Oregon Music News: Oregon’s all-genre music magazine since 2009


2022 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival Preview

By MICHAEL SHOEHORN CONLEY// The festival is back live. There is a wide variety of Jazz to be enjoyed in person. February 4-26 all over town.

Portland once again welcomes talent from around the country and the wider world for the 2022 Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, Presented by PDX Jazz, which takes place in February. This will be the 19th annual wintertime jazz festival in Portland.

The event is roaring back from the virtual medium of last year’s event with a generous helping of national talent, including Kurt Elling, the Chicago vocalist noted for his original poetics, joined by innovative guitarist Charlie Hunter.

Some interesting solo performances include pianist Brad Mehldau, at the Winningstad Theater the 17th, and the guitarist Mark Ribot, from New York City’s storied downtown scene, hits the Jack London Revue the following night.

Northwest favorite Diane Schuur is playing the 18th at the Winningstad, followed on the 19th by alto saxophonist and Miles Davis alum Gary Bartz, performing both an early set and later show. The later sets foster a big-city vibe in Portland, where shows tend to end fairly early compared to big cities elsewhere. Being an alto saxophone player myself I try to hear notable voices on the instrument. (you can read various reviews I've done on the OMN website)

One of the acts definitely falling outside of the mainstream jazz element would be Flor de Toloache, a female Mariachi group that this writer has seen in a festival setting back east. Females in the Mariachi world are a relatively new phenomenon, and these performers bring a lot of passion and energy along with their formidable chops and stirring harmonies.

There are some intriguing trumpet players on the lineup, one being Chicagoan Marquis Hill performing Monday the 21st at the Old Church, and a favorite of mine,(again someone reviewed in a previous festival) Christian Scott Atunde Adjuah. Scott is part of a family with deep roots in the Mardi Gras Indian tradition from New Orleans, and he brings a beautiful, clarion tone and a bold attack to the trumpet, reminiscent of Armstrong, which he also filters through electronics to create formidable textures suggestive of progressive rock sounds usually created by keyboards and electric guitars.

Angel Bat Dawid, another Chicago player, is a clarinetist, multi-instrumentalist, and vocalist who has created a following far beyond the shores of Lake Michigan, and is known for recording her critically lauded album “The Oracle” using only her cell phone.

Portland continues to export young talent to the East Coast and beyond, including Domo Branch who returns home playing in a trio with Gerald Clayton and Ben Feldman. Last month Branch and his high school bandmate Charles Brown III presented their program of Thad Jones/Mel Lewis big band arrangements at the Gerding Theater in Portland. At that show Branch, exuding unforced charisma, surprised the audience by first conducting an original wind chorale number before getting behind the drum kit to kick the band. These young musicians did a great job animating challenging charts by Thad Jones for that legendary outfit, whose legacy lives on in the Vanguard Jazz Orchestra, which played this festival two years ago, also reviewed on this website.

Saxophonist Lakecia Benjamin is another extraordinary talent, and she will be performing February 26th at the Alberta Rose Theater. I have heard just a few clips of this young artist and was very impressed. The Alberta Rose is a wonderful venue of a comfortable size, with great production values.
Four-time Grammy winner Robert Glasper is back this year, essaying various styles and currents of American music and weaving them together in his Black Radio Production.

We'd like to mention some of the local talent, including the Blue Cranes, performing at the Alberta Abbey on Saturday February 26th. Among local acts playing at the Jack London Revue are vocalist Julana Torres featuring her conga-playing father Bobby Torres; Mel Brown's B3 organ group featuring Christopher Brown; and Trumpeter Max Ribner and his band First Language. The Jack London is an intimate nightclub with top-notch sound and a speakeasy ambiance, located in the basement of the Rialto Poolroom on SW 4th Avenue.

It's good to see the festival highlighting the work of female musicians, who were not always taken seriously in this art form. We have a couple of interesting female headliners to look forward to on the 23rd, one being Brandee Younger, who plays jazz music on the harp, with partner Dezron Douglas on bass in a duo. At Jack London Revue that night will be Sasha Berliner, an up-and-comer on the vibraphone.

One show that I've been looking forward to personally is an act called The Cookers. These are veteran players, most of them over 70, who were around making records in the 60s and 70s with some of the originators of bebop and hard bop. One of the younger members of the band, Donald Harrison, an uncle of Christian Scott, is an actual “Big Chief” of New Orleans Indian fame, and a supremely accomplished sax player. (also reviewed on this site)

But the Cookers’ elder statesman is Cecil McBee, who was born in 1935. In the cover story on the band for the January 2022 issue of Downbeat Magazine he said “I let naturally transpire whatever responsibilities pertain from doing the tune– which in this group are quite varied. Nothing is the same. George Cables, myself and Billy Harper, and Billy Hart on other records– have dynamically opposed concepts. I just play myself. If things are unpredictable, that excites me, because then I have a chance of learning something else. That's one thing this group offers. I'm constantly picking up things that broaden my capabilities.”
That statement by McBee pretty much encapsulates the enduring appeal of this artform for musicians and fans– it is an ever-evolving genre mixing low-down roots and grooves with high concepts, and a challenging armature for creativity, expression, and personal growth.

For tickets, complete scheduling, including free events, and information about the festival’s Covid protocols, please go here.

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