oregon jazz

‘Oregonophony’ review: turning place into sound

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble concerts feature original music incorporating recorded sounds of Oregon -- but not necessarily the sounds you’d expect

By  CHRISTINA RUSNAK

What does Oregon sound like? For its spring 2017 concert, the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble (PJCE) sought proposals from Oregon composers for music that would incorporate recorded sounds from Oregon. The music selected for Oregonophony evolved from the diverse auditory inspirations of two experienced professionals and three emerging jazz composers.

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble performed ‘Oregonophony’ in Salem and Portland. Photo: Lynn Darroch.

Assimilating sounds of Oregon into the five musical pieces underscored the presence and importance of external sounds as part of our contemporary musical palette and of our lives. For me, this concert also reflected in music the way Oregon is changing.

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Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias previews: double dose of Brazilian jazz

Two PDXJazz concerts this week showcase fruitful combinations of Brazilian and American music

By ANGELA ALLEN 

Fifty-seven years after the birth of bossa nova, Brazilian music continues to stir up listeners with its danceable rhythms, beguiling melodies, and sweet soft Portuguese lyrics. In less than a week, Portlanders will have the chance to hear radically different styles of buoyant Brazilian jazz from two popular artists.

Eliane Elias. Photo: Daniel Azoulay.

Anat Cohen and Eliane Elias are as versatile as their music is varied. Elias sings and plays piano; Cohen plays clarinet and saxophone, though the clarinet will take the lead for this concert. Composers and arrangers as well as performers, both artists are admired for their energetic and appealing stage presences; they usually have audiences on their feet, begging for more.

Both sell out their concerts when they visit Portland (and Elias anywhere she goes, including Japan and London). Cohen plays with Trio Brasileiro May 4 at the Old Church, and Elias performs May 9 at Winningstad Theatre, a venue she filled in 2016 at the PDX Jazz Festival. Both shows are nearly sold out.

Expect to hear lots of cuts from their new releases, including Cohen’s Outra Coisa: The Music of Moacir Santos with guitarist Marcello Goncalves and Rosa Dos Ventos (Wind Rose), recorded with Trio Brasileiro, whom she’ll play with at the Portland gig. Elias’s latest album, Dance of Time, released earlier this spring, is a tribute to the samba.

Anat Cohen: Beguiled by Brazil

Named Clarinetist of the Year for nine straight years by the Jazz Journalist Association, virtuosa clarinetist Cohen lives in New York and grew up in Israel with her musician brothers, saxophonist Yuval and trumpeter Avishai. In the last several years, Brazilian choro music stole her heart. “I disappear inside choro,” Cohen said from New York City earlier this spring. “I am completely in love with it.”

Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro perform at Portland Old Church Thursday.

Choro, translated as “cry” or “lament,” is considered the first urban music of Brazil, originating in Rio de Janeiro in the late 19th century. The music usually has a fast upbeat tempo and leaves plenty of room for improvisation. “As a clarinetist, I can be the soloist or join in the counterpoint with the 7-string guitar,” she explains. “As with the style of early New Orleans jazz, choro functions on group polyphony where everyone has a role yet it’s open and free-spirited, with simultaneous melodies happening. It can be groove-oriented like a party, or it can be full of saudade, of longing. It can be demanding and require virtuosity. It is a perfect mix of classical music and jazz, where it demands precision” though each musician can add interpretation.

Now that she has caught the Brazil bug, Cohen visits the country often, performing, recording and jamming. “I fell in love with the Brazilian way of life,” she says. “I feel alive there. When I first went to Brazil, I immediately felt that music there doesn’t just belong to musicians but to everyone, as part of their daily lives. Some people play, some sing, some dance, some clap along. It’s part of the social fabric. I like that.”

Trio Brasileiro (Dudu Maia on bandolim, the Brazilian mandolin, and two brothers, 7-string guitarist Douglas Lora and percussionist Alexandre Lora) met Cohen in Port Townsend, Wash. at the Centrum workshops, a choro-music hotspot. Formed in 2011, Trio Brasileiro is dedicated to performing traditional choro music as well as their own contemporary choro compositions. For their latest album, Rosa Dos Ventos, the four musicians lived together in Brazil for a week, composing arranging and recording.

