End of Summer Sounds
Tunes from Oregonians old and new
by Brett Campbell
Believe it or not, the rain, schoolwork and other post summer phenomena will soon be keeping us indoors, so best to equip yourself with some Oregon sounds to keep you company.
Beta Collide: Psst…Psst! (Innova)
Trumpeter Brian McWhorter and flutist Molly Barth are not only the UO music school’s newest stars; they’re also two of the finest players on their instruments in the world, veterans of virtuoso new music groups Meridian Arts Ensemble and eighth blackbird, respectively. Abetted by pianist David Riley and percussionist Philip Patti on their debut recording, the Eugene-based duo’s technical prowess constantly amazes — not just in the far out stuff (e.g. Robert Erickson’s “Kryl,” featuring trumpet blasts and shrieks, and the major American composer Frederic Rzewski’s “Mollitude”) but also in the exquisitely nuanced control of tone and expressivity that glows in gentler pieces like UO prof Robert Kyr’s ethereally beautiful, Japanese-influenced “Memories of an Echo” and Stephen Vitiello’s “Yellow.” A brilliant remix of Radiohead’s “Nude” shows that the pair’s restless artistic vitality extends past the avant-garde in crowd.
Portland Cello Project: Thousand Words (PCP)
PCP’s third, darkest and most ambitious album transcends category. Although sporting only one actual “classical” work (Gabriel Faure’s famous “Elegy”), Thousand Words feels more classical than the band’s previous efforts, mostly due to its poignant centerpiece: Decemberist Rachel Blumberg’s gorgeous tripartite suite The Dream (dedicated to the memory of her mother, Portland cello teacher Naomi Blumberg). The elegiac feel also permeates a melancholy Elliott Smith cover (the previously unreleased “Taking a Fall”) and Gideon Freudmann’s dirge, “Denmark,” but the punchy arrangement of the theme to the videogame Halo, the Rihanna cover (“Hard,” with NYC beatboxer Adam Matta replacing Jeezy), Skip vonKuske’s delicious mashup of Paul Desmond’s Brubeck Quartet classic “Take Five” with Lalo Schifrin’s “Mission Impossible” theme, and the disc’s open-road highlight, “Broken Crowns,” by PCP/Vagabond Opera cellist/chanteuse Ashia Grzesik — all add excitement to the ever-shifting ensemble’s first all-instrumental album.
3 Leg Torso: Animals & Cannibals (Meester)
The quintessential Oregon band remains, like our state, cheerfully impossible to pigeonhole. On its richest, most colorful and accomplished record since its 1997 inception, Portland’s “world chamber pop” ensemble roams the stylistic map, from klezmer (“Frailach #1”) to Japanese pop (“Akiko Yano”) to waltzes, tangos and various Eastern European rhythms. 3LT’s delightful instrumentals always rely on the signature interplay between Bela Balogh’s fiddle and von Drehle’s accordion, but their current, more expansive vision demanded a broader palette, including Weissenborn (a Hawaiian acoustic lap steel guitar), double bass, piano, trumpet (Balogh), electric guitar (von Drehle), French horn, tuba, vibraphone, xylophone, glockenspiel, bike bell, doumbek, drums and miscellaneous other percussion contributed by band members and guest artists. Two elements underlie it all: the sense of fun that 3LT fans have come to expect, which tingles through even spacious ballads such as the gorgeous “According to Chagall,” “Autumn” and “The Last Dream,” and a theatrical sense that makes every song seem like the soundtrack to a play or movie you haven’t seen but know you’d enjoy.
Portland Taiko: Rhythms of Change
I have a theory that taiko CDs, many no doubt purchased in the afterglow of a thrilling live performance, must be the least played discs in anyone’s collection. Shorn of the theatricality, exciting visuals and acoustic richness that recordings have trouble capturing, even the big Japanese todaiko and hide-stretched nagado lose a lot of their majesty when their sound is confined to room speakers or headphones. But just as Portland’s Japanese percussionensemble’s concerts are as much about dance theater as music, the new CD — all modern pieces commissioned or composed by Portland Taiko — is about far more than drumming. While some stretches still work better when seen as well as heard, the varied stylistic influences (jazz, world beat, folk, classical) and instrumental palette (violin, flute, voices, other percussion) in these original compositions make this CD more than a seldom played concert souvenir.