Kicking down meaningless categories
by Brett Campbell
|Surprise Me Mr. Davis|
The first time I saw the Benevento Russo Duo at the WOW Hall, I was blown away by the jazzy/jammy pair’s high-energy improvisations and the stirring textures Marco Benevento unleashed from his keyboards. Now the Brooklyn-based circuit- and genre-bending keyboard innovator brings two other ensembles: his groovy jazz/instrumental rock trio with bassist Reed Mathis and drummer Andrew Barr, which engagingly juxtaposed low-fi toy sounds and acoustic piano on the new CD Between the Needles and Nightfall, and a fun, folkish rock band called Surprise Me Mr. Davis that’s basically Boston’s The Slip plus Benevento and ThaMuseMeant singer Nathan Moore, who revel in their mid-’60s influences — the Byrds, the Band, Brit pop rock and more. Both bands perform at the Axe & Fiddle in Cottage Grove on Saturday, June 26.
Musicians like Benevento demonstrate just how silly it is to try to cram creative musicians into increasingly meaningless categories like “jazz.” The music definitely has improvisational moments, but owes as much to rock and jam styles, particularly in the drumming, as to purer jazz influences like Benevento’s idol Brad Mehldau. So when he covers Amy Winehouse in the midst of a set of stirring originals, it all sounds cohesive and compelling. Versatile musicians like Benevento, who embrace contemporary music influences with real integrity and draw enthusiastic young audiences to improvised instrumental music, are among the keys to jazz’s future.
Another touring ensemble that invigorates jazz with outside influences, Incendio, plays Cozmic Pizza this Friday, June 25. The slick L.A. “world guitar fusion” trio — bassist Liza Carbé and guitarists J.P. Durand and Jim Stubblefield — veers dangerously close to “smooth jazz” at times, but its flamenco-fueled virtuosity, other world music elements and guitar interplay still impress and draw fans of jazz, jam and world music.
The jazz resurgence definitely applies locally, too. Portland seems awash in young jazz talent, some of whom (e.g. Esperanza Spalding) have hit the national spotlight, and the Eugene scene is constantly refreshed by fine young players emerging from the UO’s strong jazz program. One of the finest recent grads, pianist Ben Darwish, has quickly become one of Portland’s hottest jazzers. His trio plays a free public house concert Thursday, June 24, at 911 W. Broadway.
Whitney Moulton grew up in Pleasant Hill, and after the UO, headed east for a master’s degree and thence to N.Y. to soak up the jazz vibes in Jazz Mecca USA, including performing at landmarks like Minton’s and Birdland. The bassist-composer recently returned to Oregon and is teaching at Willamette University — but not before recording a promising sextet CD in Brooklyn. Comprising mostly original tunes, New York Time shows Moulton trying out different styles and voices — ballads, bop and postbop, modal, a slightly spikier modernist track — all of them solidly grounded in mainstream territory that should appeal to even casual jazz fans. Her quartet performs June 26 at Roaring Rapids Pizza.
An important source in the local jazz revival has been the downtown Jazz Station. As incubator, laboratory and greenhouse (not to mention gallery and educational space), the little volunteer-run, donation-supported Broadway storefront, a project of the Willamette Jazz Society, has provided crucial rehearsal and performance opportunities for many young (and not so young) emerging local musicians, including already accomplished improvisers who crave a space to test out more experimental directions that maybe don’t quite fit a club atmosphere. The Jazz Station can offer glimpses of jazz’s future. For instance, this Friday, June 25, improvisers Don Haugen (from the noise world), Douglas Detrick (a recent UO jazz grad) and Jeff Kaiser will play electro acoustic music on self-designed instruments and electronics. Next Friday, July 2, this creative space celebrates its fifth anniversary with Lotus Jazz playing melodic jazz at the 5:30 First Friday art opening, and then at 8 pm, the Douglas Detrick Quartet (with Hashem Assadullahi on soprano sax, Josh Hakanson on drums and Kevin McDonald on bass) will recreate one the great soprano saxophonist and composer Steve Lacy’s finest moments: the Evidence album he made with trumpeter Don Cherry, followed, in time honored fashion, by a jam session. Unlike some note-by-note rock classic recreations (Dark Side of the Moon et al), a jazz revisit can add a dimension to the original, so even though this music will be two generations removed from the original source material (Monk, Ellington), it likely won’t feel like a copy of a copy, but rather a point of departure to new horizons. The same can be said of much of the new jazz emerging these days, in Oregon and elsewhere.