matt hannafin

MusicWatch Weekly: Welcome to Digital Heaven

Hermit like a champ with Oregon’s virtualocal superstars

These days we’re toggling between two extremes: on the one hand, digitally mediated mass socialization via zoom, youtube, social media, and all the rest of the burgeoning digital (after)life; on the other hand, some truly next-level hermit action in the form of baking, yoga, quilting, meditation, prayer, journaling, self-reflection, self-recording, and the simple joy of sitting and catching up on all those books you’ve been meaning to read since, like, the eighties.

Of course, most of us are splitting the difference one way or another–for instance, we know dozens of musicians who are spending their quarantine listening to and sharing their favorite albums, a perfect example of how a fundamentally isolated endeavor can be transmuted into an eminently social experience. Same goes, mutatis mutandis, for book clubs and TV show binge-watching parties (let me know if I can spoil Battlestar Galactica for you).

We’ll be talking in some depth about this nascent digital afterlife starting next week, when we’ll discuss: 45th Parallel Universe’s new friend Kevin; defunct Portland cyberpunk indie trio Menomena; recent and timely Matrixy entertainment like Devs, Westworld, and Upload; and media guru Douglas Rushkoff’s “Ten Commands for a Digital Age.” That’s all in the first of several new series we schemers at ArtsWatch have planned for your next few months of quarantined music reading. Stay tuned.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Look before you leap day

A weekend of concerts and a Portland Weird undectet

Fry Day

As usual, we’d like to start by bringing you last minute news of a few shows happening tonight, tonight, tonight. As you read this, Mike Dillon and Band are packing up their road bags, leaving Eugene (where they played at Whirled Pies last night), and trekking up I-5 to Portland, where they’ll head straight down to the Jack London Revue subterraenan social club for an evening of what we can only call “gonzo punk jazz.”

See, from a technique perspective these dudes are all basically just avant-garde jazz musicians (bandleader Dillon is in wide demand as a vibraphonist and all-around killer percussionist), but–like so many others over this last half-century of escalating strangeness–they’ve found the grittiest, truest expression of both “avant-garde” and “jazz” not in the relatively staid traditional world of characters like Henry Threadgill and Branford Marsalis (who are, of course, total badasses and not to be trifled with except for purposes of this strained comparison), but instead have seen the true face of “jazz” and “avant-garde” in the wooly realm of punk, metal, and other folk musicks of the rough and ragged variety. If that’s your bag, dear reader, get on it!

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The beginning of listening

Extradition Series summer concert confronts silence

I once heard a joke about the 20th century philosopher and problematic figure Martin Heidegger: he once spent four hours opening and closing the door to his office at the University of Freiburg, trying to understand the action that we all take for granted in all its subtleties. This story is a lie that some cheeky undergrad came up with while struggling through Being and Time, but the joke still points to the crux of phenomenology and its massive influence on artists through this last century. 

Musically, we can trace this perspective to John Cage and his study of Zen Buddhism and the I Ching. Cage’s music demands an entirely new approach to listening that throws out the window all the lavish harmony and rhythms of classical music in favor of the subtleties of individual sounds. Much like his contemporary in the visual arts Mark Rothko, Cage (as well as Morton Feldman and others) sought to tear away all the unnecessary information from music, leaving only the subtle textures and noises within notes and chords that would otherwise fly by unnoticed. The influence of these composers looms over most contemporary experimental music, and the Extradition Series summer concert in July was no exception.

Extradition is a performing series created within Oregon’s Creative Music Guild, a collective of local musicians dedicated to performing improvisational and experimental music. Extradition takes their artistic inspiration from Fluxus and the music of composers like Cage, Feldman, and Pauline Oliveros, and their concerts reveal the subtleties in sounds we hear all the time. The five pieces they showcased at their July 27 concert at Performance Works NW were among the most challenging performances I’ve ever heard live, requiring an intense form of listening that pulled me into the smallest details of every sound while giving space for quiet contemplation. In tight quarters with no more than forty people, I felt like I was participating in a group meditation, with the performers becoming our yogis (dressed in all black rather than orange). 

