Pink Martini

MusicWatch Holidays: Auld lang syne

Wring the last drops of joy from 2019 with punky, funky, trippy New Year's Eve concerts

New Year’s Eve, like Death, is the great equalizer. We all celebrate the solstice-adjacent holidays differently–Christmas, Kwanzaa, Yule, Festivus, Hogswatch, and so on–but those of us who follow the Gregorian calendar all come to the end of 2019 at more or less the same time. As we look back on one crazy year and look forward to another that promises to be just as bonkers, we’re reminded that we’re all stuck in this Weirdest Possible Timeline together.

So now that the presents have all been opened and the grievances have all been aired, it’s time to kill the fading year’s unfulfilled hopes and dreams and plant them in the dark soil of the coming year, where they will either germinate and bloom or get eaten by squirrels.

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MusicWatch Weekly: Year end album guide

Get your healthy 78 minutes of listening with albums of modern classical, vintage pop, nouveau prog, Australian psych, and Portland Gothic

We recently came across a study showing that 78 minutes of music a day can have a positive impact on mental health. Now, this particular study wants to break it down into percentages and so on: yet another instance of the commercialized slicing and dicing that gave us the one-minute bible and endless “classical adagios” compilations. I say cancel all that noise and damn it to hell. Listen to what pleases you. Don’t make a goddamn recipe of it, reducing Glorious Music to a set of instructions. If you’re going to do that, you might as well buy one of Philip K. Dick’s Penfield Mood Organs and relax into navel-gazing oblivion.

Anyways, the main takeaway here is that curiously specific 78-minute block of time, which just happens to be pretty close to the exact length of a CD (remember CDs?)–and that’s probably no coincidence. Various other studies (start here) have shown that our brains prefer twenty-minute chunks of mental processing, and if you string four of those chunks together you get your basic symphony. Vinyl LPs (remember LPs?) followed the same flow format, their 20-minute sides strung together into 40-minute single albums and 80-minute double albums. Scale that back down and you get mini-albums and EPs. These usually these clock in at a brain-friendly 20-30 minutes, shorter than a full-length album but also distinctly more substantial and coherent than a mere collection of songs.

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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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Double Divas

China Forbes & Storm Large make a dream team of co-lead singers for Pink Martini at Edgefield this weekend

Put two great male singers in a band–Lennon and McCartney, say, or Henley and Frey–and what do you call it? Supergroup! But try it with two females, and to some, it’s a catfight.

That’s what a few haters snarked when, in 2011, one of Portland’s best known vocal stars, Storm Large, joined one of its most beloved bands, Pink Martini–whose lead singer since its 1994 inception had been China Forbes. When she was sidelined by vocal cord surgery, Storm (better known at that point for hard rock swagger than PM’s retro global lounge sound) blew in, replacing her on a tour that summer and winning raves. 

“I always hoped we could find a way to collaborate,” he said when Large first joined. “She is a brilliant, beautiful, charismatic and seductive star who would give Jayne Mansfield a run for her money.”

While Forbes healed, comparisons and questions inevitably arose, and some wondered: did the band’s future lie in China, or with Storm?

The answer will be clear when the band performs Friday at Troutdale’s Edgefield Concerts on the Lawn.

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MusicWatch Weekly: spring songs

Choral concerts showcase songs of peace, love, hope … and monsters

These dark days, it does indeed take a lot of audacity to hope, much more than it did when those words first inspired the nation. Portland Gay Men’s Chorus’s concert of that title includes pop faves like Marvin Gaye’s “Mercy, Mercy Me” and “You Don’t Own Me,” plus other contemporary works including an original piece, “Face the Mirror,” by PGMC’s own Wesley Bowers.
Saturday and Sunday, Kaul Auditorium, Reed College.

Portland Gay Men’s Chorus offers high hopes Saturday and Sunday.

• Along with hope, peace is another virtue in short supply, which makes Satori Men’s Chorus’s “Our Songs of Peace” 1820 NE 21st Ave. Portland, so welcome. Of course, every Satori show offers odes to peace, including “Peace Is a’Come,” and this one includes words and music by Leonard Cohen, Kahlil Gibran and Ysaye Barnwell, Robert Burns, Portland composer Joan Szymko and more.
Saturday, Central Lutheran Church, 1820 NE 21st Avenue, Portland.

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DanceWatch Weekly: Move it, own it

Dance doesn’t just belong to the young or skinny or white or “trained” or "educated” or able-bodied. Claim it. Shape it. Make it your own.

Because it’s Valentine’s day/week, and love is in the air, I thought I would reflect on loving relationships in regards to dance, more specifically my evolving relationship with dance, with our bodies, why I think we should all dance, and how I think dancing can change the world. I have big ideas, I know.

Remember when you were a kid and you would be talking away and suddenly a word would pop out that sounded really strange like it was from another planet, and then you would repeat it over and over and over again (much to the chagrin of your parents), until it completely lost its meaning, and became an amorphous sound? Well, that’s kind of what’s happened to dance for me since I started writing DanceWatch. But this isn’t a bad thing, I promise. Let me explain.

Because I spend so much time looking at, thinking about, reading about, writing about, dance, and dancing myself, all of the boundaries that I once upon a time created to define dance have been blown apart to form a new, much more inclusive definition. I so narrowly defined dance that I almost defined myself right out of it. I highly recommend immersing yourself in something you don’t understand, to understand it.

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