But the music, wherever played, “is inseparable from the culture,” Cohen insists. “In Brazil, boom, you’re there and the music starts. A little mandolin, a bit of guitar, then the clarinet. You’re just hanging out, having some beers, and someone’s going to take the instruments out and the listeners are going to become part of the scene.”

Eliane Elias: Total immersion 

Eliane Elias has lived in the Big Apple since 1981, but her roots are Brazilian. Born in Sao Paulo, she studied piano as a child. At 17 she worked with singer/songwriter Toquinho and with Antonio Carlos Jobim’s lyricist, poet Vinicius Moraes. Considered one of Jobim’s best interpreters, she will be joined in Portland by her trio with Brazilians Rubens de La Corte on guitar and drummer Rafael Barata. Bassist Marc Johnson doubles as Elias’ husband and business partner.

Elias has been making albums since 1984. On her first, Amanda, she collaborated with her former husband, trumpeter Randy Brecker; they named the album for their daughter, also a musician. She has seven Grammy nominations and in 2016 won a Grammy in the Best Latin Jazz Album category for Made in Brazil.

Her creative process often trumps the details of everyday life. When called for this interview at her New York City apartment after a trip to Europe, where she sold out numerous concerts, she was in the midst of a arranging and composing. Totally immersed in the music, she’d forgotten to eat dinner, among other things.

“The creative process is a great joy of mine,” Elias explains. “And there’s the discipline. When I was young, everyone else was going to the beach or to parties when I was at the piano. I’m no lazybones. Success is is a combination of talent, a strong will to do things, and hard work.”

Her silky, sultry alto has ripened and lowered as she has aged, giving her greater range.“Being born in Brazil, I was classically trained and became an improviser and composer at a young age,” she recalls. “I always have done a variety of music. I’m never bored.”

Neither are her many fans. With more than 2 million album sales, Elias is wildly popular in Europe and Japan, perhaps more so than in the U.S. She has no intention of slowing down on stage or off, she says. “The music is the motivation for everything I do.”

PDX Jazz presents Anat Cohen & Trio Brasileiro, 7:30 p.m. May 4, The Old Church, 1422 S.W. 11th Ave., and Eliane Elias, 7:30 p.m. May 9, Winningstad Theatre, 1111 S.W. Broadway, Portland. Tickets information online  or call 503-228-5299.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.  

Dave Holland Trio preview: All about the bass

Jazz bassist and bandleader’s starry career has a Portland connection

by ANGELA ALLEN

Even before he steps onstage for his Friday concert in Portland, Dave Holland has made a sizable contribution to Oregon jazz. The world renowned jazz bassist owns the upright bass instrument that belonged to the  late “The Walker” Leroy Vinnegar. “Rather, I’m its custodian,” Holland said this spring from his home in New York’s Hudson Valley. Holland restored the water-damaged instrument, but the bass, he says, “will always be Leroy’s.”

Dave Holland’s Trio adds guest Chris Potter.

His purchase helped establish the Leroy Vinnegar Jazz Institute within Portland State University’s Department of Music in 2002, three years after Vinnegar, who taught at PSU, died in Portland. Its mission is to “let knowledge serve the city” through programs and partnerships in jazz education and jazz history, public outreach, and service to the artistic community. It’s kind of repayment of an artistic debt, because it was Vinnegar’s music that helped inspire Holland to pick up the bass in the first place — a decision that led him to jazz stardom.

PDXJazz brings Holland back to Portland at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7, in Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St., with drummer Eric Harland, saxophonist Chris Potter, and guitarist Kevin Eubanks. “The four of us have played together quite a lot. I can’t tell you what we’ll be playing,” Holland said, though no doubt they’ll perform cuts from Aziza and Prism, recent CDs. “It will be a surprise to me.”

Dave Holland performs Friday at Revolution Hall.

Holland’s Vinnegar link and love reach back into the late 1950s and early ‘60s. As a teenager growing up in Wolverhampton in England’s Midlands, he haunted record stores for bassist Ray Brown’s albums and came across Vinnegar’s Leroy Walks and Leroy Walks Again!

