Byrd Ensemble

MusicWatch Weekly: global musical tour

Sounds from Africa, Japan, Ireland and more join jazz and classical music on Oregon stages

If America, or at least its government, seems a little crazy these days, and you can’t afford to skip the country, the week offers several opportunities for virtual world travel through music.

• PDX Jazz Festival’s irresistible double feature The Soul of Africa – Habib Koite + Bassekou Kouyate features two of the planet’s finest musicians from the musical hotbed of Mali. Kouyate has helped revive the centuries-old ngoni lute, the enchanting little plucked precursor to the banjo —adding strings, new approaches to picking, plucking, and note-bending, and incorporating influences from blues, rock, bluegrass, and jazz, perhaps partial compensation for his native Mali basically giving the West the blues (in a good way). He’s played with everyone from fellow griot Toumani Diabate to Taj Mahal to Bonnie Raitt, Bono, Bela Fleck, and Youssou N’Dour.

Habib Koite and Bassekou Kouyate team up at PDX Jazz Festival.

One of Mali’s most renowned musicians and one of the world’s great guitarists, Koite’s bubbling acoustic guitar-driven melodies and socially conscious lyrics won fans among Western pop stars like Raitt and in the 1980s and ‘90s made him one of Africa’s biggest crossover successes in the West. He’s continued to evolve, changing bands, styles and even instruments. But what hasn’t changed is Koite’s focus on contemporary issues (he sings in four languages, including English, about war, forced marriage, and female genital mutilation, but also happier subjects like soccer), melodic hooks, and gentle, pulsating groove.
Wednesday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

•  Lúnasa get us warmed up early for St. Paddy’s Day. The all-star Irish quintet  has reached the highest level of the Celtic music world, selling a quarter million records of vibrant Celtic instrumental folk music over the past two decades, and they keep the tradition current by adding original compositions and non traditional instrumentation (bass and guitar) to the classic mix of flute, whistles, uilleann pipes, and fiddle.

Wednesday, The Shedd, Eugene and Thursday, Alberta Rose Theatre, Portland

Ladysmith Black Mambazo performs in Eugene .

• The famous voices of South Africa’s multiple Grammy-winning choir Ladysmith Black Mambazo sing Zulu music from across their four-decade career, probably including cuts from their two latest Grammy nominated discs and their renowned collaborations with Paul Simon. Beyond their beautifully blended voices, the group’s shows are graced by their choreographed dance steps, colorful costumes, and enthusiasm for bridging the divide between artists and audiences. Read Bruce Browne’s ArtsWatch story about their last Oregon tour.
Tuesday, Aladdin Theater, Portland, and next Wednesday, The Shedd’s Jaqua Concert Hall, Eugene.

Oregon Koto-Kai’s annual concert is Sunday at Portland State University.

• Led by one of the state’s global music treasures, Mitsuki Dazai, Oregon Koto-Kai annually showcases the performances of other masters of the koto, that most ravishing Japanese zither. This year’s So-Shun Koto Concert theme, “雪⽉月⾵風花”(Setsu Getsu Fu Ka or Snow, Moon, Wind, Flower perfectly describes this Oregon winter and also means the beauty of nature, which is the theme of most of the traditional compositions on the program. The show also features shamisen (three string lute) and ikebana flower arranging.
2 pm Sunday, Lincoln Recital Hall (Room 75), PSU, 1620 SW Park Ave. Portland.

JAZZ

PDX Jazz Festival concludes this week with another brilliant batch of improvisational masters. Read my ArtsWatch previews of Darrell Grant’s double bill with Terence Blanchard (whose E-Collective brings the funk, blues and R&B on their sizzling new album) and Portland Jazz Composers’ Thursday and Sunday From Maxville to Vanport shows.

• Stephan Crump busted out of his sideman role in Vijay Iyer’s acclaimed trio with his own, very different trio: his own acoustic bass, acoustic guitar and electric guitars (Liberty Ellman and Jamie Fox). Rosetta Trio’s 2005 debut earned ecstatic reviews, and although Crump has gone on to lead other bands, he keeps returning to Rosetta, including their brand new album Outliers. It’s easy to hear why: the unusual but versatile instrumentation allows intricate interplay, unweighted by drums or piano. At times floaty, at times funky, it’s a string band for the 21st century.
Friday. Disjecta, 8371 N Interstate Ave. Portland.