Matt Hannafin performs Alvin Lucier's 'The Silver Fox' at Extradition's summer concert. Photo by Glenn Sogge.
Percussionist and Extradition Series curator Matt Hannafin performs Alvin Lucier’s ‘The Silver Fox’ at Extradition’s summer concert. Photo by Glenn Sogge.

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MusicWatch Monthly: A Septemberful of ‘music’

"Classical" music, "Hip-hop" music, "Queer" music, "Experimental" music

Well, friends, you’ve got a helluva nice September to look forward to. Oregon Symphony provides live backup to the greatest movie of all time and also Wyclef Jean. Cappella Romana performs a bunch of Byzantine music, Kalakendra and Rasika present Indian classical music and dance, Nordic folk band Sver comes to Alberta Rose, and local rapper Fountaine headlines a free Labor Day hip-hop fest.

FearNoMusic and Third Angle swing back into full Relevant Classical mode this month, while Oregon Repertory Singers perform local composer Joan Szymko. Portland State’s Queer Opera presents gender-bent opera scenes and art songs, Dolphin Midwives plays a Harvest Moon Cacao Ceremony, and the Extradition Series imports a Canadian trumpeter.

We’ve even got a few concerts for you outside the Portland metro area, in case the shame trolls decide they want another helping of bananafied humiliation optics, police cover, wasted city resources, and charitable donations.

“Drip, drip.”

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MusicWatch Weekly: Happy accidents

Music editor misses Glass opera, amplified strings, and the end of CMNW

Allow me to get personal for a moment. You, my dear readers, know that I’m involved in this vibrant local music scene I’ve been writing about every week for the last three years. As a student at Portland State University, I walk past area composers Kenji Bunch and Bonnie Miksch in the hallways about once a week. Until recently, I sat on the board of Cascadia Composers (about whom you can read all about right here in Maria “Arts Bitch” Choban’s detective hunt). I play drums in a surf punk band and gongs in a Balinese gamelan, and most of my friends and acquaintances are musicians. It’s inevitable that your ever-busy music editor will occasionally find himself becoming Part of the Story.

Music editor Matt Andrews becomes Part of the Story. Photo by Matias Brecher.

So this week I’m going to lean into that pretty hard and tell you all about my brother’s band. I’ll also explain why you have to go to a bunch of wonderful local concerts in my stead this weekend, beautiful shows I’ve been waiting all year for, all piling up here at the bottom of July where I have to miss them because I’ll be spending the next five days packing for a six-week trip to Bali.

But first, a case for Mozart.

To garden or not to garden

Portland Opera earns its place in the city’s music scene for one reason: they pour almost as much time, effort, talent, and money into productions of operas by living U.S. composers as they put into the classics. (Honestly that’s a pretty generous “almost,” but they do alright for an arts organization of their heft. Oregon Symphony does better, but they also do more.)

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MusicWatch Monthly: Too many notes

Summer gets all sweaty, with classical and jazz festivals, operas, experimental sound art, and a bit of good old-fashioned NW gonzo punk

Garden wall at Lan Su Chinese Garden. Photo: Gary Ferrington.

La Finta Giardiniera
July 12-27, Newmark Theater
In The Penal Colony
July 26-August 10, Hampton Opera Center

It’s oddly appropriate that Portland Opera is closing its season with summer performances of Mozart and Philip Glass. Both composers are that rare breed: equally adept at performing their own chamber music, writing grand symphonies for orchestra, and collaborating on a variety of comic and tragic operas on themes both timeless and timely.

They have both also been accused, perhaps justly, of writing too many damn notes, and that’s part of why the best way to experience theatrically-inclined composers like Mozart and Glass is in their native habitat: the opera house. That’s really where their music lives best, in live performances rich with grand singing, engaging sets and costumes and lighting and the other “works” which give opera its name—plus the comedic and dramatic intimacy that is live theater’s specialty.

July 12-27, PO stages the lesser-known Mozart opera La Finta Giardiniera, in its second Portland production of the year (PSU Opera put on their own production earlier this year). Lindsay Ohse stars; Chas Rader-Shieber directs.

