Saturday, July 26, 2008

DJ Shadow and Cut Chemist rock the turntables at the Roseland

For my birthday treat last night I went and saw my favorite mix-master DJ Shadow (first time for me) at the Roseland theater. He was accompanied by a DJ I didn't know by the name of Cut Chemist playing one of the last three shows of a yearlong project they called the Hard Sell.

After enduring the many indignities of the Roseland (every time I go there I'm reminded of why I rarely go there), such as the security search that all but left me needing a cigarette afterward, the 45 minute wait just to be able to get up to the balcony and get a drink, and the hordes of ganja-reeking hipsters, I was able to kick back and enjoy the show.

Let me just say this: we may live in an era when ever other person you meet claims to be a DJ, but real ones, like Shadow and Cut Chemist, are so far above the cut it isn't even funny. They had an entertaining, retro-style projected video intro that explained some of the tricks of the DJ trade, such as using precisely-placed strips of tape to create loops. They did it all without computers, using only turntables, pedals and an echo machine (not being an amateur DJ, I don't really know all the lingo so bear with me here.) They used only 45s, and each of them had a couple of hundred close at hand.

I was especially impressed with the variety of styles they brought into play: heavy metal, country, old-school funk, hip-hop, strange, obscure covers (such as a woman singing the Gilligan's Island theme song to Zeppelin's 'Stairway to Heaven' music). They displayed a great sense of humor, consummate artistry in skills I don't even pretend to understand, and had a great rapport; they were just a couple of guys up there doing what they do best, and it showed. If anyone has a chance to see either of these guys, I'd highly recommend it. Makes me want to go see more hip-hop oriented shows; Mos Def, the Hieroglyphics crew, and others are coming in the next couple of months and I might just put up with the Roseland bullshit to see such quality acts.

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Sing Verdi's Requiem tonight with Steven Zopfi and the Portland Symphonic Choir!

Tonight and next Wednesday are the annual 'Summer Sings' concerts presesnted by the PSC. Our A.D. Steven Zopfi will conduct tonight's performance of Verdi's massive Requiem, and next Wednesday our Assistant A.D. Anna Song will conduct Faure's Requiem (don't let the title fool you; it's quite a happy piece for a requiem) and also his Cantique de Jean Racine. The cost is only $7 and you can borrow a score at the door. If you're a current singer, a long-lapsed chorister or you've just always wanted to try, now is a great chance to sing some masterworks and chat with many of your friends and neighbors who sing with the Portland Symphonic Choir.

Come to the Moriarty Arts and Humanities Building on PCC's beautifully upgraded Cascade Campus the next two Wednesday nights at 7 pm and join in the fun. Details are here at the PSC website. I'll be there, and if any of my blog readers show up, please introduce yourselves! I'd love to meet you.

Monday, July 14, 2008

CD Review: Rachel Taylor Brown's "Half Hours with the Lower Creatures."

Rachel Taylor Brown has been getting a lot of good press lately (from NPR among others) and after listening to her new CD Half Hours with the Lower Creatures, it's easy to see why. I really enjoyed the vast majority of this very personal exposition. Each track has a subtitle to it, such as 'the goad,' 'waste,' 'whack,' etc., which I couldn't make much sense of but since I am a big fan of subtitles, parentheticals and the like, I think it's great. The first track I might've subtitled 'Trio for voice, Found Sounds and Toy Piano.' It's a lengthy, diverting opening that segues seamlessly into the second track (as does each track into the one that follows it.)

It's obvious from listening to this that RTB has issues with Judeo-Christianity (ahh, don't we all) but her way of expounding on it is honest and without overt malice. The most powerful track for me is passion (the goad), which is just what it says: a story about the passion of the Christ, only with an emphasis on its misuse in fleecing the flock. She's got a very clever, subtle way of staggering the relatively straightforward vocals and piano; there’s a story just underneath the text that you have to intuit (rather than interpret) by listening to the music. In another dead soldier in fallujah (waste), Brown cuts right to the chase and delivers a criticism of the war in Iraq with sensitivity and compassion, yet mercifully absent any tawdry schadenfreude at our boondoggle over there. After passion, the instrumental arlington and the penultimate track vireo, a brooding and organic dirge, are the strongest tracks for me. I detected hints of Tori Amos, Elliot Smith and Queen (a little too much of that one for my personal taste) here but from start to finish, Lower Creatures, is by and large a winner This album lives in the atmospherics, which are sometimes more difficult to create accurately than dazzling the listener with tricky music. Be prepared to sit down and listen to it in one sitting; it makes much more sense that way.

Monday, July 7, 2008

New Article: "Diary of a Rookie Homebrewer" up at Primer Magazine

Primer Magazine just published a feature piece of mine entitled "Diary of a Rookie Homebrewer." While it is (obviously) mostly about beer, it does deal with the nexus of beer and music as focal activities in my life. Check it out here at, and leave a comment if you are so inclined!

Friday, July 4, 2008

Review of Bach's B-minor Mass at NW Reverb

I had the great pleasure of attending a performance of Helmuth Rilling's Mass in B-minor at the Schnitz last week, and wrote a review of it here at Northwest Reverb.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CRPDX lights up the Someday Lounge

Members of Classical Revolution Portland (with a little help from a group of singers from Opera Theater Oregon) held their monthly Chamber Jam at the Someday Lounge on June 24th. This cool little lounge with the wistful, faraway-sounding name (with a great stage for such a small place) is one of the usual haunts for CRPDX, and is also home for the OTO, so everyone felt right at home both in the audience and onstage. While I wasn't able to attend the second half, there was definitely enough great music in the first two hours of the show to write about here. (If you don't already know who CRPDX is and what their goals are, check out the links above, and I've always got them linked off to the side of this blog.) I wasn't able to get the names of all of the performers who played in the pieces listed below (informality is one of CRPDX's hallmarks) so if anyone who is reading this performed or knows who the performers are, please chime in in the comments section! I'll mention the names of the ones I do know.

