Scary organs and other reasons to go to church
by Brett Campbell
|Brian Blade The Fellowship Band|
Churches have long been sanctuaries for more than souls. Much of the greatest Western pre-classical music was commissioned by religious establishments. These days, area churches provide welcome, intimate venues for some of the city’s most interesting music. On Oct. 29, First Congregational (23rd & Harris) hosts the free Pipe Screams concert, which features scary organ music (including Bach’s unavoidable Toccata and Fugue in D) and costumes, and benefits the invaluable KWAX radio station, if you’re inclined to donate. That’s All Hallows weekend, of course, and the next night, Oct. 30, the Bijou Theater (appropriately, a former mortuary) hosts Mood Area 52’s annual live performance of its original soundtrack to the 1922 classic vampire film Nosferatu, and their music to another 1922 film, a Dutch documentary about witchcraft. No organ, but with accordion, cello, bass, drums and guitar and a little tango, they can still raise some chills.
On Nov. 5, another church, First Methodist (13th & Olive) hosts the Portland Viol Consort playing music of the magnificently moody English Baroque composer John Dowland. This aggregation of string players (including lute) from Portland Baroque Orchestra and Oregon Symphony as well as Eugene and Seattle will play Dowland’s darkly beautiful Lachrimae (an inspiration to many, including Sting and writer Philip K. Dick), which ranges from peppy dance tunes to the depths of melancholy. The return of the viol or viola da gamba, one of the most expressive instruments ever invented but which fell into obscurity after the 18th century, has been one of the great accomplishments of the early music movement.
Another old downtown church transmogrified into one of Eugene’s prime venues is the Shedd, which on Oct. 29 brings back the cheerfully quirky New York singer/pianist/songwriter Nellie McKay. Although she won deserved admiration for her sharp, witty update on cabaret singing, after a while, McKay’s breathless, faux naif persona and initially charming Doris Day covers threatened to cloy or even annoy. Happily, her refreshing new album, Home Sweet Mobile Home, reaffirms McKay’s smart, savvy satire of modern living and even politics, as well as her musical breadth, which ranges from reggae to gospel to ’50s doo wop to stylish modern pop.
On Nov. 4, the Shedd hosts one of jazz’s finest active musicians, drummer Brian Blade and his Fellowship Band, a quintet featuring two sturdy saxmen and the glittering guitar of Kurt Rosenwinkel. After more than a decade, it’s evolved into a strikingly accessible and adventurous collective, not (as sometimes happens with drummer-led bands) a vehicle for drum solos. Blade’s long tenure with Wayne Shorter’s current group and his many guest gigs in jazz and pop attest to his musical depth and breadth, and this is easily one of the most attractive jazz shows of the year.
Turning to our secular musical temples, DIVA has brought Eugene some vanguard performances we’d be unlikely to see otherwise. On Nov. 4, the downtown art space hosts the return of Portland’s Cartune Exprez, the latest production of that unruly collection of video artists who keep the fun in mind while pushing the boundaries.
Eugene’s Kutsinhira Cultural Center is another locally grown institution that nurtures local creativity, in this case music from southern Africa. Now two decades old, it sponsors performance groups including the youth marimba group Zvakanaka and a mbira group, Mudzidzi Mbira, which on Oct. 29 plays a benefit at Cozmic Pizza to raise money for supplies for a high school serving impoverished students, many of them orphans, in Zimbabwe.
At the UO’s Beall Concert Hall on Oct. 31, the Oregon Wind Ensemble plays music by one of today’s hottest composers, Eric Whitacre, and more. The annual OcTUBAfest features the usual wild assortment of pop, contemporary classical and more on Nov. 3. On Nov. 4, the Oregon String Quartet (with several guests) plays music of Robert and Clara Schumann to celebrate his bicentenary. Harp Day (Nov. 6) features one of the world’s only jazz harpists, Carol Robbins, who’s played with Bjork, Brian Wilson and even Frank Sinatra. On Nov. 7, the university’s excellent ChamberMusic@Beall series brings the Harlem String Quartet in music by Beethoven, Turina and Mozart. On Nov. 9, jazz guitarist Sherly Bailey plays standards with student and faculty jazz ensembles. And on Nov. 10, Beall features composer Terry McQuilkin and harpist Laura Zaerr’s original chamber music for saxtet, flute and harp, bassoon quartet, violin and piano, and a 14 member ensemble playing McQuilkin’s Legacies: Fantasy Suite on American Folk Songs. At the other college up the road on Nov. 4, LCC faculty will play music by Mozart, Liszt, John Williams and the Beatles in the annual fall faculty showcase at Ragozzino Hall.