Mary Sue Tobin

MusicWatch Weekly: The fanfare zone

Gongs and songs, traditional guitars and uncommon fanfares, and a lecture on women in jazz

Tonight, tonight, tonight!

Your busy music editor has to miss a bunch of cool stuff tonight, dear reader: I’ll be schlepping gongs and playing reyong with Gamelan Wahyu Dari Langit, opening for Wet Fruit at Mississippi Studios. If you followed our adventures in Bali last summer and want to hear what all the fuss was about, here’s your chance.

We’ve been hearing the name Mary-Sue Tobin for years: her saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes is a real riot, and the composer/saxophonist herself gets involved in all sorts of Portland jazz shenanigans. Tonight at Literary Arts in Southwest, Tobin presents her free Women in Jazz lecture.

Across the river at Holocene on Southeast Belmont, local musicians Night Heron, Korgy & Bass, and Colin Jenkins join hands with local puppeteers for Pop + Puppetry. Meanwhile, down in Eugene, the symphony’s got a show tonight that Senior Editor Brett Campbell wants to tell you about:


MusicWatch Weekly: Big and small

Big bands, big choirs, chamber classical, and hybrid music from Indonesia and the British Isles

Well, I just got back from hearing Third Angle play Eve Beglarian, Lee Hyla, David Lang, and a bunch of other sweet stuff down in the cozy Jack London Revue basement underneath the billiard tables. You know how sometimes when you’re watching a big band play a long set there’ll be a few players in the corps who have some classical tricks up their sleeves, and when the rest of the band takes a break one of those soloists might come downstage and rip out a crazy impressive solo, maybe a bit of Bach or Wuorinen, the sort of stuff they don’t usually get to play in jazz clubs? 3A’s Back in the Groove was exactly like that. A whole evening of it.

Artistic Director Sarah Tiedemann saved the best, grooviest, flashiest music for herself, like a boss–but like a good boss, you know? The rare type of boss who approves all your sick days, keeps meetings on topic, knows how to use Excel, and not only can fix the copier but actually does. Clarinetist James Shields and saxophonist Sean Fredenburg both killed it–the latter tearing his way through Shelley Washington’s Mo’ingus, the former playing Reich’s New York Counterpoint along with his own fifteen-year-old undergrad backing tracks, the pair of ’em barking at each other in Lee Hyla’s gnarly, groovy, gloriously incomprehensible We Speak Etruscan–but it was Tiedemann’s graceful performance of the fiendishly difficult (but oh so melodic!) music of Jacob TV and Eve Beglarian that had us shooting coffee out our noses in shocked delight.

Anyways, you’ll hear all about the rest of this lovely show from me soon enough. Right now you’ve got new concerts to read about–big bands and small bands and sludgey bands and tribes of singers and song collectors–and I can’t wait to tell you all about it.


MusicWatch Weekly: Hot and cold running summer

Mandolins, saxophones, loopy music, and jazz fusion

Portland summers have a little something for everyone. If you like your summers dry, hot, and aggressive, you can easily get your fill of blinding, baking, oppressively sweaty sunpocalypse. If you like your summers bitter, cloudy, soggy, and unseasonably cold—well, you’ll get your fill of that too. And hey, if you like perfect summers full of warm, friendly blue skies and cool, refreshing breezes chasing fluffy clouds across the golden horizon….well, you live here. You know Portland’s got you covered for that kind of summer too.

The music here is much the same. Just this week we’ve got everything from massed mandolins and stacked saxophones to jazz of all stripes, a lot more Chamber Music Northwest, and digitally looped harp, voice, violin, and cello. Read on to get your weekly forecast—and remember your sunscreen!

This Weekend

If outdoor listening is your bag, you’ve got two good options in Southeast Portland this weekend. The two-dozen strong Oregon Mandolin Orchestra—“mandolins, mandolas, mandocellos and crazy-huge mandobass”—performs at 2 p.m. on Saturday July 13 in Westmoreland Park, as part of the all-day Portland Picnic Wine Tasting Festival. On Sunday, Portland’s favorite saxophone quartet—the majestic Quadraphonnes, led by Mary-Sue Tobin—perform in Western Pacific University’s free “Summer Concerts & Movies In the Park” series. The band plays at 6:30. The surprisingly entertaining blockbuster Aquaman screens afterward, with free popcorn. Keep an eye out for Dolph Lundgren’s astonishing beard!

Portland saxophone quartet Quadraphonnes.

Meanwhile, CMNW is cooking right along with unstoppable verve and ferocity. Just today, at the third New@Noon concert, we heard the Miró Quartet turn in a very lovely performance of Caroline Shaw’s Entr’Acte, and you’ll read all about how their interpretation varied from Calidore’s in a couple weeks, when we all stop going to concerts and finally have time to write about them. For now, I can only tell you that their excellent playing and lively vibes got me all excited for their two appearances this weekend.

On Saturday July 13, Miró finishes their complete Beethoven Opus 18 mini-cycle, begun last Thursday. This will be the good half of old Ludwig van’s early quartet set, with its operatic C minor and its serendipitously transcendent Bb major. Then, Sunday July 14, they’re joined by pianist Gilles Vonsattel, who today gave the only performance of Rzewski that made any kind of sense to me (more on that later as well). Vonsattel and Miró will perform Mendelssohn, Brahms, and the Schumanns.

The Territory and beyond

I can’t even imagine how local jazz composer Darrell Grant must feel about competing with the Sun Ra Arkestra next week. Grant’s The Territory has a two-day run at CMNW (Monday at Reed, Tuesday at PSU), while the Arkestra plays those same two nights at the historic Hollywood Theatre on Southeast Sandy. Although both artists fall broadly under the heading of “jazz,” stylistically and thematically they could hardly be more different. One is as local as it gets, a suite about the Pacific Northwest performed by a jazz great who’s called Portland home since the 90s. The other is—if you believe the hype—literally from outer space.


