rich halley

Listening back 2020: Oregon recordings from a fraught year

Spotlighting a last batch of 2020 Oregon recordings

I know the last thing many of us want to do is revisit 2020. But we can’t let it slip away without spotlighting one final batch of musical recommendations gleaned from the many recordings Oregon musicians released last year. Some explicitly respond to the crises that plagued what ArtsWatch’s Bob Hicks calls “The Year That Should Not Speak Its Name.” Others were made earlier and released last year. Whether soothing or invigorating, they’re all worth hearing even after the year they appeared.

With most Oregon music happening on our home screens and speakers rather than stages last year, we’ve been devoting more pixels to recordings than ever. This is the last of several recording roundups explicitly devoted to last year’s Oregon sounds, but our antennae are already a-quiver over some stimulating sounds already emanating from 2021, so stay tuned for more roundups. And if you enjoy this music, please help make sure Oregon musicians can continue to create it by buying or gifting it. Bandcamp passes 100 percent of proceeds from purchases made on the first Friday of each month to the artists. 


LISTENING BACK: UNSPEAKABLE 2020


Her Own Wings–The Music Of Gabriela Lena Frank

Although this is California music, it was recorded by Oregon musicians in the lovely acoustic of a wine barrel room during composer Gabriela Lena Frank’s residency at the Willamette Valley Chamber Music Festival. She’s also worked with Portland’s Third Angle New Music. And of course, its title is our state motto.

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Now Hear This: December edition

Ambient metal, spaced-out hip-hop, Holiday and Young covers, and a Nigerian comp

Now Hear This is a monthly column that scours the pages of music distributor Bandcamp, looking for new work from local artists that would make fine additions to your digital library. This time around, that includes ambient metal, spaced-out hip-hop, Holiday and Young covers, a Nigerian comp, and plenty more–just in time for Bandcamp’s last Fee Free First Friday of 2020.

Cosmic Surveillance: Volume 1

The cover of this new cassette by Joel Shanahan’s project Cosmic Surveillance looks to be a photo of people milling about on the seaside. But when paired with the luscious ambient music on this album, it begins to feel more like a mass exodus into the unknown. A willing departure from this mortal coil into a soft haze where body and soul are nourished and kept warm by the sound of billowing synth melodies and massaging drones.

M. Ward: Think of Spring

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Safe distance sounds

A roundup of recent recommended Oregon jazz for your stay-at-home enjoyment

April is really the cruelest month this year. We haven’t gotten to appreciate jazz during this plague-plagued Jazz Appreciation Month in the way we should: by personally observing the spontaneous creation of the “sound of surprise” in a club or theater. So we indulged in the next best thing: listening to recent releases by Oregon jazz — and jazz-ish — musicians. You can do the same with any of the recommended recordings below by following the links.

Much of the music listed here involves at least some improvisation, making it ideal for this moment where we’re all making it up as we go. If you like what you hear, be sure to tip your servers — by paying for a download, supporting your neighbors who created that beauty, and thereby equipping your digital device with a musical survival kit for the next pandemic.

MAE.SUN
Vol. 2: Into the Flow

Saxophonist, flutist and composer Hailey Niswanger’s wanderings have taken her from her native Portland to New England’s prestigious Berklee School to Brooklyn and, now, Los Angeles. Her artistry has also found new territories, most recently in her electric band MAE.SUN, whose sunny, spacy new album, Vol. 2: Into the Flow, advances its predecessor, Inter-Be’s creative jazz/pop fusion/electronica and 2015’s groovy PDX Soul and joins the other pop-tinged LA-based bands bringing jazz into the 21st century. Still under 30, Niswanger always sounded fine in more straightahead jazz, winning praise from venerable jazz writer Nat Hentoff in the Wall Street Journal among others, but she’s really found an original voice in MAE.SUN.

Make that voices, because some of these tracks feature vocals, Niswanger’s own as well as guest singers Amber Navran (of Los Angeles-based soul trio Moonchild) and Australian-born, Brooklyn-based Kate K-S. The album also showcases vibraphonist Nikara Warren, guitarist Andrew Renfroe, keyboardist Axel Laugart, bassist Aaron Liao, drummer David Frazier Jr, synthist Jake Sherman and producer Drew Ofthe Drew. Fans of synthy fusion like Herbie Hancock and Charles Lloyd’s 1960s-‘70s forays, jazztronica explorations and even Esperanza Spalding’s more recent efforts will find plenty to enjoy in both volumes’ neo-hippie spirit. 

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MusicWatch Weekly: Getting creative

Third Angle welcomes Oregonian composers home, Creative Music Guild improvises

The best and worst thing about Portland audiences is that they really, really listen to the music. At rock shows like the one your night owl music editor attended Tuesday night at Southeast’s Bit House Saloon, the audience stood around intently focused on listening to loud, thrashing, doomy punk and metal. It’s pretty much always like this at bar shows in this rainy, hoodied town: one hand cradling a glass, the other loosely plunged into one pocket, earplugs in, heads bobbing, but usually no dancing, no mosh pits, no movement from anyone but the musicians. Moving around too much would get you all sweaty and uncomfortable. And besides, you’re here to listen to some damn music.

Meanwhile, across town at the venerable Schnitz, enthusiastic audients got shushed for applauding the first movement of Charles Ives’ Three Places in New England last Sunday. Have a listen to that beautiful barnstormer of luscious melodic overload for yourself:

Ah, but it’s only the first of three movements, so the scattered applause didn’t really take off. It’s always a little embarrassing when this happens. There are valid psychoacoustic reasons for not applauding between movements, but it’s also sad to hear spontaneous joy being stifled.

Anyways, it was the only low point of a wonderful concert full of melodic bliss and rhythmic verve. Three Places and Stravinsky’s Firebird are both swarming with melodies, mostly borrowed from hymns and other folk musics, all given the Modern Classical twist: everything all at once in rhythmic counterpoint and overwhelming panmelodic delight. Andy Akiho’s Percussion Concerto was sandwiched tastily between these, a new work in the Ives-Stravinsky vein, comfortable treating melody and harmony and rhythm and color and texture as isomorphic layers of some Hermetic miracula rei unius.

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