george colligan

Oregon music on record 2015: Worldly and jazzy

New CDs of Northwest jazz and global music

Now that you’ve given to friends, family, and (hint) all those worthy arts nonprofits, how about treating yourself to a gift of Oregon music? We heard only a fraction of the classical, jazz and world music released by Oregon artists this year, but we sure enjoyed a lot of what we did hear. We’re dividing our year-end wrap into three segments this time; this one covers releases of special interest to fans of global sounds and jazz. See our previous posts in this series for Oregon early music and contemporary classical CDs, and don’t forget our past Oregon CD recommendations in 2012, 2013, and 2014.

seffarineDe Fez a Jerez
Oud player/flamenco guitarist Nat Hulskamp is one of Oregon’s most experienced world music stars, playing in various ensembles and venues around town for years. With help from a 2015 Project Grant from Oregon’s Regional Arts and Culture Council, Seffarine, his primary duo with Moroccan singer Lamiae Naki, recorded their ten original compositions with famous flamenco musicians Tomasa “La Macanita,” percussionist Luís de Periquín, and Diego del Mora (Paco de Lucia’s favorite guitarist) in the Jerez, Spain (known for its pervasive Gypsy culture), with further recording sessions in Portland.

Sung in Naki’s native Arabic as well as French and Spanish and accompanied by flamenco guitar, oud, Persian kamancheh and sehtar, bass and percussion, the new album soulfully embraces flamenco, Moroccan, Persian, Malagasy, jazz and Brazilian influences, courtesy of Persian multi-instrumentalist Bobak Salehi (Hulskamp’s partner in the Portland ensemble Shabava) on kamancheh (spike fiddle), sehtar and tar (lutes) and violin, bassist Damian Erskine, Malagasy percussionist Manavihare Fiaindratovo and Indian tabla player Anil Prasad.

Such an extreme range of diverse voices could easily turn into a contrived multicultural mush, but it all feels seamless and natural, tied together by Naki’s plangent vocals and Hulskamp’s flamenco flourishes and their original songwriting voice. Fans of groups like the Gipsy Kings, Oregon, or Portland’s Al-Andalus will find much to enjoy, and this enchanting album deserves international attention.

Gamelan Pacifica
Seattle’s Gamelan Pacifica continues the tradition, established largely by Portland-born American composer Lou Harrison, of making traditional Javanese percussion ensemble music a living multicultural tradition, not an ethnomusicological museum. That’s not surprising, since the ensemble was founded and led by one of Harrison’s earliest proteges, composer and musician Jarrad Powell, who now teaches at Cornish College of the Arts, where the instruments are based. And like Harrison, the composers here are so familiar with traditional Javanese karawitan (gamelan music) that they can fruitfully experiment within its structures.


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Amanda Snyder (1894-1980, "Going Home," relief print/Portland Art Museum

Amanda Snyder (1894-1980, “Going Home,” relief print/Portland Art Museum

Um, who changed the furniture?

Yes, ArtsWatch did a little remodel, you know, just to show that we could and to make the site work better. Who knew we had this much sizzle and pop!?!

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Portland Cello Project plays Portland's Aladdin Theater this weekend/Photo: Tarina Westlund

’Tis the season and all, and in a period that emphasizes traditional sounds, I’m impressed to see some Oregon classical music institutions figuring out creative ways to celebrate the season without succumbing to same old sameitis.

Last Saturday’s concert by the confusingly named Cantico: Portland Chamber Singers, for example, managed to balance the need for familiar tunes with some unusual yet still appropriate repertoire, and a fresh approach refreshingly bereft of sentimentality.

The singers kept things lively by presenting two dozen songs  in many different configurations: duos, trios, quartets, a solo alternated with the full choir selections. This necessitated a lot of stage changes, with the attendant microphone set ups and take downs, but they’d obviously rehearsed that aspect of the show so thoroughly that all proceeded smoothly.

The instrumentation provided further variety, including some low key guitar picking and singing (Sky Pixton Engstrom, Courtney Atack, David Orme) on a lovely vocal duet of happily un-treacly “Away in a Manger.” Other numbers featured flute (the excellent Kathleen Parker), harp (Catherine Stone), piano (Karen Porter, Heidi Bruno, Toni Glausi), oboe (Diana White) and organ. Pop arrangements of Christmas music by John Gorka and the Beach Boys (which included the donning of scarves, hats and goggles) lent variety and familiarity to works by contemporary and 20th century composers John Rutter, Stephen Paulus, David Willcocks, and more, plus classical composers like Tomas Luis de Victoria, Max Reger, Adolph Adam and others. Other songs, like “Silent Night,” used updated or even reharmonized arrangements. A couple of numbers fell flat or tasted a bit gooey, but overall, thanks to several strong soloists and other voices, crisp transitions and performances, and astute programming, Cantico’s Christmas concert was as enjoyable and musically engaging as any holiday themed concert I’ve attended in Portland.


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