pavel haas quartet

Pavel Haas Quartet, Black Violin reviews: on and off the record

Two Portland string-centric concerts show the complementary values of live and recorded performances

One thing you can’t get from a live show—portability. I’ve been walking around town listening to Black Violin and the Pavel Haas Quartet everywhere I go. Over the last few weeks I’ve found myself on the bus cranking up BV’s punchy “Rhapsody” (off their first album, Classically Trained); walking home through Ladd’s Addition in the middle of the night, blasting PHQ’s astounding Schubert recordings after a late rehearsal, or in the bath chillaxing with their lovely recent recording of the Smetana quartets; I’m dashing to a composition lesson, late as usual, sneaking in one last round of “Day 2” (off BV’s second album Stereotypes) as I wend my way through throngs of dogs and their students soaking up the late spring sunshine in Portland State’s parks and flowery paths.

Another benefit of recordings, one which well complements the live experience, is their potential to bring non-linear temporality to the whole listening experience. You only hear the music live once (unless you’re following Phish around), but you can listen to the recording over and over again. Hell, you can listen to one movement over and over if you want to, or even just that one super cool break between the bridge and the last chorus. Conversely, when you know a group’s recorded output it gives the live experience a different kind of familiarity; I heard this first hand when I walked into Portland’s Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall last month for Black Violin and the whole audience was already singing the hits. And that works the other direction, too: when I listen to these albums, I remember what I saw and heard at the concerts, making an otherwise dry and solitary activity much more stimulating. …

Black Violin: Live and Recorded

Just this morning my partner and I had a crazy little Breakfast Adventure, trying to find a decent diner-style brunch spot downtown. I was all cranky because I just wanted to get some greasy eggs and coffee and get back to work (on this review), coffee-deprivation was turning into anti-gentrification rage, and the beautiful morning was turning into an unseasonably sweltering Portland afternoon as the sun grimaced down on the southwest sidewalks.

Black Violin’s Wil Baptiste performed in Portland last month. Photo: Kimmie Fadem.

We finally ended up at a little cafe on West Burnside, exhausted from our fruitless diner quest, and settled for a couple of breakfast croissants and steaming cups of hot, delicious, hipster coffee. As I sat there steaming over my lost work day, The Universe (or rather one of Her agents, Our Lady Eris), played a little practical joke on me. Drifting out of the quaint cafe’s radio, sandwiched incongruously between aughtsie classics like Modest Mouse’s “Float On” and some Strokes song I couldn’t remember the name of, came the familiar strains of Black Violin’s “Virtuoso”, off their first album, 2012’s Classically Trained. A little jab from a jovial goddess, teasing me out of my grouchy writer’s block. This, too, is what recorded music is for.

Another thing you can’t get from a record: the intimacy of performer and audience. My colleague Maria Choban has already given Black Violin’s mixed Schnitz crowd a better description than I can; I want to know where she goes to “buy her young” because I could use some too. I had to laugh at my stationary Irish ass, flabbily filling a front row seat while everyone around me boogied and cheered and waved their hands in the air.

Portland5 and Chamber Music Northwest brought Black Violin to Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

It would be hard to pick a favorite “live” feature from this show: Wil strumming his viola like a uke and leading a sweet sing-along of “Invisible”; Kev taking solo after blistering solo on his badass electric violin, a giant grin radiating out from under his cap; the band’s customary totally improvised number, not just some simple jam (though there were jammy elements, here and throughout) but a full-on group-improvised song, complete with extended down-beat negotiation and impeccable on-the-spot decision-making from the whole group; DJ SPS’s ridiculous turntable skills and witty, PDQ Bach-esque solos; BRAVO Youth Orchestra coming up on stage for “Magic” and the Copland-inspired “Shaker,” starstruck-but-confident young violinist Luis Chan-Hernandez taking the solo with Kev and nailing it with a sly smile while attentively eyeing the older man’s more advanced bowing technique; Wil and Kev encouraging each other and their band and their fans and the kids on stage, pumping each other up, breaking stereotypes, showing “what a black man is capable of” and reminding us that “there’s always hope to fuel the fire.”

Continues…