The evening started out with a Mozart String Quartet, K 155, written by the maestro when he was only 16. The performance was mic'd, which I strongly disapproved of at first. As the night went on and the crowd grew louder however, I soon realized the wisdom of this decision. After all, CRPDX is about taking classical music to new spaces and different audiences with a whole new set of ground rules (or none at all,) so using a microphone so that a lounge crowd can still be a lounge crowd was a good choice after all, despite the inherent flaws of an amplified performance.

Some slight intonation problems from the low strings (which were unfortunately magnified by the microphone and might not have easily been noticeable otherwise) occasionally marred the beginning, but once they got warmed up this seemed to work itself out. Still, it's hard to be too picky; this is a chamber jam after all, jam implying an informality of sorts that makes it difficult to pick apart a performance. There were four guys up there, good musicians all, doing what they loved, and that came through loud and clear. The following Andante and Allegro (I don't know the piece well and there may have been a fourth movement in there somewhere) were largely crisp and clean, the way I love my Mozart. It's still a little strange for me to hear clapping in between movements, but again, that's kind of the whole point of this kind of thing. From a logical standpoint, each movement, while part of a larger whole, can also stand by itself, and if one isn't familiar with the traditions of classical music (or is performing in a space where those rules don't matter) it makes sense and is polite to clap at each full stop. So bring on the applause.

Next up I was thrilled to see Tuesday Rupp and Ben Landsverk, both of whom I've written about recently (in my post about the Rachel Taylor Brown show at this blog in Ben's instance, and about Tuesday in a review of In Mulieribus at Northwest Reverb.) One of the highlights of that performance for me was Tuesday's riveting solo on A Chantar m'er, an ancient, heart-wrenching song about rejection. She sang it again last Tuesday night, with Landsverk improvising on the viola, and Tuesday joining in for the occasional muffled battery on a bodhran of some kind. Tuesday's delivery was almost savage, and Landsverk's accompaniment, which even took the form of a long solo at one point, was never dull to hear; he used a lot of open, droning strings that gave it an appropriately ancient feel. I was definitely glad to hear this song again, and in its new iteration it lost nothing of the qualities that I liked so much about it in the first place.

Next up was a piece by French composer Andre Jolivet, Chant de Linos, which as far as I can tell was originally written for flute, string trio and harp but in this case was transcribed for flute and piano. The pianist may have been Adam Whiting, and I'm not sure who the flutist was but I wish I did so I could give her props; she was really good, and played this virtuosic piece marvelously. It was very far out; atonal in parts, using strange rhythms, a work based on an ancient form but using the most modern compositional techniques. Parts of it reminded me of Debussy's famous Syrinx for solo flute. At one point this work seemed to have a soporific effect on the boisterous lounge audience, and everything quieted down almost to nothing in unintentional homage to this eerie, captivating piece.

Next was a requiem for piano and four cellos by David Popper, a Czech composer working during the latter half of the 19th century and the first decade of the 20th. When emcee Mattie Kaiser announced that the next piece was a requiem, someone from the audience shouted out "who died!?" and this drew some hearty laughter. No one seemed to know, so I looked it up and apparently Popper wrote it for Daniel Rahter (it was originally scored for a full orchestra plus the cello trio,) who was one of his early publishers. The piece was also played at Popper's own funeral by some of his students.

Kira Whiting played piano, joined by (if I'm correct) Adam Whiting and Amy Winemiller and another cellist whose name I don't know. Kudos to all the pianists, btw, for playing so well on an instrument that was just ghastly out of tune. Just another quirk of many in the evening. At any rate, parts of the piece struck me as rather cheerful for a requiem. The maudlin, 'pathetique' sections were intoned sensitively by the cellists. This called for a big, bold sound, and the group delivered just that. The Requiem was a big hit with the crowd. [NOTE: See the comment below for updates/corrections.]

The first half (and for me, the night) closed with a large ensemble piece that Mattie had been referring to quixotically all evening as 'the F. Mercury concerto.' My friend Jeanne who attended with me caught on rather more quickly than I did, and asked 'is that as in Freddie Mercury?' Sure enough, a large group of singers from the OTO took the stage, along with electric guitar, bass and drums provided by the Karaoke from Hell band who play at Dante's Inferno. It would've been hard to pick a better closer than Queen's Bohemian Rhapsody. Everyone was dressed to the 9s, the soloist did a good job with the extremely difficult task of trying to match Freddie's tessitura, and for all that it was a bit raucous and had a few rough edges, honestly, do you really want anything else from a performance of a work by glam god Freddie Mercury?

Although I've seen CRPDX members play in other formations before, this was my first true CRPDX jam, and I couldn't recommend it more highly both to traditional classical music fans and to those who may have no idea what classical music is about, but have an interest in checking it out in an informal setting. I was talking with Maria, one of the OTO singers with whom I've sung in the Portland Symphonic Choir, and she spoke enthusiastically about how this was how classical music was heard back in the day, how Mozart might have listened to much of his music in a rowdy tavern. I couldn't agree more. While I still love all the frills and traditions and stuffiness that goes along with classical music, I understand how that could be a turn-off to someone who is new to the genre, and CRPDX is a great introduction to the world of this incredible music.

I'm sad I wasn't able to stay and hear the Vivaldi, Verdi, Schumann, Shostakovich and Donizetti that made up the second half. For three bucks. Just goes to show that the quality of music and the cost of getting in the door can often have nothing to do with one another. If you want to have a kick-ass time listening to great music, check them out at the Salem Arts Fair and Festival on July 20th or at Costello's Travel Cafe on July 31.