July 26-August 10, Jerry Mouawad (co-founder of Portland’s Imago Theatre) returns for another modern “pocket opera.” PO specializes in presenting these chamber operas by modern composers, thrilling Portland audiences recently with Laura Kaminsky’s As One and in 2017 with Mouawad’s production of David Lang’s The Difficulty of Crossing a Field and The Little Match Girl Passion. Martin Bakari and Ryan Thorn star in Glass’s adaptation of the terrifying Kafka story.

Jazz and Blues

Waterfront Blues Festival
July 4-7, Waterfront Park

For over three decades, Portland’s iconic blues festival has been a hot, sweaty, messy, crowded, rite of passage. It’s such an undertaking they’ve got a handy little guide for navigating the four-day, four-stage fest sprawled across the west side of the river, wedged between the waves and the construction cranes.

Take a look at the line-up right here. If any of those musical legends and other hot-shit artists sound like you’d want to get into a sweltering, sunscreen-slathered groove with them and a thousand other vibing blues fans down on the sun-baked shore of the Willamette River—then pack yourself a bag full of bottled water, grab a big floppy sun hat, and get your ass down to the water.

Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.
Waterfront Blues Festival, July 7, 2018.

Jazz in the Garden
Tuesdays, July 16-August 20, Lan Su Chinese Garden

Across six Tuesdays this summer, Lan Su Chinese Garden in Old Town Portland hosts PDX Jazz’s Summer Music Series, featuring a variety of international and local artists. On July 16th, it’s Malian supergroup BKO Quintet; on July 23, Portland vibraphonist Mike Horsfall pays tribute to Cal Tjader; on July 30, erstwhile Portland saxophonist Hailey Niswanger returns from Brooklyn with her band MAE.SUN. In August, jazz and soul singer China Moses performs on the 6th, pianist Connie Han plays on the 13th, and on the 20th Bobby Torres Ensemble commemorates Woodstock.

The Territory
July 15, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College
July 16, Lincoln Performance Hall, Portland State University

Local superstar jazz composer and pianist Darrell Grant is having a busy year, as usual. His nine-movement suite for jazz ensemble The Territory, premiered at Chamber Music Northwest in 2013, led to the formation of the “Oregon Territory Ensemble,” which has continued performing the landscape-inspired music and recorded it with Grant in 2015.

They’ll perform The Territory here twice in July, and the line-up is pure local A-list: Florestan Trio cellist Hamilton Cheifetz, vocalist Marilyn Keller (From Maxville to Vanport), bass clarinetist Kirt Peterson, multi-instrumentalist John Nastos, trumpeter Thomas Barber, drummer Tyson Stubelek, bassist Eric Gruber, and vibraphonist Mike Horsfall.

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MusicWatch Weekly: sax attacks!

Saxophonic sensations ensorcel Oregon stages, Astoria Music Festival opens, and more classical and jazz sounds highlight this week’s concert scene

A squadron of saxophone sorcerers descends on Oregon’s music scene this week, many combining jazz with classical influences.

Soweto Kinch plays and raps Thursday.

British saxman and MC Soweto Kinch has been blending jazz, funk, hip hop and poetry in original ways for years, garnering a passel of prizes in the UK and Europe for both his instrumental mastery and his compelling compositions. Fans of all those genres and those who dismiss pigeonholes should check out his shows at Portland’s Jack London Revue Thursday.

Also thanks to PDX Jazz, two more sterling saxophonists, Lewis & Clark College alum Tim Berne and Chris Speed, join Bad Plus bassist and drummer Reid Anderson and Dave King in a tribute to 1960s jazz avant garde legends Ornette Coleman, Julius Hemphill, and Dewey Redman in Broken Shadows’s concert Friday at Portland’s Old Church.

And on Saturday, PDX Jazz brings young Norwegian sax phenom Marius Neset to the Old Church. Influenced by sources from Grieg to Radiohead, his trio music also seems to channel ’80s jazz sax masters like Michael Brecker.