• Don’t wait for the inevitable posthumous tribute when you can still hear the real thing. Legendary bassist Stanley Clarke returns to the festival, this time bringing one of the music’s rising stars, LA keyboardist Cameron Graves (who has his own PDX Jazz Festival showcase), plus drummer Shariq Tucker. Best known for his contributions to ‘70s fusion pioneers Return to Forever, Clarke has ranged all over the field in various other projects, including funk, post-bop and more. His latest album includes everything from beatboxing to Bach. With youngsters Graves and Tucker aboard, expect even more contemporary sounds along with jazz-rock classics.
Friday, The Shedd, Eugene, and Sunday, Revolution Hall, Portland.

Bass boss Stanley Clarke plays Eugene and Portland.

The festival also continues its tribute trail with a quartet of contemporary saxophonists in the band Wide Angles, plus brass and strings celebrating the great Michael Brecker Saturday, a Grover Washington Jr. tribute led by Portland’s Eldon “T” Jones Friday, Toots Thielemans and Hank Mobley tributes Sunday, a couple of Blue Note label celebrations and much more, including some of our finest Oregon jazz artists. Check the whole wonderful lineup.

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Oregon Music 2018: looking outward

Socially engaged sounds, multimedia productions, and other trends in 2018 Oregon music

Last year’s music roundup first looked homeward. ArtsWatch’s 2017 music coverage focused, as we have from the outset, on our state’s creative culture: music conceived and composed in Oregon. We touched a lot of other bases, too of course, and homegrown music remained a touchstone our 2018 coverage and this recap.

But as with other Oregon artists this year, Oregon music increasingly gazed outward — and often askance — at our nation’s continuing descent into turmoil, division, lies, and political corruption, starting right at the top and oozing down. Therefore, so did much of our music coverage. So we’ll start with what ArtsWatch’s David Bates called…

“Socially Engaged” sounds

Portland new music ensemble FearNoMusic and choir Resonance Ensemble devoted entire seasons to contemporary classical music that responds to today’s social issues.

Resonance Ensemble preview: questions of faith
Choral organization’s ‘Souls’ concert is part of a season-long musical exploration of timely social concerns
Brett Campbell, February 23

‘Bodies’ review: Pride is a verb
Resonance Ensemble’s Pride Week concert commemorates LGBTQIA community’s struggles and celebrates its creativity.
Matthew Andrews, August 14

Resonance Ensemble

Resonance Ensemble: amplifying ‘Hidden Voices’
Vocal ensemble’s collaborative concert features musical responses to experiences marked by racism and resistance.
Matthew Andrews, November 17

Fear No Music: music of migration and more
New music ensemble demonstrates dedication to diversity and development.
Matthew Andrews, December 10

New music ensemble Fear No Music

Other classical music organizations also presented issue-oriented new music.

Oregon Symphony reviews: immigrant songs
Fall concerts include a world premiere theatrical commission and 20th century works by immigrant American composers
Matthew Andrews, January 9

Lawrence Brownlee preview: a journey
In a Friends of Chamber Music recital, the celebrated tenor sings a Romantic classic and a new, timely composition about America’s most pressing crisis
Damien Geter, April 2

Shredding it at “Pass the Mic” camp.

Portland Meets Portland
The innovative “Pass the Mic” summer music camp pairing music pros and young refugees and immigrants will give a free concert Friday.
Friderike Heuer, July 14

David Ludwig: telling the earth’s story through music
Composer’s Chamber Music Northwest commission inspired by ancient Earth, threat of extinction from human-caused climate change.
Matthew Andrews, July 27

Gabriel Kahane’s new oratorio confronts America’s empathy deficit
Commissioned, performed and recorded this week by the Oregon Symphony, ’emergency shelter intake form’ humanizes homelessness.
Interview by Matthew Andrews, August 28

Multimedia

Besides addressing today’s social issues, another trend among some classical music organizations in 2018 was updating their presentations by augmenting music with other art forms such as theater, literature, visual arts, and more. At ArtsWatch, we try to provide constructive feedback on how these often experimental productions worked, so we can help risk-taking artists move forward into unexplored territories — without leaving the audience behind.