PDX Jazz Festival reviews: Hearing the home folks

Portland's own jazz stars shine at annual national jazz showcase


In addition to presenting big national names, an appealing aspect of the 2017 Biamp PDX Portland Jazz Festival is that it taps into the deep reservoir of talent in the Pacific Northwest. Two cases in point: the Mile 22 Octet led by pianist, composer and arranger Mike Van Liew and Ezra Weiss’s Monday Night Big Band.

In an afternoon concert, Van Liew’s eight-piece ensemble filled downtown Portland’s Art Bar with tightly constructed arrangements of original music that ranged from tone poems to a piece whose Klezmer orientation called for exacting musicianship. With zeal and meticulous execution the players met the demands of the 9/8 time signature and Van Liew’s intersecting lines.

Dick Titterington.

The Klezmer piece and others featured notable work from Dick Titterington, one of a cluster of first-rate trumpeters who grew up in Portland or moved here over the past few years. In the course of the afternoon, everyone on the band soloed impressively.

We see Mary-Sue Tobin holding an alto saxophone in the photograph to the right, but in the Art Bar concert her muscular soloing and voluminous sound were on tenor sax. The other members of the octet were Tim Jensen, alto saxophone; Tom Hill, trombone; John Butler, guitar; Mark Schneider, bass; and Jason Palmer, drums.

Mary-Sue Tobin.

Pianist Ezra Weiss has generated favorable notice in The New York Times, Down Beat, Jazz Times and other national publications. Down Beat’s Josef Woodard called him, “a bold, inspired figure in the contemporary jazz arranging scene.” At the Portland festival, Weiss led his Monday Night Big Band in the cozy confines of Lola’s Room, a listening space in the building that also houses Portland’s venerable Crystal Ballroom. Weiss, who teaches music at Portland State University, concentrated on conducting and left the piano playing to the talented young Dan Gaynor.

The trumpet section was made up of four players who, like Titterington, choose to remain in Portland despite gifts that would keep them busy in New York or Los Angeles. Tom Barber’s solo on the opening number, whose title I didn’t hear, established that, as did Derek Sims, Conte Bennett and Charlie Porter in later solos. Tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto followed with the first of several solo spots that he filled with passion and evident satisfaction in taking chances.

Ezra Weiss. Photo: Vanished Twin.

Tim Jensen, heard earlier in the Mile 22 Octet, was applauded by fellow members of the saxophone section for his solo on “It’s You Or No One,” Julie Styne’s 1948 hit for Doris Day. Weiss featured Gaynor on piano in “Jessie,” Weiss’s piece named for his wife. The veteran tenor saxophonist John Gross took over for one of his solos in which he manages to be almost outrageously unorthodox at the same time that he’s being lyrical.

John Gross.

To this point in the Weiss concert, I had been longing to hear the band settle into a 4/4 groove but broken time — not necessarily a bad thing — had seemed to be the rule. Then, with alto saxophonist John Nastos moving straight ahead in Weiss’s “The Promise,” the band was swinging in the foot-tapping sense, even though bassist Eric Gruber maintained an uneven line.

Weiss made a medley of his arrangement of the Hebrew hymn “We Limit Not The Wrath Of God” and his own “Fanfare For a Newborn.” Following another John Gross tenor sax adventure in the medley, Weiss brought the band to an abrupt and surprising halt that made a few listeners gasp. Using his dramatic conducting style, he immediately cranked the band up again, and people laughed.

Marilyn Keller.

The first of two guest singers, Marilyn Keller, joined the band for a dramatic version of the folk classic “Wayfaring Stranger.” Her section of vocalese improvisation included an astonishing sequence of high notes. Weiss’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” featured Nastos on soprano saxophone, then a trumpet solo in which Charlie Porter invented harmonies so unorthodox and sophisticated that the musicians around him were shaking their heads.

Weiss brought on recording artist Jeff Baker, a Portland resident, for “Amazing Grace,” sung in a clear and pleasant voice. The piece also included a Porter flugelhorn solo that, while rewarding, did not equal the ingenuity he showed on “Footprints.”

Mieke Bruggeman.

Weiss’s composition “Rise And Fall” included solos by Barber on both flugelhorn and trumpet and the only solo appearance of the evening by Mieke Bruggeman. Her huge baritone saxophone sound had anchored the band all evening. She soloed as if to relieve tension that built while she waited for her shot at self-expression. The audience reaction let her know that it was worth waiting for.

As I headed for the door in order to catch the last streetcar back to my hotel, Weiss announced a piece whose title sounded like “Koom Len Getit,” I was compelled to pause and listen to trombonist John Moak deliver the final solo word. It’s always a pleasure to hear Moak. It had been a satisfying concert.

The 2017 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival continues through February 26 at various Portland venues. Tickets available online. Read ArtsWatch’s preview and Ramsey’s first set of reviews.

One of America’s most esteemed jazz journalists, former Portland resident Doug Ramsey is a recipient of the lifetime achievement award of the Jazz Journalists Association and two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. Ramsey is the author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul DesmondJazz Matters:Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, and the novel Poodie James, and co-editor (With Dale Shaps) of Journalism Ethics: Why Change? His articles, reviews and op-ed pieces on music and on free press and First Amendment issues have appeared in Downbeat, Jazz Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, and Congressional Quarterly, among other publications. His excellent blog, Rifftides, where these reviews (reprinted with his permission) originally appeared, is essential reading for anyone interested in jazz today.

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