Portland Jazz

ArtsWatch Weekly: bohemians & other artists

"La Bohème" at the opera, George Johanson & other gallery shows, Brett Campbell's music picks, Miss Julie and Satchmo onstage

Here they come again, those tragic bohemians. Rodolfo with his poems. Marcello with his paintings. Musetta with her songs. Mimi with her consumption. All of them as poor as church mice. Fortunately they can also sing like angels, or like the devil himself, who seems to have it in for them. It’s been eight years since Portland Opera last produced La Bohème, Puccini’s 1896 grand musical potboiler (Toscanini conducted the world premiere in Turin), which is one of opera’s greatest weepers and most enduring hits. Now Portland Opera’s brought it back again, beginning on Friday at Keller Auditorium and continuing for three more performances through May 13. It’ll feature Vanessa Isiguen as poor doomed Mimi, and the young Italian tenor Giordano Lucá, in his American debut, as Rodolfo. Let the singing, and the dying, begin.

Vanessa Issiguen, Mimi in Portland Opera’s “La Boheme,” performing in the opera’s Big Night special in April. Photo: Cory Weaver

 


 

THE MAY FIRST THURSDAY ART GALLERY OPENINGS are this week, and one of the shows we’re looking forward to is at Augen, where George Johanson has an exhibition of recent paintings going up. If we gave artists the sort of titles we used to hand out, Johanson would be a Portland Old Master: Born in Seattle in 1928, he came to Portland in 1946 to attend the old Museum Art School (now Pacific Northwest College of Art), and with some breaks in New York, London, and Mexico he’s mostly been here ever since.

George Johanson, “Studio with Bunce Mask,” 2016, acrylic and oil on canvas , 40 x 60 inches.

Adept as a printmaker and a painter, he’s chronicled pretty much everything from the city’s rivers to its music to his own studio to other artists (in his 2002 book of quick portraits Equivalents: Portraits of 80 Oregon Artists) to Mt. St. Helens blowing its stack, often with a rabbit or a cat streaking across the image. As he approaches 90 he seems as active and creative as ever. His show opens Thursday and he’ll speak at the gallery at noon Saturday, May 13.

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Among the many openings and continuing gallery shows, a few other likely bets:

Yoonhee Choi and Roya Motamedi at Blackfish. Choi’s installation Sift uses bright colors and recycled plastic cups, straight pins, and the like to contemplate consumption and detritus. Motamedi’s Aptitude of Kindness includes collages of fabric and birch on paper.

James Allen’s Northwest Bound at Russo Lee. Allen “excavates” books in search of history and image – in this show, including a large altered set of bound newspapers from the old Oregon Journal in May 1914. Also: Michelle Ramin’s takes on tourists exploring architectural ruins; Amory Abbott’s charcoal drawings.

Mar Goman and Dayna J Collins at Guardino. Goman’s highly crafted, outsidery images (she calls it “curious art”) have a folk art feel and are made from just about anything she can get her hands on. Collins paints abstract images emerging from the waterlines of rivers and ocean.

Alex Lilly’s Razor Blade Rain at Michael Parsons Fine Art. May Day turned into a pitched battle in downtown Portland, and that’s an extension of what Lilly’s vivid and disturbing paintings are about. This new show is based on drawings and photographs he made while watching earlier Portland protests.

Margaret Lindburg’s Resolution at Karin Clarke Gallery. The veteran Salem artist has a new show of paintings at Clarke’s gallery in Eugene, and Randi Bjornstad has this interesting profile of Lindburg in Eugene Review.

Alex Lilly, “Riot Cops – 3rd and SW Madison,” 2017, oil on composite block, 6 x 6 inches, Michael Parsons Fine Art.

 


 

BRETT CAMPBELL’S MUSIC PICKS OF THE WEEK:

 

The four-time Grammy-winning ensemble, one of the top performers of contemporary American classical music, joins the quirky indie folk singer/songwriter (real name Will Oldham) in his own songs, plus Pulitzer Prize-winning composer David Lang’s learn to fly and Frederic Rzewski’s fierce 1971 American classic Coming Together, which sets a heart-rending text by an inmate killed in the Attica prison uprising. The centerpiece, Murder Ballades, is a fascinating mashup of ancient English/Appalachian folk tunes like “Pretty Polly” along with original music inspired by them, all put together by Bryce Dessner, best known to rock music fans as the guitarist in The National but recently emerging as a formidable contemporary classical composer with music for Kronos Quartet and others. Wednesday, Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall.

