Old Friends, New Albums
Greg Brown isn't sure if people like his new album or not. "I haven't seen any reviews. I haven't heard a thing," he says with a rumbling laugh. "I guess people like it, but they probably wouldn't tell me if they didn't!"
Brown doesn't have to worry. One of the most beloved singer-songwriters in folk music today, he is both heartland poet and realist philosopher, silken sheets and gritty streets, father, lover, loner, world traveler, angler, activist. His latest release, The Evening Call, is not much of a departure conceptually or stylistically, but because he helped define an entire genre of music, that's good news.
Brown recorded The Evening Call's 12 tracks in Memphis, Tenn.
"It's a haunted town, in many ways," he reflected. "The Civil Rights Museum was there, and I went through that. So much music happened there. It is a very heavy-feeling place. A very good place to record music … and the barbecue is great too."
Appreciation for both beauty and brutality resonates in much of Brown's work, and the new album is no exception. A distinct thread of fear winds throughout The Evening Call; fear of the terrible depths love can reach, fear of the bland-ification of America, fear for the state of humanity.
We got so evil, I feel troubled tonight
This old world brought us all here
So why can't we treat each other right?
Brown's sadness to see the pain America inflicts upon itself is tempered by the joy he finds in dreaming of a day when he can freely fish its waters, a dream that took shape on one of his previous trips to Oregon.
"On that new record there's a song called 'Eugene.' I played at a little winery just outside of Eugene, and on the way out there we passed an RV lot with all these trailers with slide-outs. I decided one day I'm going to drive out there and buy one of these slide-out RVs and just take off and go all the places in the country I've been but never have time to really see. It's not really a song, more of a talking piece, and it all started there."
Also no stranger to the Northwest is Bo Ramsey, who often accompanies Brown and will open for him. Ramsey recently put out Stranger Blues, an acclaimed album of classic blues songs that have personal meaning to the singer/songwriter/producer, featuring both Greg and his daughter Pieta Brown.
As the countdown begins for the Oregon Mozart Players' first events of the season, Executive Director Jeff Eaton barely has a second to think. He's preparing for a music blitz from New York.
NY Philharmonic concertmaster Glenn Dicterow and multiple-award-winning violist Karen Dreyfus, both faculty at the Manhattan School of Music, descend on Eugene to kick off the Mozart Players' 24th season. The husband and wife duo will appear Oct. 14 and 15 as soloists in Mozart's Sinfonia Concertante, which Eaton calls a "very romantic piece because the two soloists hold a conversation and answer each other." The "All Amadeus" concert also includes Mozart's Divertimento No. 7 in D Major and his Symphony No. 29 in A Major.
Eaton marvels that Eugene will host them not only for two big concerts but also for a chamber music concert called "An Evening with Mozart and Mendelssohn" Oct. 12th at Beall Hall. Along with the Oregon String Quartet and other OMP and UO musicians, Dreyfus and Dicterow will perform Mozart's Piano Quartet in E flat Major and Felix Mendelssohn's Octet.
In the intimate world of classical music, many Eugeneans have connections with Dicterow and Dreyfus. The New York-Oregon friendships played a strong part in creating this partnership, Eaton says. OMP Artistic Director Glen Cortese taught at the Manhattan School of Music with Dicterow, for one thing. And getting the Oregon String Quartet to play for the recital Oct. 12 wasn't tough because several of the musicians have known each other for years. Dreyfus and Oregon String Quartet member/UO cello professor Steve Pologe, for example, shared an apartment during the Aspen Music Festival in the 1970s. All of the friendship should help the music. The Mendelssohn Octet is a "very difficult piece," Pologe says, but he believes the musicians will be able to carry it off with a couple of days of rehearsal.
Bringing musicians of Dicterow and Dreyfus's reputation isn't as simple as friendship, of course. Eaton explains that all of this is possible for two reasons: one, the Mozart Players received what Eaton calls "a substantial" grant from the Hult Endowment Fund of the Arts Foundation of the Western Oregon Fund of the Oregon Community Foundation (aka the Hult Endowment). And the UO is providing space and musicians for the recital.
Eaton appreciates the professionalism and goodwill of his soloists. "To have them be willing in this very short period of time to do a chamber music concert is exciting and a real treat for the community." When Eaton has a moment to breathe, he's ready to enjoy the music; for the Mozart Players and friends this week, it's all about the love.
An Evening with Mozart and Mendelssohn. 8 pm Thursday, 10/12. Beall Hall • $15-$25.
