battle trance

ArtsWatch Weekly: and all that jazz

Portland Jazz Festival joins the parade of arts festivals in town; a new "Swan Lake" flies at Oregon Ballet

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Festival Town. (And Valentine’s Day. Don’t forget Valentine’s Day.) Three film celebrations – the Portland Black Film Festival, the Cascadia Festival of African Films, and the big-kahuna 40th annual Portland International Film Festival – are still spooling out stories on screens around town.

And on Thursday the PDX Jazz Festival 2017 roars into action with a packed program through February 26 arranged loosely around an homage to jazz centurions Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Buddy Rich, each born in 1917. Things kick off Thursday with a blast of Branford Marsalis, a thump of bass virtuoso Thundercat, and more, and the festival continues with the likes of the fabulous Heath Brothers, The Yellowjackets, and more. It’s not all old-style and it’s not all new, but a healthy-looking blend of tradition and exploration.

ArtsWatch’s Brett Campbell offers tips for this week’s shows, beginning with Thursday’s Marsalis quartet appearance “with the great jazz singer Kurt Elling, Maria Schneider’s orchestra and Ralph Peterson’s trio in separate shows Friday, the hip jazz-rock fusion band Kneebody and the old-school all-star band The Cookers on Saturday. On Sunday, you have a choice of pop jazzers the Yellowjackets with Mike Stern, avant jazz guitar deity James ‘Blood’ Ulmer, or rising piano star Aminca Claudine Myers (or see all three!).”

2017 PDX Jazz Fest honoree Dizzy Gillespie, at Deauville, France, July 1991. Photo: Roland Godefroy/Wikimedia Commons

In his preview PDX Jazz Festival: Signs of Life, Campbell sets the table more completely, talking about the state of jazz in Portland and internationally. Here’s just a taste of what he has to say:


Battle Trance/Blue Cranes review: Maximal music

Saxophone quartet’s innovative music blends the visceral with the spiritual 


Every once in awhile, musicians are fortunate enough to have experiences that make us ask some serious questions about what we thought we had already answered. Like, for example, what sounds can be musical? What instrumentation is necessary for an ensemble to convey those sounds? Are clearly delineated structure and form necessary to communicate musical ideas? And, as always the looming existential question in the back of our minds: what is the point of music with these conditions?

Finally: Can spitting into one’s instrument be musical?

Battle Trance performed at Portland’s Mississippi Studios. Photo: Patrick McCulley.

These were the questions I came away with after tenor saxophone quartet Battle Trance’s January 25 show at Portland’s Mississippi Studios. People use the term “genre defying” loosely these days when reviewing new music but Battle Trance is much closer to deserving that description than any ensemble I’ve recently come across. They could, of course, be thrown under the umbrella term “experimental” but that doesn’t seem to properly communicate the full import of what I witnessed.

Certainly they experiment. The saxophonists — Patrick Breiner, Matt Nelson, Jeremy Viner, and quartet founder Travis Laplante — seem to have taken a great deal of care to search out every single extended technique a saxophone is capable of and include it in their compositions. Over the course of their 45-minute performance, they played multiphonics that sounded like four giant dogs barking, descending harmonic slurs reminiscent of the sounds of fighter planes in old war movies, and soft, nasally, ethereal singing through their instruments. At times their saxophones would growl, honk, and squeak. In several thoroughly surprising instances, performers began to aggressively spit air through the mouthpieces of their instruments to create sound. You could actually see spit flying out of their mouths and across the stage!

Battle Trance’s extended techniques create a visceral atmosphere in their music.  The idea that the deeply physical can be translated into sound isn’t new, but the quartet capitalizes on the idea in new, thought-provoking ways. This, I suspect, is the foundation for the physio-spiritual band name and the concept behind the title of their new release Blade of Love.


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