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Raul Midón preview: Uncontainable talent

"Badass and Blind" New Mexico singer, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter's vast musical range can't be boxed in

by ANGELA ALLEN

Put Raul Midón in a box and he’ll jump right out. Songwriter, instrumentalist, mouth-musician, soul singer, jazz improvisor, Latin songster, guitarist, baritone. None of those identifiers works alone to define his musical strengths. He is all, and more of them, and there’s no box that will contain him. His ribbons of talent overflow; they don’t tie him up.

Amazing we haven’t heard Midón, 50, in Portland before, though he recalls a maybe-concert with fellow songster Jason Mraz (“Waiting for my Rocket to Come” ) on Ray Charles’ birthday about 12 years ago.

This week, Midón will appear as a sole act for two evening shows Friday, Sept. 9, at Portland jazz club Jimmy Mak’s. Expect to be gobsmacked by his musical versatility and his honey-hued baritone that rises effortlessly into a tenor range and even higher into a falsetto.

If Midón chooses to perform John Coltrane’s signature “Giant Steps “ in 12 keys, he will add lip-singing (not synching) that produces solo horn sounds. He will alternate between bongos and guitar as he croons his original songs (expect Latin flavors among them), and if there’s a piano around, as there usually is at Jimmy Mak’s, he’ll play it. He has been compared to Stevie Wonder for his Latin-soul vibe, among other things; to Bill Withers (“Lean on Me,” “Ain’t No Sunshine”) for his R&B songwriting and singing; and to Stevie Winwood for his multi-pronged instrumentality.

Amid the comparisons, he’s wholly himself — and insistent on his fluid niche.

“I write songs but just don’t strum and sing,” Midón told ArtsWatch in August from his home in Laurel, Maryland. “I play the guitar and and the bongos and improvise at the same time. I make up songs and tell stories. I’m as virtuosic on guitar as on voice.”

He is not short on confidence, if he is on sight. He wears dark glasses because he is is blind and has been for his entire life. He and his twin brother, Marco, were hyper-oxygenated in the incubator after a premature birth in rural New Mexico. Marco, a NASA engineer, could see partially until he was 15.

Raul Midón performs two shows at Jimmy Mak's in Portland Friday. Photo: Steven Parke.

Raul Midón performs two shows at Jimmy Mak’s in Portland Friday. Photo: Steven Parke.

Raul never saw except through music, literature and his imagination.

His father, an Argentinean folkloric dancer and restaurant owner, exposed his sons to music at an early age. (His artist African-American mother died when he was four and his maternal grandmother took over his upbringing.) They listened to LPs in the 1960s ad ‘70s like other kids play video games now. “We listened to a record from beginning to end, really listened, from Miles [Davis] to [Arnold] Schoenberg to Philip Glass. Anything and everything.” Except pop music.

Raul and his brother played bongos and congas when they were fooling around at home, and his parents picked up on Raul’s musical proclivities. “We’d make up rhythms like other kids played Monopoly,” he remembers.

Midón’s father hosted flamenco dancers during the summer at his restaurant in Samba, N.M., and Raul recalls the dancers’ passionate rhythms as clearly as he does his years at blind school in Alamogordo, New Mexico, where teachers put his fingers on the guitar chords. He later attended a fancy Santa Fe prep school on scholarship and read Joseph Conrad, Malcolm X and Friedrich Nietzsche, writers who made him see the world through the unsighted senses, and helped to make a songwriter of him.

Before his solo career, Midón worked as a sideman and backup singer to such latin stars as Shakira and Julio and Enrique Iglesias. He performed with Queen Latifah and Snoop Dogg, Stevie Wonder and Herbie Hancock, and contributed to the soundtrack of Spike Lee’s 2004 film, She Hate Me. After he graduated from University of Miami’s prestigious jazz program in the early 1990s, Midón stuck around Miami, but by the time he met his wife/manager/stylist Kathleen Kausch in 2000, he was bent on leaving Florida and becoming a one-man band.

