Mississippi Studios

MusicWatch Weekly: Streams & tributaries

Electronica, Celtica, Symphonica, Jazz, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo

Last week, when we started talking about “living traditions,” we found that problematizing “world music” opened up the possibility that all genres are a form of tradition–a vast world of traditions within traditions, interacting with each other, ever-evolving, world without end, amen. We’ll be getting into all that in due course. For now, dear reader, we have more homework for you: another week’s worth of concerts, all geared toward your tradition-loving enjoyment and edification.

We’ll start with Japanese composer Takako Minekawa, who doesn’t make “world music.”

Minekawa is performing twice in Portland this week. She works in what we might call the Krautrock tradition: she’s spent the last thirty-odd years crafting vintage synth-laden pop music inspired by the legendary ‘70s Japanese electronic band Yellow Magic Orchestra and the Robots of Düsseldorf Themselves. Minekawa performs a solo set Thursday (tonight!) at tone poem in Southeast Portland, so grab your bus pass and get moving. The next evening, she’s at the charming Leaven Community Center on Northeast Killingsworth for a quadraphonic concert presented in conjunction with Portland Community College’s Music & Sonic Arts Program.

Let’s circle back to “quadraphonic.” Music audio systems generally come in three varieties: the old-fashioned mono (one speaker channel), reigning champion stereo (left and right), and newishfangled quadraphonic (four channels). It’s one of those things you just have to experience live, and this concert gives you a chance to hear four masters at work on a “multi channel quad performance.” Minekawa joins Francisco Botello, Visible Cloaks, and Carl Stone (a student of Morton Subotnick, which is all you need to know).

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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:

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MusicWatch Weekly: Farewell to the king

In which we bid adieu to Neil Peart and comfort ourselves with winey classical marimba, saturnalian psalms, and an operatic sistah

Before we get into this week’s concerts, we’d like to spend a moment talking about Neil Peart, may he rest in well-deserved peace. Peart was always the present author’s favorite drummer to talk shit about. That’s true of all drummers, if they’re honest: spend more than an hour in any given drum shop and talk will eventually turn to discussions of most overrated drummer and so on, and Peart always tops everyone’s list. It’s a curious variant on sour grapes–we all begrudgingly admit the man’s skill, but we decry what often seems like metronomic bad taste. If I had chops like that (we all boast, twirling our Vic Firths), I would play more tastefully.

It’s a bad faith criticism, although it holds an element of truth. Peart was famous for his huge drumset and occasionally overblown playing, but the “human drum machine” jab doesn’t quite stick–not least because he used that oversized kit to bring a beautiful melodicism to his drumming, a musicality which is, in our estimation, the real reason so many drummers get touchy about him. There’s some sick drummerly impulse to talk shit on drummers who seem to get above themselves (consider Phil Collins), and lyricist Peart with his giant triplikit certainly fits the bill.

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MusicWatch Semi-Monthly: Unholy daze

Busy December needs two monthly columns: one for holiday concerts, one for everything else. Part one: music for strings, singers, and saxophones

Bah, humbug! It’s too early for Christmas music, don’t you think? Just because December is upon us, with its flakey promises of snow, doesn’t mean there isn’t a nice pile of early unholiday presents waiting. We’ve got a good dozen or two non-holiday themed concerts for you: abstract string quartets, killer guitarists and groovy saxophonists, and a visit from Oregon Symphony’s newly appointed Creative Chair Gabriel Kahane (interview coming this week).

Aside from Die Hard the Musical at Funhouse Lounge (starts on the 5th, runs through January 4th) and Oregon Ballet Theater’s Nutcracker (starts on the 7th, runs through the 26th), all the other fun holiday concerts start around the 13th. So we’re going to play Grinch and make you wait a week or two before telling you about all that. Take off that Mariah Carey Christmas playlist, put on MAE.SUN’s latest EP, get some Thanksgiving leftovers out of the fridge, and settle down for our first half of December mixtape.

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MusicWatch Weekly: A song and a dance

Irish songs, Latinx bienestar, Balkan Brass, Viking musicians, and the return of Federale

As the great Pacific singer, dancer, composer, percussionist, instrument builder, and calligraphist Lou Harrison loved reminding us, “music is basically a song and a dance.” This week’s selections might be all over the genre map–cumbia psicodélica; twisty Balkan brass; rowdy cinematic rock and other local uncategorizables; clarinets and percussion and laptops; songs from Ireland and World War I; a siege catapult’s worth of jazz–but all of it hews to this basic formula. Sing. Dance. Repeat.

You’re probably going to get snowed in with the cats and the chessboard next week, so now’s your chance to clear your throat, lace up your red shoes, and get into some music.

Tonight, tonight, tonight

We already talked about Blue Cranes and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble in November’s monthly column, so hopefully you’ve already bought tickets and hired a babysitter. In case you haven’t, this is your reminder that their Siege of Cranes concert, featuring the tight-knit BC quintet and PJCE’s eight-piece horn section, is happening tonight at Holocene. Get on it, Portland.

You could go up to T.C. O’Leary’s on Northeast Alberta to hear Irish folk songs–and even sing along if the mood strikes you–every month. But the special guests on tonight’s Oíche na namhrán (“night of song”) deserve a mention: Uilleann piper Preston Howard Wilde and harpist Elizabeth Nicholson will join regular host Michael Steen-Orr for tonight’s shindig. No doubt the harp in question is the lovely diatonic variety used by Taliesen and Dolphin Midwives, and that’ll be sweet–but it’s those pipes we’re curious about. You’re probably picturing the noisy bagpipes of countless cheap jokes, but these are different; sweeter, gentler, more Irish. Have a listen to Wilde right now and tell me you don’t want to go order up a Jameson’s and sing along.