Saxophone doesn’t always mean jazz. Portland saxophonist and ArtsWatch contributor Patrick McCulley has demonstrated his excellence in composed contemporary classical music (at Cascadia Composers, Classical Revolution PDX, March Music Moderne, Creative Music guild and elsewhere) as well as his own original improvs and creations using circular breathing, multiphonics, growling and other extended techniques. He’s recording an album of new compositions for solo saxophone and will give us a taste in a Saturday performance at Portland’s St. Paul Lutheran Church, 3880 SE Brooklyn St.

Patrick McCulley premiers new compositions Saturday.

That same night at Astoria’s Liberty Theater, in an Astoria Music Festival concert, you can hear Los Angeles Opera Orchestra saxophonist Chika Inoue, violinist Olivia Tsui and cellist Rowena Hammill playing classical sax masterpieces by Debussy, Milhaud, Leonard Bernstein, and the world premiere of a new piece by Todd Mason, Daybreak, commissioned by the festival.

Idit Shner plays standards at Eugene’s Jazz Station.

University of Oregon music prof Idit Shner plays and teaches both jazz and classical music. She’s performed many of the classical saxophone standards with symphony orchestras in Israel (source of many terrific contemporary jazz musicians) and also commissioned and performed contemporary post-classical music for smaller ensembles. Her Quartet plays American songbook standards Saturday at Eugene’s Jazz Station. And if your sax jones still isn’t satiated after this week, well, there’s always Portland’s Quadrophonnes June 30 at Alberta Street Public House.

Jazz doesn’t always mean saxophone. Tortoise guitarist Jeff Parker brings his own, funkier yet still original New Breed quartet (which, yes, includes saxophonist Dustin Laurenzi) to Portland’s Mission Theater Wednesday.

Another jazz guitar star, Fareed Haque, has recorded for jazz’s esteemed Blue Note label, worked with Dave Holland, Joe Henderson and other legends, even taught jazz studies at Northern Illinois University. But he also teaches classical guitar there, has played all the major classical guitar concertos and worked with early music authority Stephen Stubbs, the Vermeer Quartet and many symphony orchestras, as well as Sting.

Fareed Haque gets funky Thursday.

The Pakistani / Chilean virtuoso has played in Latin bands, studied various South Asian musical forms, and added tabla (as well as DJ) to his ‘70s fusion-drenched jazz ensemble. Plus, thanks to his work with his band Garaj Mahal, Medeski, Martin and Wood, and others, he’s a player on the jamband scene. He’s in at least three other bands. But the name of the band he’s bringing to Jack London Revue Thursday, Funk Bros (not the Motown guys) shows what Haque’s up to now.

Like Kinch, GoGo Penguin has been imbuing British jazz with outside influences, mostly various species of electronica, yet performed by an acoustic piano trio. Their sparkling sounds appear on Blue Note records but have also cheekily upstaged Philip Glass by touring their own soundtrack to Godfrey Reggio’s film Koyaanisqatsi. They’re playing with the always fun Portland duo Korgy & Bass Sunday at Portland’s Revolution Hall.

Despite the title, you’ll find some saxophone at Matt Hannafin’s CD release show John Cage: Four Realizations for Solo Percussion Wednesday at Portland’s Performance Works Northwest. Along with Hannafin’s percussion, you’ll hear Lee Elderton on sax and clarinet, fellow Creative Music Guild stalwarts Brandon Conway and Branic Howard on guitars, and singer Margaret McNeal, and see dancers Emily Jones and Taka Yamamoto in music by Cage and fellow mid-20th century modernists Christian Wolff and Toshi Ichiyanagi, now probably better known as Yoko Ono’s first husband than for his intriguing avant garde music.

Classical

Fear No Music has commendably devoted its splendid season to contemporary classical music that squarely addresses the social issues that confront us today. Thursday’s noontime Worldwide Welcome bonus concert presents “new music from countries across the world that have been recently maligned and misunderstood in our national conversation,” including Arturo Corrales of El Salvador (​Folk You, Too​ for piccolo, violin, and piano), Joshua Uzoigwe of Nigeria (​Ukom​ for piano and hand drum), and Haitian-American Nathalie Joachim’s ​Aware​ for solo flute and electronics. Singer Arwen Myers stars in the Portland premiere of Daniel Felsenfeld’s ​Presidential Address.

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