Eugene Weekly : Music : 4.3.08

Jazz Explorations
Hot sounds all over town

Gravitas Quartet

When jazz gets adventurous, it often means raucous, dissonant — “out there,” as they say. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but it does mean that jazz-oriented musicians who are testing the boundaries sometimes get avoided by music lovers with low tolerance for arrhythmic squeak-honk. And it overlooks the fact that some of jazz’s greatest innovators drew on advanced classical music techniques and harmonies to make accessible yet forward-looking music. One of jazz’s prime musical innovators, Wayne Horvitz, who brings his Gravitas Quartet to the Shedd this Thursday, April 3, earned his avant-garde credentials on New York’s roiling downtown scene in the 1980s and plays all over the world with some of the most progressive musicians on the planet — John Zorn, Fred Frith and his like-minded New Yorker turned Seattlite Bill Frisell. He’s scored soundtracks for Gus Van Sant and stage shows for Bill Irwin and various dance groups. Yet although the composer-pianist can cook with the bet of them in ensembles such as his Zony Mash, Horvitz, like Frisell, also has a quieter (not to say mellower), more ruminative yet no less advanced side. His Sweeter Than the Day ensemble has won plenty of mainstream fans, and his new Gravitas Quartet, featuring Frisell collaborator Ron Miles on trumpet, Peggy Lee on cello and Sara Schoenbeck on bassoon (yes, you read that right), lives up to its name with pensive, beautifully realized, velvety textures and shades, plenty of space and real feeling. Its surface restraint is quite unlike almost every other ensemble of similar ambition and should appeal to fans of classical, jazz and postclassical chamber music.

Another jazzy classical duo, Double Image, has been quietly exploring avant jazz territory for three decades. Dave Samuels (best known for his two decades with Spiro Gyra) and David Friedman weave understated yet compelling improvisations on marimba and vibraphone, whether on jazz standards, free improv or their original compositions. They’ve won wide acclaim and plenty of awards, played or recorded with Wayne Shorter, Chet Baker and even Luciano Berio, Stan Getz and Frank Zappa and set the standard for keyboard percussion. You can hear them in room 163 of the UO Music School April 12.

UO trumpet master Brian McWhorter plays an awesome variety of avant garde music — jazz, classical and everything in between; his new duo with new music flutist Molly Barth, Beta Collide, plays a free show at Willamette University’s Hudson Hall in Salem April 5. They’ll be joined by pianist David Riley, percussionist Phillip Patti and electronic musician and sound artist Stephen Vitiello. On April 15, yet another daring duo, the Massachusetts jazz-electronica-world beaters Enuma Elish, returns to the UO’s 100 Willamette to play their new soundtrack to Fritz Lang’s restored silent film classic, Metropolis. Still another group with jazz and classical influences, the California Guitar Trio, plays the WOW Hall on April 6. And the Jacob Fred Jazz Odyssey, which merges jazz, rock and electronica, plays the WOW April 16.

The UO faculty boasts its own musicians who cross the porous jazz-classical border. On April 8, saxophonist Idit Shner and pianists Alexandre Dossin and David Riley play a couple of Brazilian classics by Heitor Villa-Lobos, three Brazilian inflected pieces by the school’s emeritus prof Victor Steinhardt and recent music by Terry Vosbein and Ida Gotkowsky. Shner and saxist Jesse Cloninger (who’s performed with jazz stars such as Maynard Ferguson and Joe Lovano as well as the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies) also join Swing Shift for a free Basie-flavored show April 11 at Springfield’s Wildish Theater. Steinhardt, meanwhile, joins his UO colleagues in Trio Pacifica and guests on April 15 for a Beall Hall concert featuring that pinnacle of chamber music, Schubert’s String Quintet, and a rarely performed late Romantic work by German composer Robert Kahn.

Even the Eugene Vocal Arts Ensemble gets into the jazzy act in their April 4 concert at the Shedd, which starts with Renaissance madrigals (with the Byrdsong Early Music Consort), swoops up to contemporary choral composing star Eric Whitacre’s spiffy “Leonardo Dreams of His Flying Machine” and then swings into vocal jazz (setting Shakespeare lyrics) with a combo led by Vicki Brabham.

Jazz even creeps into Celtic music. Irish fiddle master Martin Hayes (now of Seattle) and guitarist Dennis Cahill, who light up the Shedd April 11, have played with Celtic stars like Kevin Burke and wild cards like Darol Anger. They start with traditional tunes and soar off into improvisations worthy of Django and Stephane. On April 13, Celtic harp star Kim Robertson, whose 22 albums include some improvisation, plays Irish music as well as classical (“Jupiter” from Holst’s The Planets) and more at Beall Hall.

There’s more world music on April 6, when Kef and the Klezmonauts play jazzy, funked up klezmer and Israeli dance music at Tsunami Books, and on April 16, when the award winning Hawaiian chanteuse Raiatea Mokihana Maile Helm sings at the Shedd.

Oh, and since we’re parlezing about French music, one reader apparently made the mistake of actually taking something I wrote (a certain faux-nationalistic dairy-primate epithet I jokingly applied to a mention of another recent concert of beret-wearing-bike-renting wine sippers French music) seriously. I figured anyone who’d seen any of my previous discursions into political japery would understand that it was meant as a poke at any grandstanding Republican warmonger jingoistic American political figure who’d use such a term. I further assumed that our readers understand that everyone who writes for EW has signed the Kucinich loyalty oath, achieved the proper result on the mandatory drug test (positive) and passed all the other tests of strict political correctness (Che, Groucho). If these assumptions were erroneous, veuillez accepter mes excuses les plus profondes. Paix out and au revoir, y’all.