After hearing Vinnegar and Brown, he put down his guitar and took up the bass. He argues that bass players get plenty of love: More music listeners are fond of the bass than groan at its solos, he says. “A lot of people love the bass, its sounds. Maybe it’s less featured than other instruments, not upfront all the time, but it’s so essential. Everyone feels it if it’s not there. Everyone loves a good bass line, a good riff, a good groove.”

Holland grew up in a working-class family with his grandfather, uncle, mother and grandmother (his father left when he was a baby). He played ukulele and guitar as a kid and was constantly composing, practicing, thinking about music. He decided with a minimum of angst to drop out of school at 15, which he said gave him “a burst of intensity to be a musician.” In his late teens when he moved to London, he studied with London Philharmonic’s bassist James Merrett, who encouraged Holland to enter London’s Guildhall School of Music and Drama, from where he graduated and still occasionally teaches.

Holland with Miles Davis.

Holland has been playing bass for 55 years, and at 70, looks as spry as he did when he wore a dashiki in Miles Davis’s Bitches Brew-era band during the late ‘60s, if his hair and beard are shorter and grayer than in those heady days. Davis discovered Holland when he walked in to London’s Ronnie Scott Jazz Club to hear pianist Bill Evans’s trio (with drummer Jack DeJohnette and bassist Eddie Gomez). The already legendary trumpeter heard Holland the same night, though not with Evans. As Holland says, “Then Miles offered me an opportunity to play with him. … The universe sent me this amazing gift. I played three weeks at the Count Basie. He never said I had the gig, and he never said I didn’t.”

If Miles helped boost Holland’s early career, Holland has continued to grow and produce good music. He’s a newly anointed National Endowment for the Arts Jazz Master (joining 144 recipients since the honor began in 1965) and a sought-after and much recorded musician. Holland has recorded over 100 albums, led 30 bands, and won multiple Grammy awards. Name any major jazz musician in the past half-century, and he’s likely played with them:  Chick Corea, Herbie Hancock, Stan Getz, Thelonious Monk, Ben Webster, Betty Carter, Joe Henderson, Anthony Braxton, Gary Burton, Sam Rivers, Roy Orbison, Jack DeJohnette, Kenny Barron, Oscar Peterson, Pat Metheny, Bill Frisell. The list goes on and on.

Holland still speaks with a British accent though he moved to the United States when he was 21. Periodically, he crosses the pond to teach and play. He likes to cross-pollinate with younger musicians, and teaches at London’s Royal Academy of Music, Boston’s Berklee College of Music and the New England Conservatory of Music.

“We learn from each other in this community,” Holland says. “I’ll hear something that will show me something. What goes around comes around. There is never a shortage of fired-up young musicians moving the music forward.”

Music keeps you young, the late and fellow English-born musician Marian McPartland of National Public Radio’s Piano Jazz program said, and Holland is a preeminent example. In robust health (he had a bout with heart trouble when he was 36 but has thoroughly recovered), he maintains constant receptiveness to new sounds and styles, and a steady work ethic. “I never minded practicing,” he declares. “Never.” Holland continues to be inspired by Spanish cellist Pablo Casals’ words about longevity in the music world. “He said ‘I keep thinking I can get a little better.’”

Not only does Holland play with jazz virtuosos and record on his own label, Dare2, he stretches into other musical realms: flamenco, classical, and recently, he has been working with Indian tabla virtuoso Zakir Hussain. “The kind of music you play has more do with the musicians you play with than anything else,” Holland explains. He likes the change-ups, the diversity. “It keeps everything moving to reach across genres. It feeds my creative fire. Music is a journey. It takes you through many landscapes.”

Dave Holland Trio with guest Chris Potter perform at 8 p.m. Friday, April 7, in Revolution Hall, 1300 S.E. Stark St. Tickets and info online.

Angela Allen lives in Portland and writes about the arts. She is a published poet and photographer and teaches creative and journalistic writing to Portland-area students. Her web site is angelaallenwrites.com.  

