Esperanza Spalding

MusicWatch Weekly: voicing identity

Portland performances bring new perspectives to music and gender

When making the transition to align their bodily appearance with their true identities, transgender women must learn to deal with the fact that their old voices don’t transition biologically, even with hormone treatment. One of them, New York composer Sarah Hennies, turned that experience into multimedia drama. Thursday and Friday at PICA, 15 NE Hancock St., Third Angle New Music presents her Contralto, a multimedia work that uses “the sound of trans women’s voices to explore transfeminine identity from the inside and examines the intimate and peculiar relationship between gender and sound.”

The Last Artful, Dodgr performs at TBA.

The new music organization’s collaboration with PICA’s Time Based Arts festival combines live music for strings and percussion with film and recorded voices of transgender women. Hear an OPB interview with Hennies.

After Contralto’s Thursday show, stay at PICA to hear a pair of electroacoustic duos: LA lap steel dobro guitarist Caspar Sonnet & koto master Kozue Matsumoto (seen recently at Portland Creative Music Guild shows), and Oakland’s Kaori Suzuki & John Krausbauer, who create soundscapes with voice, bell, percussion, electronics, and amplified strings. Also at TBA, catch Portland’s own fab The Last Artful, Dodgr‘s Saturday late night show at PICA.

Speaking of gender and voice, hear seven women perform scenes from famous operas with a queer twist at Queer Opera Experience’s debut concert Saturday at Portland State’s Lincoln Hall. Instead of casting based on traditional gender roles, the scenes from Marriage of Figaro, Cosi fan tutti (They’re All Like That), La Boheme, Ariadne at Naxos, and Trouble in Tahiti. And check out this blog post by one of QO’s singers Jena Viemeister, who heads up Eve Song Project PDX, teaches voice and has performed with Portland Opera, Opera Theater Oregon, Opera on Tap and more.


Sarah Hennies – “Contralto” (preview) from Sarah Hennies on Vimeo.

• Cascadia Composers celebrates its tenth anniversary season with ten concerts this year, and Caldera, Saturday afternoon’s free, family friendly outdoor show at Portland’s Mt. Tabor Park Amphitheater, features some of the organization’s — and the city’s — finest composers. Leave it to Cascadia to make rock music — with actual rocks! Susan Alexjander’s electronic Rock Piece offers audience members the chance to participate, while her Ananda Sama stars violist Christina Ebersohl. Song of the Stars features a visual display that audience members can view on their own devices while with composer Alexander Schwarzkopf controls the music via laptop. Jennifer Wright’s No Disrespect employs an abandoned piano, alien sounds, and spray paint to explore the cultural pressures of urban life. Daniel Brugh’s nature-inspired Listen to the Earth features synthesizers, digital media and gongs. Mei-ling Lee’s La’ah and girl-power The Feather pair a solo dancer with an electronic score. Stay tuned for my ArtsWatch Cascadia Composers feature Friday.

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Carrington-Coltrane-Spalding: Celebrating Geri Allen

PDXJazz concert summons the generous spirit of the late pianist

by PATRICK McCULLEY

The February 22 PDX Jazz Festival concert at Portland’s Newmark Theatre was originally intended to showcase the music of the ACS Trio. But because of the untimely death of pianist Geri Allen (the “A” in ACS, Allen-Carrington-Spalding) the previous summer, the concert turned from showcase to musical memorial. The result was a worthy celebration of the life and music of an inspiring human being.

The night opened quietly and subtly with improvisations on jazz standards and popular songs by Portland pianist Darrell Grant, who collaborated with Allen during a performance at Reed College in 2009. Before playing, Grant took time to praise Allen’s bold voice, openness, and encouragement of “finding my own voice” in his playing. Before each song, Grant gently read lyrics to songs he was about to play, to provide the audience with a verbal connection to an otherwise instrumental medium, and then turned to the piano and began. The first song, Duke Ellington’s “Single Petal of a Rose,” set a nostalgic and beautiful tone for much of the rest of Grant’s set. Particularly poignant was his improvisation on James Taylor’s (by way of John Denver) “Fire and Rain” with particular stress on the melody of “but I always thought I’d see you again.”