Since then, Midón has been on his own, traveling the world, and performing with such musicians as Lizz Wright and Dianne Reeves, who has appeared in Portland a number of times, including at this year’s PDX Jazz Festival.

“Dianne is a high-level jazz improviser,” Midón said. “There are not a whole lot of singers who can truly improvise — and I’m not talking about half-assed scat singing. Chord changes take a fair amount of sophistication. Frank Sinatra didn’t improvise. He knew he could be a great singer without doing it. Improvising isn’t a singer’s bread and butter. But Dianne can truly do it.” And when he sang with Reeves, he said, “We were doing it. We were going out on the edge and coming back.”

Midón has a number of albums behind him, including the lauded and most recent Don’t Hesitate” (2014) as well as State of Mind (2005), A World Within a World (2007), and the upcoming Bad Ass and Blind. He has found recording technology that he says allows him to meter music with a keyboard rather than by dragging and dropping with a mouse. He does his own recording and engineering at his home studio in Laurel, Md., a riverside town between Washington, D.C. and Baltimore that Midón describes as “very unremarkable.” His music, however, is otherwise.

PDX Jazz presents Raul Midón at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. Friday, Sept. 9, at Jimmy Mak’s, 221 NW 10th Ave. Portland, 503-228-5299. If you stay for both, Midón promises different set lists. Tickets $20 general admission, $25 (with $15 food and drink minimum) reserved, $25 and $30 at door.

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

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“Sting: The Jazz Remix”: New look at a past master

Portland jazz musicians revisit the music of the Police singer and solo star

by ANGELA ALLEN

Sting is one of the seminal artists of my generation,” says Portland pianist/composer Darrell Grant. As the leader of The Police (1977-1984) and as a solo artist, the former Gordon Sumner sold more than 100 million records, and his eclectic genre-crossing solo career exerted a huge influence on both Grant and fellow Portland singer and Sting-lover Marilyn Keller when each was shaping a musical career in the ‘80s.

“Sting’s music provides some beautiful vehicles for us jazz musicians to do what we do best,” Grant says, “weave harmony, melody, virtuosity, spontaneity, feeling and groove into stories about who we are and what our lives are like now.” Maybe the jazz connection shouldn’t be surprising; Sting began his music career playing jazz in the early 1970s in northern England.

Yet Grant, 53, says he has been surprised that so few of his music students at Portland State University, where he teaches music, have even heard of the British rocker. “It’s hard to believe that an artist so iconic in one generation could be so unfamiliar in the next,” he says. So Grant and Keller put together Thursday night’s concert, Sting: The Jazz Remix at Portland’s Alberta Abbey, in honor of his rock roots.

Darrell Grant.

Darrell Grant.

Expect to hear “Fragile,” “We’ll Be Together,” “Fields of Gold,” “Every Breath You Take,” “King of Pain” and “Englishman in New York.” Fifteen pieces are on the set list. Grant arranged most, though Portland pianist Ezra Weiss re-imagined “Fields of Gold.”

Those of us who tuned into music in previous decades will have a chance to relish the work of a vibrant oldie-goldie in a new style. Grant will play with Keller as well as his Naught 4 Us band that includes new talent and old, including saxophonist John Nastos, high school sax-player Quin McIntire, PSU trumpeter Noah Simpson, vocalist Jimmie Herrod (lead in pianist Weiss’s jazz version of Alice in Wonderland staged in February by Northwest Children’s Theater) and PSU students, vocalist Ashley Leonard and cellist Zach Banks.

Sting. Photo: Yancho Sabev.

Sting. Photo: Yancho Sabev.

Known internationally – he was Betty Carter’s pianist a few decades ago — Grant is a staunch community citizen in Portland’s music and educational worlds. In 2004 he established the Leroy Vinnegar Award ( named for the late Portland jazz bassist who created the “walking bass line,” moving up and down the instrument) to honor Portland’s outstanding jazz musicians. Grant has issued several popular CDs, including his newest, “The Territory,” and the much-lauded 2007 album Truth and Reconciliation.

Grant calls his recasting of the pop master of his youth “somewhat of a homecoming,” but acknowledges that “some people will be hearing this music for the first time.” As with any jazz concert, the magic will emerge from how musicians mix and mash yesterday with today.

