Eugene Weekly : Music : 3.20.08

Alternative Spaces
Strange music in unusual places

Justice Yeldham

For a town its size, Eugene is blessed with more than its share of exceptional performing arts spaces — the UO, the Hult, the Shedd, McDonald, WOW Hall, etc. — that provide stages for top- and mid-level touring musicians. But a truly rich urban arts culture also needs alternative outlets for the offbeat, the avant garde, the up and coming artists that can provide the element the big names can’t: surprise. A good percentage of the pathbreaking art created in America’s art capital, New York, spawned not at Carnegie Hall or Lincoln Center but rather in low-rent downtown lofts, art galleries and other alternative spaces.

Here, alternative performance venues are springing up in our once-desolate downtown. Following last month’s atmospheric performance by DJ Cheb I Sabbah and singer Riffat Sultana, this Friday, March 21, Fenario Gallery hosts a psychedelic equinox celebration with SuperTrout (ex-Prankster John Swan, Joe Croce and various other notable Eugene rock musicians), enhanced by a light show. Let’s hope these Fenarions become regular events.

On March 27, our prime instigator of downtown audiovisual adventure, DIVA art center, hosts Australia’s Justice Yeldham, who brings new meaning to the term “glass artist” by miking and amplifying sheets of glass, pressing them against his face, and using vocal and trumpet-playing techniques to create unearthly, often harrowing sounds. He’s performed from Beirut to Bilbao to Zurich, but his (literally) shattering shows aren’t for the squeamish.

The next night, March 28, DIVA hosts Rooted, a compelling collaboration between the UO’s Douglas Detrick and prizewinning Wisconsin performance artist/poet Kelly Shaw Willman, who’s worked with musicians such as avant violin virtuoso Daniel Bernard Roumain. Detrick, a promising jazz-inspired trumpeter, composer and electronic musician, looks to be one of the next stars to emerge from the university, following his mentor, Brian McWhorter. His multimedia collaborations with Willman have included “iconographic tokens” such as snakes, apples, sequins and video/installation art combining his music and her performed poetry.

Speaking of exploratory jazz-based music, still another indispensable alternative downtown space, the Jazz Station, hosts pedal steel phenom Dave Easley on March 25. Like Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, the New Orleans-based Easley takes an instrument previously associated with country music into new territory. He’s worked with jazzers such as Brian Blade, Kenny Garrett and Dave Liebman as well as Daniel Lanois (whose haunting style suits his songs), Dr. John and many others. Still another downtown spot, Bel Ami restaurant, is now offering free live music at Midtown Marketplace, with upcoming shows including such fine local musicians as Tim McLaughlin, Craig Einhorn and Sun Bossa playing this month.

Another unusual and intimate venue, Harmony Roadhouse Music Studios at 25th & Willamette, hosts a highly recommended world music show featuring award-winning Kolkata sitar master Neeraj Prem performing ragas with Seattle’s Brandon McIntosh on sarod and Eugene’s Josh Humphrey on tablas. This is a must-see concert for fans of Indian music and an excellent introduction for newbies to some of the world’s most mesmerizing music. And on March 23, still another attractive world music concert happens at Far Horizons School at 29th & Hilyard, when Eliyahu & Qadim perform Middle Eastern music for oud and saz (lutes), kemanche (fiddle), tablas and other percussion, ney (reed flute), bansuri (bamboo flute) and vocals. The Bay Area based ensemble incorporates musicians from Arabic, Indian, Jewish, Iranian and other Middle Eastern traditions — a welcome antidote to the region’s political conflicts.

With homegrown, low-budget alternative venues like these attracting music fans to the central city to experience such fascinating, unusual sounds, imagine what could happen with a fraction of the assistance offered the out-of-towners in last year’s collapsed developer-driven (and taxpayer subsidized) downtown makeover. These locally grown entrepreneurs are revitalizing downtown from the grassroots.

Of course, there’s plenty of fine sonic fare at our usual downtown stages. This Thursday, March 20, the Shedd offers the fourth appearance of the always delightful Celtic music duo, fiddler Alasair Fraser and cellist Natalie Haas. No one plays traditional Scottish fiddle more beautifully or engagingly. On March 22, the Hult Center hosts the 20-member ensemble Perú Negro, whose irresistible blend of music and dance, African and Andean sounds draws on slave protest songs and more celebratory music. Fueled by various African and South American percussion instruments (including a drum made from a packing crate) and guitars, the colorfully clad dancers make an exhilarating spectacle. You can do your own dancing to south of the border sounds at Cozmic Pizza when Grupo Picante plays live salsa on March 27 and Los Cumbiamberos perform Columbian cumbias on March 28.

On March 23, Sam Bond’s hosts Boston’s bluegrass/old-time string band Joy Kills Sorrow, whose banjo-fiddle-mandolin-guitar-bass lineup does just that, with regular Seattle visitors Hot Club Sandwich opening with their gypsy swing. The garage brings the wild, danceable Eastern European sounds of the Bay Area-based Balkan brass band Brass Menazeri on March 28, with our own electronic jazz funksters Eleven Eyes opening. And at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall, the wife-husband, piano-violin Cleveland Duo joins saxophone master James Umble to play an alluring program of new and 20th century music by Ravel, Bartók and several contemporary composers, including the John Adams who’s not the subject of a cable TV miniseries.