Pianist, professor and composer Darrell Grant.

There was something particularly enchanting about Darrell Grant’s playing that night. His improvisations, even during their wilder moments, seemed to have a hypnotically calming effect on the audience. Perhaps too calming, because it was at about this point in the set I could hear an audience member close to me snoring. The only thing surprising about that was how long it took for his friends to wake him up.

Audience etiquette, guys. It goes a long way.

The highlight of the set was an original composition, “The Compass,” that Grant said reminded him of the way Allen’s music “danced.” Opening with a deep, grooving, insatiable bass line played in the left hand, and a bluesy, spiritual accompaniment in the right, as the song continued, the bassline became a frame for an increasingly complex spiral of colorful, and chromatic improvisations that built and intensified until the melody’s eventual return.

When the trio of Ravi Coltrane (soprano and tenor saxophones), Terri Lyne Carrington (drums), and Esperanza Spalding (bass), began their set it was without grief, without a sense of mourning or hesitation, but with celebration. Their first song was rhythmically complex and fast, with a playful and punchy melody sung by soprano sax. The saxophone melody transitioned to a solo and afterwards an energetic interplay of bass and drums, and then a spitfire drum solo.

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MusicWatch Weekly: musical warming

PDX Jazz Festival, symphonic concerts, chamber music gems, and mixes of choral and opera music keep Oregon listeners warm this week

It’s a chilly week in Oregon, but there’s plenty of jazz, of both the hot and cool variety, to keep us warm. Read Angela Allen’s ArtsWatch’s preview of this year’s PDX Jazz Festival, check out the extensive calendar for the many fine concerts we haven’t the space to list here. On Wednesday at Mission Theater, Mostly Other People Do the Killing, one of jazz’s  most acclaimed rising young ensembles, combines avant garde improv, 21st century compositional approaches and jazz tradition with a sense of fun.

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That same night at Jack London Revue, Kandinsky Effect, takes a different approach to contemporary jazz. The French-American trio electronica meets jazz combo swirls funk grooves and rock beats with relaxed sax melodies.

If your tastes tilt more trad, catch legendary South African/New York bandleader Abdullah Ibrahim’s Ekaya ensemble also Wednesday, at Revolution Hall. No less than Nelson Mandela called the former Dollar Brand “South Africa’s Mozart,” and Duke Ellington thought enough of him to arrange his American record debut. He’s been blending African and American jazz influences ever since, and this ensemble, which includes cello and flute as well as more traditional jazz instruments, is one of the 83-year-old composer/pianist’s best.

On Thursday at Newmark Theater, an all star lineup of drummer Terri Lyne Carrington,saxophonist Ravi Coltrane, and Portland-native bassist Esperanza Spalding celebrate the great composer/pianist Geri Allen, who died last year. Portland’s own great jazz pianist/composer, Darrell Grant, opens with a solo tribute. Afterwards, check out yet another great Oregon original, multi instrumentalist George Colligan, leading another all star trio from his New York years with the great bassist/composer Buster Williams and drummer Lenny White. And for a nightcap, catch young Portland saxman/composer Ian Christensen’s quartet at Portland5’s Art Bar.

Esperanza Spalding performs in a tribute to Geri Allen. Photo: Andrea Mancini.

On Friday at Mission Theater, still more Portlanders (pianist Randy Porter, drummer Charlie Doggett and more) join another tribute show: soul jazz septet Under the Lake’s celebration of Houston’s groovy ‘70s band the Crusaders (earlier called Jazz Crusaders) featuring pianist Joe Sample. Also Friday: terrific pianist Marcus Roberts’s long-term trio with drummer Jason Marsalis and bassist Roland Guerin, double-billed with guitarist Russell Malone’s quartet at Newmark Theatre.

Another ‘70s-’80s plugged in jazz tribute follows Saturday at Revolution Hall with Miles Electric Band’s tribute to the visionary musician called jazz’s Picasso, Miles Davis, featuring members of his various electric ensembles including his nephew, drummer Vince Wilburn, Jr., Neville Bros/Rolling Stones bass great Darryl Jones, sax titan Antoine Roney and more.

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