Want to read more about Oregon jazz? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Kneebody and Misteriosos: Updating the tradition

PDX Jazz Festival bands bring classic jazz approaches into the 21st century

by PATRICK McCULLEY

At the beginning of Kneebody’s February 18 PDX Jazz Festival concert, only four of the five bandmates walked out on stage at Portland’s Newmark Theatre. Saxophonist Ben Wendel announced, to the amusement of everyone, that their bassist had had to go play a gig with “some guy named John Legend.” Their solution to this challenge left drummer Nate Wood with the unenviable task of playing the bass and drums simultaneously. It was really anyone’s guess as to how this would turn out.

I’ve been listening to Kneebody since 2005, ever since that fateful day my college jazz combo instructor spent the last 15 minutes of class exposing us to new music. With its synthesized sounds, funky percussion, and electronically altered horns, sounded unlike many jazz ensembles I’d ever listened to.

Despite performing on a bleak February afternoon, the band delivered music that was dark sometimes, but never dreary, with a composite of acoustic, electric, and synthesized sounds that encroach on emotional boundaries that most jazz (or music) doesn’t often get to. The quintet — keyboardist Adam Benjamin, trumpeter Shane Endsley, electric bassist Kaveh Rastegar (kind of, see the following paragraph), saxophonist Ben Wendel and drummer Nate Wood — opened with the first track from their new album Anti-Hero, For the Fallen. Benjamin’s dark tapestry of synthesized keyboard and fender rhodes built a foundation for horn players to weave provocative melodies and Wood to lay down driving rhythmic grooves. It soon became apparent that Wood had no problem playing drums and bass at the same time.

Wood pulled double duty with Kneebody at PDX Jazz Festival. Mark Sheldon.

Any more skepticism was soon laid to rest during their performance of Drum Battle. Written for a recent collaboration with electronic musician Daedalus, it started out light and swinging, only to transition abruptly into a complicated series of funky rhythmic patterns in 5/4, 12/8, and ¾. It was somewhere during Wood’s insane drum solo, a solo that increased in speed so much that the horn players could barely keep up when the melody re-entered, that I was stunned to realize that he was still playing the bass with just his left hand.

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PDX Jazz Festival reviews: Hearing the home folks

Portland's own jazz stars shine at annual national jazz showcase

by DOUG RAMSEY

In addition to presenting big national names, an appealing aspect of the 2017 Biamp PDX Portland Jazz Festival is that it taps into the deep reservoir of talent in the Pacific Northwest. Two cases in point: the Mile 22 Octet led by pianist, composer and arranger Mike Van Liew and Ezra Weiss’s Monday Night Big Band.

In an afternoon concert, Van Liew’s eight-piece ensemble filled downtown Portland’s Art Bar with tightly constructed arrangements of original music that ranged from tone poems to a piece whose Klezmer orientation called for exacting musicianship. With zeal and meticulous execution the players met the demands of the 9/8 time signature and Van Liew’s intersecting lines.

Dick Titterington.

The Klezmer piece and others featured notable work from Dick Titterington, one of a cluster of first-rate trumpeters who grew up in Portland or moved here over the past few years. In the course of the afternoon, everyone on the band soloed impressively.

We see Mary-Sue Tobin holding an alto saxophone in the photograph to the right, but in the Art Bar concert her muscular soloing and voluminous sound were on tenor sax. The other members of the octet were Tim Jensen, alto saxophone; Tom Hill, trombone; John Butler, guitar; Mark Schneider, bass; and Jason Palmer, drums.

Mary-Sue Tobin.

Pianist Ezra Weiss has generated favorable notice in The New York Times, Down Beat, Jazz Times and other national publications. Down Beat’s Josef Woodard called him, “a bold, inspired figure in the contemporary jazz arranging scene.” At the Portland festival, Weiss led his Monday Night Big Band in the cozy confines of Lola’s Room, a listening space in the building that also houses Portland’s venerable Crystal Ballroom. Weiss, who teaches music at Portland State University, concentrated on conducting and left the piano playing to the talented young Dan Gaynor.

The trumpet section was made up of four players who, like Titterington, choose to remain in Portland despite gifts that would keep them busy in New York or Los Angeles. Tom Barber’s solo on the opening number, whose title I didn’t hear, established that, as did Derek Sims, Conte Bennett and Charlie Porter in later solos. Tenor saxophonist Renato Caranto followed with the first of several solo spots that he filled with passion and evident satisfaction in taking chances.