PDX Jazz presents Sting: The Jazz Remix at 7:30 pm Thursday May 12, at the Alberta Abbey, 126 NE Alberta St. in Portland. Tickets ($20 in advance or $25 at the door) available online.

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

Elvin Jones tribute preview: Straight from the heart

Veteran Portland drummer Alan Jones leads Portland Jazz Festival tribute to one of the Coltrane Quartet's other immortals

by KALEB DAVIES

Editor’s note: This year’s Portland Jazz Festival is dedicated to the memory of the great saxophonist, improviser and composer John Coltrane, born 90 years ago. Two of this year’s concerts, at 7 and 930 pm February 19, focus on the drummer in Coltrane’s classic quartet, Elvin Jones. Led by the great Portland jazz drummer and teacher Alan Jones, the shows feature national jazz stars Azar Lawrence and Sonny Fortune and Portland bassist Jonathan Lakey. ArtsWatch asked one of Alan Jones’s students, percussionist Kaleb Davies, to talk to his teacher about Elvin Jones’s influence on jazz — and on both Alan and Kaleb.

Elvin Jones

Elvin Jones

When I first listened to the albums A Love Supreme and Sun Ship by the John Coltrane Quartet, I didn’t understand them. They just sounded like improvised music and stuff with the label “Jazz” stamped on it. As I was listening Sun Ship again recently, I sensed a flow of energy and emotion. It was more than four guys who had practiced their instruments a lot and learned a lot of licks. It was four musically sensitive men letting themselves transcend above the mere act of playing random licks that they’ve practiced for hours and letting the feeling of the music they were making choose the notes for them. I pictured them playing their instruments and what their faces looked like and how they were looking at each other and suddenly I got it! My body turned to jelly and this wave came over my body and I felt like I was in the same room as them, standing right in among the four of them. I could see the sweat drops flying off their faces and see their flexed muscles and the contorted faces as they were simply allowing these feelings to come straight out of their instruments without first stopping to reference the decision-making portion of the brain that chooses which notes would appropriately fit the situation.

The John Coltrane Quartet as a whole had more influence on me than just Elvin, but the quartet wouldn’t have been the same and wouldn’t have given me that same chill if Elvin wasn’t the drummer.

I want to have this feeling in my playing. I want to take his passion and learn how to apply it to every song I play in every musical situation I’m in. I want to practice my parts a lot harder and memorize them better, so that I too may be able to transcend regular note-playing and play like Elvin did: straight from the heart with no interaction with the brain. The practice room is where I’ll memorize my music and learn licks and hone my technique, and performances will be where I let my heart speak unfiltered.

Elvin changed the way I listen to music. I will now try to find the pure, gut-wrenching emotion in the music I listen to, no matter the style.  He changed my definition of good music. Before my definition was this: music played well and with intention. Now it includes pure expression of emotion.

This Friday February 19th, Alan Jones is leading Elvin Jones tribute concerts at Portland jazz club Jimmy Mak’s. He’s planning to play two tunes that Elvin wrote, an original tune from each member of the band, and pieces that Elvin has famously played on. We talked about those concerts and Elvin’s impact on Alan and on jazz.

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Portland Jazz Festival preview: Trane’s Tracks

This year’s jazz extravaganza celebrates the 90th birthday of the great saxophonist, composer, improviser and bandleader John Coltrane

by ANGELA ALLEN

“Coltrane has the power to move people,” says up-and-coming Portland-grown saxophonist Nicole Glover. “He can reach that special place in you that only you have access to. Some people may call it soul. … But you don’t have to be a spiritual person to feel it move you.”

JohnColtraneWikiJohn Coltrane would have been 90 years old this year. The revered saxophonist died five decades ago, but there’s no killing off his art.  Coltrane’s uncannily precise technique that led to the description “sheets of sound” – and more, his unconditional and spiritual devotion to music –  continue to run through jazz’s veins.

The Portland Jazz Festival is honoring him for 11 nights, with the Spanish Harlem Orchestra opening Feb. 18 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre.  About 100 events – 31 of them ticketed –  are at  big and small venues, including hotel lobbies, throughout the Portland area. Many visiting musicians have played with Coltrane or with his disciples who have since connected to the next and newest generation of jazzers.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra opens the PDX Jazz Festival Feb. 18. Photo: Ab McNeely.