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MusicWatch Weekly: This land is mine

Retro rock, math punk, psychedelic cumbia, shredded metals, and Jimmie Herrod

Well folks, we’re almost done with Second Summer and the world is on fire, from the Amazon to Africa to Indonesia to Portland’s Rocky Butte, but the usual churn of crazy local bands and composers continues to enliven bars, cafes, and churches all over the place. This week and weekend you’ve got free funk and two days of local metal in downtown Portland, psychedelic cumbia and shreddy math punk across the river, and a retro-rock sextet up in NoPo. But right now I need to put down my panggul mallet and my kretek cigarette and talk to you about Jimmie Herrod. 

Now, normally I wouldn’t talk about former singing coaches two weeks in a row. But it’s just my good fortune that (to reference a cruel old joke) those who can sometimes also teach–and it’s everybody’s good fortune that Portland and Environs are so full of wonderful singers who are also wonderful teachers. Last week it was mezzo extraordinaire Hannah Penn, and you can read all about her performance in Opera Theater Oregon’s This Land Sings in Angela Allen’s review right here.

This week it’s singer-composer Jimmie Herrod, who left me for Pink Martini.

Singer-composer Jimmie Herrod backstage with Pink Martini's Phil Baker and Bill Marsh.
Singer-composer Jimmie Herrod, laughing at me backstage with Pink Martini’s Phil Baker and Bill Marsh.

Kidding, kidding! Herrod is a Portland State alum who got hired on as a vocal teacher right after he got his Master’s; before he got drafted by Pink Martini he had a full vocal studio with all kinds of students, and I was certainly the least of them. While at PSU, Herrod studied composition with Cascadia composer Bonnie Miksch, and it shows. His music is in that sweet spot I’m always talking about listening for in contemporary music: his songs cross genres with lyrical grace, catchy melodies, and just enough harmonic novelty to keep the ears pricked and the heart fluttering.

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Aan review: Transformation has a shelf-life

The Portland indie band kicks off a new album at Mississippi Studios and the usual crowd is there

Aan, press photo version/Cara Robbins

Aan, press photo version/Cara Robbins

By THOR BENSON

It was Portland at its zenith—a time when the enthusiasts came together for a truly transformational evening. I walked into Mississippi Studios and was immediately surrounded by familiar faces. There is a certain crowd one finds when they find themselves in Mississippi Studios, and the crowd at this show was an amplification of the usual suspects.

I walked through the gaps of what appeared to be lines forming in every direction. One of the bartenders was oddly lonesome, somehow forgotten, so I decided to take advantage of his time. “Whiskey soda with bitters, please.” He smiled and made fun of my friend, who was concerned with someone putting Rohypnol in his drink while he went to the bathroom. The music hadn’t yet begun, so I embarked on the daring journey to find a place that wasn’t completely freezing to smoke in the patio area.

There is something about Mississippi Studios that entices you to get more intoxicated than you usually would, and I could see it in the eyes of those that I passed. The bar swelled with newcomers as people began the process, and bands like Radiation City arrived in swarms to support the event.

I traded places between the patio and the venue as the first band went on. Seeing the band Boys Beach was something akin to spotting Big Foot, after you realize that the lead singer is also the band’s drummer. Their sound was raw and understated, and it was nothing close to what you might expect them to play if their band name had been reversed. It was like listening to a droney rock and roll band that had stripped out all the nonessentials and played their music through a devastated amplifier that somehow complemented the aesthetic.

Between Boys Beach and the following band, Desert Noises, there was the usual lull and conversation. I realized I was running dangerously low on cigarettes and spending far too much money consistently refilling a somehow eternally empty glass.

I watched the first few songs of Desert Noises and missed a good portion of the end of their set. Their music was not what their name would have you believe, and it would be better described as a highway anthem. The band looks like a group of kids that might trim marijuana for extra money. Their music is catchy and accessible, utilizing twangy guitar and comfortable melodies, and they seem to have it practiced.

Let’s cut to the chase: Aan. Aan had a long lead-up to the release of their debut album, and it shows in their seasoned performance. The band took the stage with an ingrained confidence. The crowd went quite silent for a moment, which was followed by shrieks and frenzy. It can be daunting to play songs from an album that was only officially released on the day of the show, but it became clear after seeing them singing along that portions of the audience were already familiar with the set list.

After the initial reaction of the crowd, the band blasted forward with dissonant noise that accompanies emotive, high-pitched choruses. Listening to Aan is akin to being surrounded by hecklers while a fascinating opera takes place on the stage above you. Their sound is large, and their lyrics put a cloak of anguish over an otherwise delicate love letter.

Aan often has lyrics that are reminiscent of a drunk message you might send someone. Other times their lyrics are like a message you would write but never send. Their use of delay and innumerable effects on the heavy guitars and vocals cause an immersing chatter that you’re thrown into.

Their performance was enhanced by Lizzy Ellison’s guest performance with the band. An already full sound took on a more complex divergence and gave the crowd something they couldn’t experience in the recordings they recently purchased. The band finished with as much energy as they started with, and the crowd took with it the depressing notion that their night had climaxed and there was nothing left but the comedown.