Ezra Weiss. Photo: Vanished Twin.

Tim Jensen, heard earlier in the Mile 22 Octet, was applauded by fellow members of the saxophone section for his solo on “It’s You Or No One,” Julie Styne’s 1948 hit for Doris Day. Weiss featured Gaynor on piano in “Jessie,” Weiss’s piece named for his wife. The veteran tenor saxophonist John Gross took over for one of his solos in which he manages to be almost outrageously unorthodox at the same time that he’s being lyrical.

John Gross.

To this point in the Weiss concert, I had been longing to hear the band settle into a 4/4 groove but broken time — not necessarily a bad thing — had seemed to be the rule. Then, with alto saxophonist John Nastos moving straight ahead in Weiss’s “The Promise,” the band was swinging in the foot-tapping sense, even though bassist Eric Gruber maintained an uneven line.

Weiss made a medley of his arrangement of the Hebrew hymn “We Limit Not The Wrath Of God” and his own “Fanfare For a Newborn.” Following another John Gross tenor sax adventure in the medley, Weiss brought the band to an abrupt and surprising halt that made a few listeners gasp. Using his dramatic conducting style, he immediately cranked the band up again, and people laughed.

Marilyn Keller.

The first of two guest singers, Marilyn Keller, joined the band for a dramatic version of the folk classic “Wayfaring Stranger.” Her section of vocalese improvisation included an astonishing sequence of high notes. Weiss’s arrangement of Wayne Shorter’s “Footprints” featured Nastos on soprano saxophone, then a trumpet solo in which Charlie Porter invented harmonies so unorthodox and sophisticated that the musicians around him were shaking their heads.

Weiss brought on recording artist Jeff Baker, a Portland resident, for “Amazing Grace,” sung in a clear and pleasant voice. The piece also included a Porter flugelhorn solo that, while rewarding, did not equal the ingenuity he showed on “Footprints.”

Mieke Bruggeman.

Weiss’s composition “Rise And Fall” included solos by Barber on both flugelhorn and trumpet and the only solo appearance of the evening by Mieke Bruggeman. Her huge baritone saxophone sound had anchored the band all evening. She soloed as if to relieve tension that built while she waited for her shot at self-expression. The audience reaction let her know that it was worth waiting for.

As I headed for the door in order to catch the last streetcar back to my hotel, Weiss announced a piece whose title sounded like “Koom Len Getit,” I was compelled to pause and listen to trombonist John Moak deliver the final solo word. It’s always a pleasure to hear Moak. It had been a satisfying concert.

The 2017 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival continues through February 26 at various Portland venues. Tickets available online. Read ArtsWatch’s preview and Ramsey’s first set of reviews.

One of America’s most esteemed jazz journalists, former Portland resident Doug Ramsey is a recipient of the lifetime achievement award of the Jazz Journalists Association and two ASCAP Deems Taylor Awards. He lives in the Pacific Northwest. Ramsey is the author of Take Five: The Public and Private Lives of Paul DesmondJazz Matters:Reflections on the Music and Some of its Makers, and the novel Poodie James, and co-editor (With Dale Shaps) of Journalism Ethics: Why Change? His articles, reviews and op-ed pieces on music and on free press and First Amendment issues have appeared in Downbeat, Jazz Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, The Los Angeles Times, The Oregonian, and Congressional Quarterly, among other publications. His excellent blog, Rifftides, where these reviews (reprinted with his permission) originally appeared, is essential reading for anyone interested in jazz today.

Want to read more about Oregon jazz? Support Oregon ArtsWatch!

Maria Schneider Orchestra and Kneebody: Many voices, one vision 

PDX Jazz Festival opening weekend bands share fondness for diverse influences. But there’s one big difference.

by ANGELA ALLEN

“I have always loved a lot of different kinds of music,” Maria Schneider said in February from her Manhattan apartment where she’s lived for decades. In her multiple Grammy-winning jazz orchestra’s music, “the colors and forms and textures come from classical, flamenco, and Brazilian influences.” They’re tied together. “I love melody,” she says. “I love tonality.”