Spanish Harlem Orchestra opens the PDX Jazz Festival Feb. 18. Photo: Ab McNeely.

Coltrane’s son, Ravi, also a sax player, will be here. Brandee Younger, who plays the harp as did Coltrane’s late wife, Alice, will be here, playing Alice Coltrane’s music. Musicians who sided with Trane will be here. So will the master’s followers who passed the music on. Consider saxophonists Gary Bartz, Orrin Evans, Charles Lloyd and Joe Lovano, all influenced by Coltrane. Then there’s Trane’s onetime bassist Reggie Workman and free jazz tenor sax titan Pharoah Sanders who played with Coltrane in the ‘60s. They’ll all be here.

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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
Seffarine
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.


Nourishment
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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Wanderlust Social is a Cabaret, old chum

The eloquent melancholy of a ringmaster...and the weekly winter jazz jams that promise sweet relief

It’s been a tough month for Portland’s ringmaster. He’s had five friends die, and withstood an amicable split from his bellydancing life partner Tiare Tashick. But Noah Mickens kicks off his second weekly Wanderlust Social on Dante’s crimson-curtained stage with “Life Is a Cabaret.” He raises his pinky from his whiskey tumbler and arches his brows, effortfully lifting his spirits above malaise to sing words that are all too true:

What good is sitting alone in your room?
Come hear the music play.
Life is a Cabaret, old chum,
Come to the Cabaret…

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Few local figures are quite as much larger than life as Mickens (save maybe the slinky, glittering, glamorous, serpentine  “Nagasita” Tashnick, just returned from Budapest, waiting in the wings to dance her number). Wanderlust Circus’s intrepid leader coordinates and emcees more touring shows each summer than he cares or bothers to count; he’s even franchised half of his brand to a second San-Diego-based touring troupe just to cover the growing demand. You may recognize him as the first sample of local color tapped for the “Portlandia” pilot, marshaling a parade of circus folk down the west esplanade.

But what’s more…Mickens is a character.

noah_mickens

photo by Xilia Faye

Always in his ringmaster alter-ego “William Batty,” but increasingly just as himself, Mickens sports pinstripes and a slicked-back coif. He affects antique, gentlemanly graces that can switch on a dime into roguish rambling. He’s a legend of his own making, as eager to recount his origin story as he is to promote the upcoming shows. He may be a master of many media—but he’s an absolute alchemist at ambience. Where Salvador Dali famously said, “I don’t take drugs, I AM drugs,” Mickens doesn’t make a scene, he IS one. Which is paradoxically why the new Wanderlust Wednesdays, he insists, are not about him. They’re a refuge for persons like himself: too glitzy, bizarre, romantic and fantastic for this humdrum workaday world. As he’s fond of calling them, his bohemian family.

But of course there are also more practical matters: Right now, Mickens is juggling two holiday cirque-stravaganzas, “White Album Christmas” and “A Circus Carol,” whose accompanists are, respectively, The Nowhere Band and 3 Leg Torso. This roster temporarily bumps the Wanderlust Circus Orchestra, a nine-member supergroup that Mickens has gradually recruited from other favorite jazz acts to accompany his circus shows the rest of the year.

wanderlust_circus_orchestra

photo by Xilia Faye

Mickens explains the making(s) of the band:

The story of how I got the band together is a little complex. The Orchestra has members of Vagabond Opera, 3 Leg Torso, Shanghai woolies, Juan Prophet Organization, Anna Paul and the Bearded Lady, and Bhattsi.

My initial house band was Shoehorn and the Hat Band, then we went our separate ways for a while and I hired Juan Prophet Organization as our new house band during, while continuing to cast Shoehorn as a featured performer sometimes. THEN, Juan Prophet lost three members simultaneously, leaving only the core songwriting duo of Jeff Holt and Kristopher White. So I took Jeff, Kris, and Shoe; and added a bunch of my other favorite players.