It's Raining Music
So the rains are returning; the compensation is a flood of excellent classical, jazz and world music performers heading to town this month. Beall Concert Hall at the UO is a fine place to be indoors. On Monday, Oct. 16, Beall hosts the big choral music event of the season when the Seattle Pro Musica brings an exceptional program of contemporary American music to town. The major work is the Madrigali: Six "Firesongs" on Italian Renaissance Poems by Portland native Morten Lauridsen. An homage to the great early Baroque composer Claudio Monteverdi, the Firesongs blend 16th-century madrigalisms with contemporary practices. This terrific concert also includes "Voices for Peace" by Eugene's own Robert Kyr and works by Leonard Bernstein, Randall Thompson and contemporary composers Aaron Kernis, Stephen Paulus and Eric Whitacre, the hot young composer who's making choral music hip again.
"Music: a nude woman running wildly through the pure night." That's a line from a poem by Juan Ramón Jiménez that the great Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera set to music in his third and final string quartet. This vivid and vibrant 1973 work also uses poems by Rafael Alberti and the great Spanish poet Federico García Lorca. Ginastera's haunting, dramatic musical fever dream highlights the Miami String Quartet's Oct. 19 concert at Beall, which also includes one of Haydn's purely delightful early string quartets and Tchaikovsky's popular, tuneful first quartet. Soprano Arianna Zukerman joins the award-winning ensemble for the Ginastera and music by Schubert and Randall Thompson. This concert shows that chamber music can be both exciting and fun.
The Shedd offers another hospitable refuge from the rains this month, with the big show being Wynton Marsalis' quintet. Before the Pulitzer, the job at Lincoln Center, the big bands, the pontificating, Wynton was — and remains — a sterling small-combo trumpeter and composer, and the chance to hear him at the Shedd is not to be missed by serious or casual jazz fans. For most Americans, he is the face of jazz today. For all the complaints about his nonmusical statements, he's a fantastic American musician, and that's what really counts.
The next night, the Shedd brings back violin virtuosa Natalie MacMaster. The Cape Breton fiddler and dancer specializes in finding old Scottish folk tunes that survived in eastern Canada after they'd vanished from their native land, but non-ethnomusicologists will more likely appreciate her electrifying, engaging, foot-stomping performance. She's performed with some of today's finest musicians, from Sam Bush and Alison Krauss to popsters like Paul Simon and Carlos Santana. Her previous Shedd performances have been big draws, and let's hope this time half her band doesn't get stranded at the airport!
It's great that the Shedd brings so many big name performers to town, but some of my favorite shows there have featured lesser-known musicians, too many of whom (Jason Moran, for instance) drew much smaller crowds than they deserved. I hope that doesn't happen when Badi Assad arrives on Oct. 18. Although Guitar Player named Badi Best Acoustic Fingerstyle Guitarist and the magazine's readers named her debut CD the year's best classical album, her lilting singing, floating over bubbling Brazilian rhythms, should appeal to more than just classical or guitar geeks. Her world music embraces modern bossa nova, jazz and even soft rock, so anyone who likes breezy ballads should give this solo acoustic show a try.
Eugene's own jazz/world music diva, Jessie Marquez, joins guitar great Mike Denny's trio at Luna on Oct. 21 for Cuban salsa, boleros (love ballads), blues and American standards. And yet another fine young jazzer hits town on Oct. 15 when the John Ellis Quartet plays Sam Bond's. The 32-year-old Brooklyn saxophonist was a mainstay of Charlie Hunter's lamented trio, and his solo work sparkles with Southern swing (he's from North Carolina by way of New Orleans), sort of an updated Crusaders sound, with catchy melodies and solid funk. He's definitely a star on the rise, and jazz fans who want Sam Bond's to keep adding jazz to its mix should be sure to turn out for this show.
Finally, the WOW Hall hosts another rising star, the Philadelphia band Lotus, on Oct. 17. Starting out as a fairly typical jamband, they commendably expanded their horizons, adopting drum, bass and electronica elements that make them sound like a funkier, rockier Thievery Corporation. Their ebullient new album shows the seams a bit, sometimes seeming like a compilation of different bands, but you've got to admire the ambitious, danceable hybrid this group is creating — it works beautifully. Anyone who likes dance club music or jam bands should give Lotus a whirl.
From Old School to Clown School
Shane Brough, drummer for Eugene's Rapid Demize, says old school punk should leave the audience "buns up with a bleeding face." I agree. Someone should leave the place with a fat lip.
Two years ago, singer Chris Scott, bassist Quiet Dean, guitarist Peter Pergament and Brough formed the punk outfit, and in spite of family life, day jobs and infrequent shows, they've built a growing local following.
Although RD has done the Punks & Pints thing before, it's hard to say what kind of show you'll get. They're still recovering from a botched St. Patrick's Day gig that should have taken place in the drunk tank. I should know. I was there, and I was drunk and thought they were great. Enough said. Surprisingly, RD's up-coming EP, Livertarians, isn't about that experience.