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.
Douglas Detrick, January 23

Portland Youth Philharmonic’s Cappella PYP, Portland State choirs, and In Mulieribus perform Richard Einhorn’s ‘Voices of Light’ during a screening of Dreyer’s film Friday.

‘Voices of Light’ preview: trial by fire
Camerata PYP, In Mulieribus, Portland State University choirs perform Richard Einhorn’s popular oratorio ‘Voices of Light’ with Carl Dreyer’s 1928 film ‘The Passion of Joan of Arc.’
Brett Campbell, January 25

“Tesla” lab report
Harmonic Laboratory’s ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results.
Brett Campbell, February 6

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Byrd Ensemble review: corona of sound

Seattle vocal ensemble bathes Portland audience in clear, clean choral singing

by BRUCE BROWNE and DARYL BROWNE

When a choral tone bath is washing over me, I smile broadly, sometimes even giggle. Can’t help it. It’s a visceral reaction to a corona of sound. It envelops the audience, draws us in.

I smiled a lot Sunday afternoon, October 28 at Portland’s St. Stephens Catholic Church. The Byrd Ensemble, using just 10 singers, poured a program of motets that was clear and balanced in every way. The Seattle-based choir’s sound is clear, clean, never manufactured, without a wayward wobble in the pitch. The singers collectively exploit a brighter part of the color palette, enabling perfect intonation and balance.

Seattle’s Byrd Ensemble sang Renaissance and contemporary music in Portland.

This is clearly conductor Markdavin Obenza’s sound ideal. The sound is not an accident. It is cultivated. Several of these artists, including Mr. Obenza, had their start in the Northwest Boy Choir, and that, much like the English boychoirs in cathedrals over the years, is formative in their listening and the sound production they bring us.

Not to say they are trying to sing “like” a boy choir. This is an adult sound with a boy choir temperament. When excellent singers sing with their ears, sing into the mini acoustic among their colleagues, something magical can happen. A macro acoustic like St. Stephens is the perfect venue for a small group like this. And so, at the beginning tones of William Byrd’s Ne Irascaris Domine, I nearly giggled. At the end of the motet, the audience gave this opening piece a 30-40 second ovation.

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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.

Orchestra

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.

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MusicWatch Weekly: out of the past

Oregon conference and concerts explore historical sounds, and there's new music onstage too

We sometimes imagine the past as a frozen portrait, but the early music movement that began accelerating a couple generations ago has revealed that our understanding of how music was performed and perceived in centuries past is ever evolving, thanks to the hard work of scholars around the world, including at the University of Oregon. Next week, the UO hosts a major recurring conference devoted to the continuing rediscovery of ancient music.

But unlike many such academic confabs, this week’s “Musicking: Cultural Considerations” has plenty to offer non academic music lovers, including concerts, theater showcases, masterclasses, lectures, panel discussions, even a Saturday family event where kids and their families can dress in costume and learn baroque dance basics — all free and open to the public. Unlike the recent American Choral Directors Association conference in Portland that, ArtsWatch’s Bruce Browne noted, missed a tremendous opportunity to bring new and old choral music to its host city by not publicizing its splendid concerts, Musicking provides a splendid example of how academia can connect to and enrich its supporting community.

Thursday’s Musicking concert brings world-renowned early music singer and recorder master Peter Van Heyghen from Belgium to perform early 17th century music from the Netherlands and Belgium with the UO’s own super-scholar/performer, baroque cellist Marc Vanscheeuwijck at the Oregon Bach Festival’s new Tykeson Concert Hall. Van Heyghen will also lead Saturday’s Beall Hall performance of a world premiere version of Mozart’s magnificent Requiem like you’ve never heard it before — because, well, you haven’t. There’s way too much more to chronicle here, so hie thee to the Musicking website and check out all the free music and knowledge emanating all week.

Portland Baroque Orchestra and Trinity Cathedral Choir play Bach Friday and Saturday.

Evolution of performance styles will also be on display in Portland Baroque Orchestra’s performances of J.S. Bach’s Mass in B Minor Friday and Saturday at Portland’s Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. Much-recorded English conductor David Hill leads a masterpiece of human artistic achievement, which the composer made a kind of compendium of some of his finest choral-orchestral music. It wasn’t performed until a century after his death, and even then and for decades later, those performances buried most of its beauty beneath bloated, Romantic-style choirs and orchestras and anachronistic tunings that obscured Bach’s magnificent music.

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