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.


We’ll be hearing a lot about the centennial of Igor Stravinsky’s landmark ballet score The Rite of Spring next year, but I wish equal attention had been paid to this year’s centenary of an equally radical musical advance — though one far less influential because it was hardly heard at the time. Pianist Gilbert Kalish’s stirring performance of the great American composer Charles Ives’s tumultuous Concord Sonata at Portland International Piano Festival Thursday conclusively demonstrated not just how revolutionary an achievement the nearly hour long work is — but also its rough-hewn beauty, probably more evident 100 years after its creation than it was to the stuffy New Englanders of Ives’s time. In Kalish’s able hands, Ives not only evokes what turn of the century Massachusetts and its famous residents looked like, but also how they thought and how he felt about it all.

Few performers would even attempt such a complex masterwork, and not many more could handle Schubert’s equally ambitious last sonata. Kalish played both — a choice that proved unfortunately more adventurous than satisfying, because hearing the two back to back might not have been exhausting for the 77 year old piano legend but it sure was for some in the audience. Shorter, lighter weight works might have complemented the Ives better. As it was, Kalish delivered a performance of Schubert that was more thoughtful than passionate, and a little pedantic, more like giving a tour of a monumental edifice than truly inhabiting it. But Kalish’s spectacular, moving Ives performance alone was worth the price of admission, and another triumph for PPI.


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