Since then, with practice sessions where everyone shows up and less pre-show Jägermeister, Rapid Demize shows have chipped away the inevitable rough corners new bands endure. Now that they're up to speed, they may want to step back and lock into a groove.
At their last show, Brough says, "We played 14 songs [including "Church and State," "Sedition" and "I Hate You"] in 30 minutes. Our whole set."
That's too fast. Slow down! I want to feel the hate.
Speaking of humor, on the same Punks & Pints bill, New York's Peelander Z, the "Japanese Action Comic Punk Band," takes on old school while dressing like neon rubber cartoons. Whatever snaps your tights. But their sets rip with the psychotic zeal of those who wore black before them.
Peelanders Blue, Yellow and Red insist the anime inspired costumes are actually their own skin, and they don't come from New York or Japan, but from the "Z area in the planet Peelander." Just three psychotic alien action punks trying to fit in.
From old school to clown school, someone's going to land buns up. Rapid Demize, Peelander Z, Debaser and Pistol Whipped Prophets play at 9 pm Friday, Oct. 13 at John Henry's. 21+ show. $4. — John Dooley
Dark Star Shining
Guitarist/vocalist Rob Eaton was lounging on the beach in Malibu when I caught up with him for a phone interview. Eaton and his band, Dark Star Orchestra, are wrapping up some shows in California before heading up the coast to our neck of the woods.
Just in case you live under a rock and don't know DSO, the band performs recreations of Grateful Dead shows. Eaton said there's a common misconception that the band plays note-for-note reconstructions. They don't. Not only would that be impossible, but it doesn't interest Eaton because it wouldn't be true to the original music. "The music is based on improvisation," he said. It's not about reliving a specific moment in time 30 years ago. "It's about creating now, in the moment." The band does use the same stage set-up and play songs in the same order as the original concert, but to use Eaton's metaphor, that's the frame of a painting, which doesn't change. The notes are the brush strokes of the painting itself, which couldn't possibly be reproduced stroke for stroke.
The band never reveals what show they are performing until the concert is over, adding to the appeal for Deadheads trying to guess the era and night. The only clue Eaton would allow is that if you saw their last Eugene performance a year ago, you can definitely expect something different. The band takes pains to play different songs and eras each time they play a city.
The Dead lost three keyboardists during their existence. In a strange case of art imitating life, DSO lost their keyboardist Scott Larned a year and a half ago. Dan Klepinger will be playing keys in Eugene. DSO plays at 8 pm Oct. 13 and Oct. 14 at the McDonald Theatre. $20 adv., $22 door. — Vanessa Salvia
Wooden Wand Returns to His Roots
The last time James Toth, aka Wooden Wand, performed here, it was with The Vanishing Voice for a scant Cozmic Pizza audience. Considering that Eugene is one of the final strongholds for '60s hippie burnouts, it's actually quite peculiar that the reputation and music of folk revivalists like Wooden Wand and The Vanishing Voice, The Castanets and Feathers have not won over a significant fan base here. The droll singer-songwriter type seems to thrive, but the more adventurous and improvisational free-forms of the aforementioned artists couldn't even pack a cozy Cozmic.
If my presumptions are correct, then hippies take heed: Wooden Wand is back with his new group, The Sky High Band, and their new album, Second Attention, harkens back to the fine arcadian songwriting of Guthrie, Dylan and Crosby. Now there's no excuse to miss this performance.
Aptly titled, Second Attention cries out for a reexamination of Toth's career — which hitherto has been characterized by a fusion of avant-jazz, acid rock, psychedelia and noise. Instead of the tripped-out experimentation found on albums like Xiao and Gipsy Freedom, Second Attention is grounded in song-based structures and traditional folk themes.
Driving through Omaha on the first leg of his tour, Toth said that he's almost certain the sound on the new record will divide his die-hard fans. "It's just instinct," Toth explained of his more traditional approach to songwriting on the new album. "Polarizing the audience shouldn't be a concern; all the musicians I respect would challenge their audience."
It becomes apparent after one listen-through that these are humming tunes — rich and glowing yet stalwart melodies equally rooted in Neil Young's stark acoustic appeals and Neil Hagerty's fuzz-rock haze. Adhering to some of the more rural, old-timey folk traditions, Toth underpins many of these lilting numbers with oblique Christian themes, clearly evidenced on songs like "Madonna" and "Crucifixion Pt. II." But gifted lyricist that he is, Toth's compositions are focused around the concepts of spirituality and salvation rather than a strict religious message. "I didn't mean for it to be didactic. It's more referential to the folk legacy," Toth explained.
As Toth's reputation as a gifted songwriter continues to grow, an intimate experience may become a thing of the past, so don't miss this opportunity to catch a legend in the making. Wooden Wand plays at 9 pm Monday, Oct. 16 at Cozmic Pizza. $5. — Steven Sawada