2012 has been one of the brightest years in terms of Jazz’s popularity in recent history. The same could be said for our own Jazz scene here in Portland. The “do it yourself” spirit of our community means that our hometown talent is equipped with the know-how and resources to make big splashes with little budgets. But there’s also something intangible about our creative capital here in the rose city, maybe it’s in the air (or the rain). Whatever the case, here are some of the albums, trends, collectives and concerts that we’ve found intriguing this year at KMHD.
-Matt Fleeger, Program Director
The Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
This wonderful 12 piece ensemble (the brainchild of pianist Andrew Oliver and saxophonist Gus Slayton) exists for one sole purpose: to further the creation of new Jazz compositions (and composers) from Portland. In 2012, the Ensemble brought audiences new music in different concert settings around the city. In 2013, they’re launching PJCE records – a label that will release one CD per month of original music performed by Portland musicians. To find out more, click here: PJCE
Ezra Weiss’ “Our Path To this Moment”
This excellent CD, featuring compositions by Portland-based pianist Ezra Weiss played by saxophonist Rob Scheps’ Big Band quickly made it’s way up the JazzWeek charts, earning critical acclaim around the world along the way. Weiss’s dramatic, lush compositions work perfectly in the big band setting here, making this a truly special home-grown project.
Esperanza Spalding’s “Radio Music Society”
This ambitious crossover release, from Portland’s most famous Jazz musician, might just be the best endorsement our scene could ever get. Spalding chose this platform to introduce the world to Thara Memory’s American Music Program, and to many other Portland-based musicians including: Janice Scroggins, Stan Bock, Renato Caranto and more. Perhaps best of all, this excellent record was able to do the impossible: gaining mainstream media attention; commercial radio airplay and landing Spalding (and some Portlanders) musical guest spots on Letterman and Leno.
Hailey Niswanger’s “The Keeper”
If you’re a regular listener to KMHD, you probably heard a lot of Hailey’s newest release – the Keeper. Comprised mainly of Niswanger’s own compositions, this record really stood out as a very serious example of a Jazz composer and saxophonist who sounds far beyond her early 20′s in terms of musical development.
Todd Bishop’s “Little Played Little Bird”
Drummer Todd Bishop released this excellent assortment of under-represented Ornette Coleman tunes with a Portland quintet (made up of Tim Wilcox, Weber Iago, Bill Athens, and Richard Cole) on Origin records early last summer. We haven’t been able to put it down since.
The Bridgetown Sextet’s “The New Old Fashioned”
The liner notes to this Portland institution’s newest disc begins: “75 years ago Jazz was a rebellious, hip, high-energy, hard-driving, untamed, unpredictable, and unapologetically joyous cult phenomenon, and on these tracks it still is.” If that doesn’t beg a listen, I don’t know what does.
John Stowell and Ulf Bandgren “Throop”
A beautiful new release from Portland’s John Stowell and his friend of many years Ulf Bandgren. Stowell is a empathic player, adept at working in the duo setting and this new release on the Seattle-based Origin record label is a real gem. The compositions here showcase the personalities of the two players, each song provides the listener with highly rewarding dynamics. A real treat for audiophiles and their systems.
The Wishermen “Drawing Purple Orbits”
This quintet became a band while studying at the prestigious Alan Jones Academy of Music (just one of the many, many excellent institutions for musical learning in Portland). They became friends, started writing and found their own terrific sound:
Curtis Salgado’s “Soul Shot”
We’re not sure what’s more amazing, the fact that Curtis Salgado did a left turn with his excellent new release (made up of deep-cut soul and R&B selections), or the fact that he beat lung cancer in time to sing at the Waterfront Blues Festival. Whatever the case, his new release on Alligator records was fun, soulful and one of our favorites of his to date.
We’re well aware that we live in a special place…but thanks to a certain TV Show, the rest of the world is learning how enticing “weird” can really be. Maybe that’s why Portland’s diverse Jazz scene inspires some of the best and brightest international Jazz musicians to plant their roots in this fertile soil. Our scene has been enriched with the addition of PSU faculty member George Colligan who has been playing with seemingly everyone around town (when he’s not touring with Jack Dejohnette). Another transplant of note is guitarist Ryan Meagher who has two excellent releases on the “Fresh Sound/New Talent” record label under his belt, and has started a Jazz Composers Jam session on Wednesday nights at Vintner’s Cellars in the Pearl district. Trumpeter Tom Barber is yet another welcomed addition to this community of players – and has been gigging around town with the PJCE and others.
Cathedral Park Jazz Festival
The Cathedral Park Jazz fest was on death’s door before a group of citizens, musicians and organizers swooped in to save it this year. The result was a renewed festival with an emphasis on local performers (well curated by the talented Mary Sue Tobin) that drew some of the largest crowds in recent history. We can’t wait to see what the festival has cooked up for this year! Here’s a little snapshot from this summer’s festival:
PDX Jazz at the Mission
PDX Jazz, the sponsoring organization of the Portland Jazz Festival, has stepped up their game this year in a major way, bringing international talent to town through their series at McMenamin’s Mission Theater year-round. Audiences have been treated to performances by Miguel Zenon, Nik Bartsch’s Ronin, Cuong Vu, Tin Hat trio, In the Country and many more. They’ve augmented this series with local players presenting special material designed particularly for the concerts. In 2013, the festival (Feb 14-24) celebrates its 10th anniversary with the biggest Portland Jazz festival to date.