Schneider makes her West Coast debut with her orchestra this Friday, Feb. 17 at the BiAmp PDX Jazz Festival. If PDX is her destination and New York her base, the Midwest is her heart’s home, and this tour will include heartland stops.

Maria Schneider. Photo: Dina Regine.

Minnesota is the inspiration for Schneider’s latest much acclaimed album, The Thompson Fields. She grew up on the state’s southwest prairies next to a flax plant that her father ran outside of tiny Windom. She fell in love with the wide-open landscape, which she calls “both surreal and pastoral,” and with the birds. Though the strawberry blonde (her hair naturally remains that vivid color at 56) showed promise as a piano player by eight years old, she told her second-grade teacher she wanted to be an ornithologist when she grew up. She had to explain the term to her teacher and class.

Many of her songs invoke birds, including The Thompson Fields’s  “Arbiters of Evolution.” Expect to hear pieces from this sonic homage to the natural world at the Friday show. But get ready for bleaker stuff, including her brand-new “Data Lords.”

“I’ll wait till everybody gets nestled in before that one,” she says. “It’s very dark and apocalyptic. I’m quite disturbed that companies control us through their analytics. Big data is not a good thing for the world. It undermines our democracy and our own choice.”

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Obsidian Animals preview: Jazz journey

Art and nature inspire young Eugene keyboardist Torrey Newhart's musical philosophy and his band's diverse new album

by GARY FERRINGTON

When seven year old Torrey Newhart purchased a small hand carved obsidian kitty while visiting Mexico’s Pyramid of the Sun at Teotihuacan, it was just a simple toy. Like many items of childhood, it was eventually put away and forgotten.

Almost two decades later, that rediscovered souvenir has taken on new meaning. Newhart, now a jazz composer, musician, and educator, has snapped Facebook selfies of it wherever he has performed: France, Switzerland, Italy, South Korea, and beyond. The obsidian kitty has come to represent a journey of change.

Because Newhart’s recent creation of a band and its first album release, Sound In-Sight, represents a major transition in his career, it seemed appropriate to him to name the group Obsidian Animals — with the iconic kitty prominently displayed on its album cover. On Sunday, December 11, the band makes its Portland debut at Turn! Turn!Turn!

1 - Header Photo 681px width. Caption: The Obsidian Animals at Roaring Rapids Pizza, Springfield. Photo: Adam Carlson.

The Obsidian Animals at Roaring Rapids Pizza, Springfield. Photo: Adam Carlson.

Obsidian Animals made their live debut at the Jazz Station in Eugene and at the Old Stone Church in Bend, Newhart’s home town, this past June. Its members include some of Eugene’s finest young musicians: Eddie Bond (guitar/effects), Adam Carlson (drums), Tony Glausi (trumpet), Joshua Hettwer (tenor sax/clarinet), Sean Peterson (bass), and Jessika Smith (alto sax/flute), with Newhart on piano. The ensemble performs original material to which it adds rare pieces from various jazz periods and traditions.

Sound In-Sight includes 18 musical “scenes” with performances by the seven member Obsidian Animals with guest artists Ken Mastrogiovanni (drums), Jim Olsen (flute/alto-flute), Halie Loren (voice), Matt Hettwer (trombone), Stephen Young (tuba) and Andy Armer (piano). Newhart, in an ArtsWatch interview, describes the group’s debut album as a “playlist of sorts” reflecting his multifarious musical interests over the past several years. In addition to Newhart’s own pieces, it includes music he enjoys by bebop trumpeter Booker Little, the late legendary pianist/vocalist Nina Simone, and Tony Glausi. The Bend Bulletin’s Go Magazine praised the album’s “adventurous spirit, blending avant-jazz melodies, R&B grooves and shifting-on-a-dime dynamics.”

Newhart says his goal is to present a broad “diverse palette of music (listeners) might not always hear together,” he says. “I’ve always loved jobs where I get to do lots of different things and I think my musical preferences are the same. There are so many wonderful sounds being combined to create new sounds, why not share them all?”

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