into this album before the show and chose the eponymous track. The song pulls up nice and slow, like a lazy sea turtle blowing bubbles off the coast of Rapa Nui, and I had pictures of Nemo swimming, happily reunited with his frantic father.

But wait! That’s the wrong movie! Where the heck is Jiminy? Disney’s version of Il Grillo Parlante is up on the beach tugging on a cerveza. And I hate to say it, but the song is getting sexy. Nemo’s dad whisks him off to bed. All my quasi religious, Disney-washed feelings for the song from my childhood are fast tracked to maturity. And there’s that mermaid from that other movie and she’s looking mighty fine and I’m feeling real confident and off I go swimming through the bubbles to give it my best shot because I’ve been wishing upon a star for this kind of opportunity all my life. Oh, man, how embarrassing.

Frisell has contributed his own compositions to the genre with songs featured in Finding Forrester and The Million Dollar Hotel and others. He will be performing with some new and some longtime collaborators at Thursday and Friday’s concerts in Portland and Eugene: singer Petra Haden, violist Evynd Kang, bassist Thomas Morgan, and drummer Rudy Royston.