ian christensen

MusicWatch Weekly: Second summer chills out

Portland cools down with Montavilla Jazz Festival, two-score local bands, orchestral hip-hop, and a bunch of bleached assholes

Happy Indonesian Independence Day! Seventy-four years ago today, Indonesia declared its independence from the Netherlands after three centuries of Dutch colonialism (I’ll bet you thought they were always just about tulips and weed). To celebrate, here’s a little video (if you can’t read Indonesian, skip on down):

So in a minute I’m going to tell you where to hear a zillion local composers rock out this weekend, and Senior Editor Brett Campbell has some things to say about the Montavilla Jazz Festival starting tonight, but the gamelan band I’m in Bali with just played its freshly blessed instruments for the first time this morning, so as soon as I wipe these tears of joy out of my beard I think it’s about time to give you all a little music theory lesson.

Caution: All comparisons to Western phenomena are meant as a starting point, not an accurate description of genuine Balinese music. The present author is no expert, but only an egg. Caveat emptor.

Start at your piano, accordion, Casio, or other Western style keyboard. All those white keys make up the diatonic major scale, and if you shift around the starting pitch you get the seven so-called church modes. Music students learn about all that in first year theory and never use them again.

Start with the note E on your white-note keyboard. Play the next two white keys: F and G. Then skip one, to B, and then to C. Skip up to E and you’re done. In the West we might call that a Phrygian Pentatonic. In Indonesia they call it pelog, and it’s everywhere. Even the ubiquitous roosters crow in pelog.

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‘Outset’ and ‘Confluence’ series: improvisation institutions

Creative Music Guild series bring both local and touring creative improv performers to Oregon audiences

Story and photos by PATRICK McCULLEY

Coffee shop/vintage clothing/used record store by day, and bar and music venue by night, Northeast Portland’s Turn Turn Turn has become a host, laboratory, and hub for the city’s small but thriving improvised and non-traditional music scene.

“Local” is the operative word here. The Creative Music Guild, which creates and promote concerts for improvised and/or experimental music throughout Portland, uses its Outset Series to showcase local talent every first and third Wednesday.

Outset showcases the local scene’s diversity. Last December, in a nod to their round robin duo performances from the Improvisation Summit of Portland, the CMG put together an ad-hoc improv night that randomly selects from a pool of musicians four ensembles which take the stage in turn to bring to life, to improvise, twenty minutes worth of completely new music.

Dead Death killed it at the Outset Series.

The first band of the night, with Blue Cranes saxophonist Reed Wallsmith, Derek Monypeny on guitar, and TJ Thompson on drums, sizzled, spat, and shimmered with the noise of free improvisation in the beginning of their set. But the feeling soon changed as Thompson’s driving, tom-heavy groove began to drive the band in a more rhythmically structured direction, with minor-key melodies from guitar and saxophone fluttering on top. After several minutes their intensity dissolved into an arrhythmic, nebulous, bright wavering of tone, dominated by distorted guitar and and shimmering cymbals.

The following band, with Andy Raybourn on bass clarinet, Tim DuRoche on drumset, Blue Crane Joe Cunningham on tenor saxophone and slide whistle, struck a more humorous tone. Rayborn’s bass clarinet melodies flapped and wandered like some kind of zany forest creature between DuRoche’s sporadic snare and cymbal hits. Cunningham added another zoological element to the music with the bird-like utterances of his slide whistle. As the set progressed, however, and Cunningham’s saxophone joined the fray, our musical jungle soon echoed with plaintive wails and screams of large, extinct creatures, as well as a strangely appropriate melodic fragment from Thelonious Monk’s “Round Midnight.” And oddly enough, although I doubt it was intentional, the set ended with a similar exchange of melodies and utterances with which it began.

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Orchestra Becomes Radicalized review: Instruments of resistance

By weaving diverse voices into cohesive musical collaboration, musical collective models artistic opposition to oppression

by PATRICK MCCULLEY

As long as there is oppression, there are resisting voices singing out, instruments played in fervor, and messages transmitted in many different ways. With the upwelling of resistance to our current conservative political climate, how will artists step up to express their own resistance? What would that music sound like? What form would it take? Which genres would step up to the plate the most? In this new resistance, who would these artists be?

I received an answer to those questions when I heard Orchestra Becomes Radicalized’s November 29 show at Portland’s Holocene. With some of the most outstanding musicians in Portland on stage, drawing performers from local experimental, jazz, and classical scenes, the nonet, led by John Niekrasz, played a fantastic set. Personnel included Holland Andrews on voice and electronics, Luke Wyland on keyboard, Brian Mumford on guitar and electronics, Sage Fisher on harp, voice, and electronics, Jonathan Sielaff on bass clarinet, and electronics, Madelyn Villano on violin, and electronics, Andrew Jones on double bass, Ben Kates on alto saxophone, and video contributed by Vanessa Renwick. John Niekrasz took the wheel, steering the ensemble’s performance through his drum set and composition.

Orchestra Becomes Radicalized performed at Portland’s Holocene.

The orchestra demonstrated a level of awareness that tends to escape experimental groups of this size. While each musician played off each other’s melodies and improvisations, they also demonstrated an adept and tactile ability to be part of a larger whole, structurally anchored by John Niekrasz on the drum set.

The overall effect of this single long composition was like being immersed in a musical ecosystem, with each performer occupying a specific niche. The music would ebb and flow, and change in its complexity each time a new soloist came to the fore. Eventually the orchestra’s music would melt into a space of silence or come to a crashing conclusion with only one player holding onto a single, quiet note to signal a new section. Sometimes new sections would begin at the end of a drum solo, the transition executed by Niekrasz.

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