New CDs from the Northwest
by Brett Campbell
Andrew Oliver Sextet 82% Chance of Rain (OA2 Records)
With his Kora Band and Portland Jazz Composers Orchestra, this hardworking young keyboardist has become a mainstay of that city’s jazz scene. Oliver’s memorably melodic compositions make smart use of retro tech like the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano without sounding merely throwback. Guitarist Dan Duval’s pieces unleash some crunchy electric axe-itement. Drummer Kevin Van Geem adds an indie rock vibe. And saxman Willie Matheis scores with a warm ballad, “I Am Yours.” His and Mary Sue Tobin’s soaring clarinet and alto and soprano sax lines herald the ascension of a band that can appeal to fans of new jazz as well as older subgenres.
Adam Hurst Elegy (Ash Records)
The Portland cellist’s seventh release marks a departure from the drone-grounded, solo modal improv of his live performances and recent CD outings. Hurst overdubs spare piano accompaniment that allows a richer harmonic language, more through-composed moments and, notwithstanding a couple of cuts (e.g. “Radiance”) with Middle Eastern rhythms and drone, a more European Romantic classical sound meets the old Windham Hill melodic acoustic style. As track titles such as “Elegy,” “Absence,” “Wake” and “Lament” suggest, the prevailing mood is melancholic, sometimes mournful, exploiting the instrument’s dark qualities. Others range from dramatic (“Summoning”) to plaintive (“Fragments”) to pensive (“View from Within”), all riding memorable, song-like melodies. The consistently somber mood across the 15 concise tracks makes it easy to bask in the haunting atmosphere.
Tango Pacifico Revirado (Furbco Records)
Classical musicians from Kronos Quartet to Eroica Trio to Yo Yo Ma have dabbled, with varying success, in the great 20th century Argentine composer Astor Piazzolla’s sublimely skewed nuevo tango. Although this Portland-based quintet features a pair of classical musicians (assistant concertmaster Ellen Furbee, bassist Jeff Johnson from the Oregon Symphony), this Piazzolla tribute deftly dances the line between tango’s origins in Buenos Aires’ corners of ill repute and Piazzolla’s undanceable ambitions, tweaking the traditional vs. modern tension that gives his music its edgy energy. All the members (including San Francisco bandoneon player Adrian Jost, veteran multifaceted guitarist John Mery and pianist Mika Sunago) who’ve studied this music at the source, expertly handle the tricky rhythms and shifting imagery of “Escualo” (which mimics the darting moves of its namesake, the shark) and the title track (which means “unruly, wayward, rebellious, irreverent”) and capture the fervor of “Concierto para Quinteto” and the cafe lilt of “Decarissimio” and “Fracanapa.” In ballads such as “Romance del Diablo” and “Milonga en Re,” Furbee’s lovingly nuanced, singing violin displays its classical pedigree yet never allows elegance to undermine the music’s passion.
Timbral Hut The Song in Front of Us; Earthword (Louie records)
The jazz-groove oriented Corvallis-based boutique label is back with a pair of releases from this collection of young players who happily combine seemingly irreconcilable elements such as African and other world percussion (Dave Storrs, though everyone percusses), folky songwriting (guitarist/pianist Monica Metzler), splashes of poetry and spoken-word, and woozy instrumentals including cello (Chris Rorrer), violin (Heather Figi and Alex Hargreaves (who adds mandolin), guitar (Nick Rivard), sax and trombone (Brian Meyers). Jazz is probably the closest descriptor, but this Hut’s amalgam of spacy late-’60s open-mindedness and 21st century youthful vim can intrigue anyone with an ear for the out of the ordinary.
Kevin Burke and Cal Scott Irish Session Suite (Loftus)
Arranging/inflating/orchestrating/transforming folk tunes into various “classical” forms is probably almost as old as music itself; most of the big name classical composers have such efforts in their catalogs. This time, though, the perpetrators are actual Celtic musicians Burke — the British-born longtime Portlander who’s numbered among the world’s finest Celtic fiddlers since his days with the Bothy Band — and Trail Band leader Scott. Along with some traditional jigs, reels and waltzes performed with the young Irish band Beoga and Portland bassist Dave Captein, the ambitious suite nestles traditional Irish dance tunes, persuasively arranged for string quartet by Scott, in a classical music structure and played by some of Oregon’s top classical string players.
Portland Vocal Consort Overture
Featuring singers from veteran Portland groups such as Cappella Romana and Cantores in Ecclesia, this exciting new ensemble led by ambitious conductor Ryan Heller smoothly handles a startling variety of repertoire from across the centuries, ranging from pre-Classical composers Victoria, Wilbye, Palestrina, Byrd, Shutz and more to later masters Debussy, Brahms and Mendelssohn to 20th century greats Rorem, Dello Joio, Finzi and more. This appropriately named introductory collection of short pieces recorded live at various Portland and Washington churches provides a splendid introduction to a fast-rising ensemble that’s already among the region’s finest.