I knew Anna Leander and Paul Evans (our musical director, while I am the band leader) because I was doing a monthly swing night with them and Russell Bruner for a while. I figure her voice was perfect for this kind of vaudevillian swing band [he’s right; with a light fry, a sprightly rhythm, and a bit of Boop-ish squeak, Leander suits the songs], and Paul is an absolute motherf-cker, music-wise. Shortly thereafter, he joined Vagabond Opera when Robin Jackson decided to back off from touring. I had done many shows with 3 Leg Torso, which is where I got xylophonist TJ Arko; and I met fiddler Griff Bear when he played violin in the opera Queen of Knives, written by Eric Stern and directed by me [and performed in by Ashia Grzesik]. Joe Haegele our drummer, was referred to me as a member of The Shanghai Woolies, but it turned out we already knew each other from way back in my noise/experimental days at The Jasmine Tree. So that was the band, The Wanderlust Circus Orchestra. We perform some material composed by the various members of the band, and some standards. About half and half, I’d say.

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More often upstaged by summer circus shenanigans, the Wanderlust Circus Orchestra is richly deserving of its own spotlight and a forum to hawk its album, “Joyous Panic.” Hence this regular winter gig, where guest acts come and go but the band stands on a rare pedestal, sauntering through its repertoire for a room that, at turns, babbles along with the atmosphere and stares in rapt reverence. This band, accustomed to toodling along in the background, doesn’t make a big deal of itself—but the individual and ensemble musicianship is amazing. Flute, xylophone, and coronet make surprising little flourishes (a la Merrie Melodies) over syncopated grooves that dig deep into the proverbial pocket. In fact, the playing is so high-caliber that it’s possible to enjoy the Wanderlust Social completely sans-conversation.

Aerialists, meanwhile, have found the perfect low-pressure venue to work out kinks from their usually-higher-stakes (and ceilings) routines. Various solo acrobats spin, swoop, and contort just above the room, and Wanderlust co-director Nick The Creature eagerly accommodates them, installing and collapsing a ladder to hook and unhook their various silks and hoops between songs.

Soprano/cellist Ashia Grzesik, just returned from Europe and set to release a brand-new album at the Alberta Rose Theatre the next day, was last week’s surprise guest, sitting in on a few jazz numbers and playing a couple of originals that Mickens specifically requested, admitting they’d moved him to tears.

One assumes there’s room for more surprise guests in weeks to come; the Wanderlust Social has been reaching out to a network of talent to claim some stage time. Mickens could carry the show on his own, but what fun would that be? He’s actively asking for company.

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“Welcome, Friends,” Mickens grandstands, “To this gathering of the tribes, this convening of the family,” He sweeps his arms wide to encompass each neo-bohemian romantic in the room. He tells a story about “the dirtiest limerick of all time,” but then recites the limerick itself with all but the filthiest words redacted. People howl. Between songs and announcements, the emcee bops offstage to circulate in the crowd, at some point returning to reveal “a silent costume contest…in which you’ve all been judged.” He awards a bashful couple dressed like a skunk and an opossum with his own silver waistcoat for a prize.

As the show winds down, Mickens gets serious, rhapsodizing into an impossibly eloquent eulogy for recently fallen friends, bemoaning how the world is sometimes cruelest to the bright-shining ones. He doesn’t want to lose more, he says. Anyone who feels like letting go should hold on…should try to keep on the Sunny Side of the Street…segue the jazz classic.

Mickens and friends supply more pure SHOW than a ten dollar cover on a weekly Wednesday should legally buy. (Not to mention implied entry into a “circus family,” which usually comes at far dearer costs, like superhuman skill and/or freakish alienation). It seems like an ideal way to regale holiday visitors with our town’s treasures, or pre-func for one of Wanderlust’s big weekend shows, or simply indulge your yen for fabulously overdressing.

“This waistcoat,” growls Mickens, “Has magical properties, imbuing the wearer with the most dashing, most refined, most androgynously powerful sensibilities…so that you believe you can become…whatever you aspire to as your highest self…even if your aspiration…is to be ME.”

Wanderlust Social occurs every Wednesday night at 8pm at Dante’s through January.

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A. L. Adams also writes the monthly column Art Walkin’  for  The Portland Mercury, and is  former arts editor of Portland Monthly Magazine. Read more from Adams: Oregon ArtsWatch | The Portland Mercury

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