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Angelique Kidjo
Angelique Kidjo

2023 Biamp Portland Jazz Festival preview

By MICHAEL "SHOEHORN' CONLEY // This year's Biamp Portland Jazz Festival begins on Thursday, February 16 and runs through Saturday, February 25. Here are the highlights.

It's February in Portland! That means it's time to throw one of the city's largest music festivals, the Biamp PDX Jazz Festival, which celebrates its 20th anniversary in 2023. For an overview of previous years and impressions, please follow this link for reviews by this author. 

The festival runs February 16-25, 2023. Here are detailed roster and scheduling information.

Once again, audiences will have a wide range of styles and generations of musicians to enjoy. There are some old masters such as Dave Holland, the bass player who initially gained prominence with Miles Davis in the 1960s, and the venerable and difficult-to-classify guitarist Bill Frisell, in a quartet with pianist Gerald Clayton, saxophonist Greg Tardy, and Rudy Royston, a drummer who has been racking up an impressive tally of album credits as a sideman in recent years.

One distinguished elder I'm personally looking forward to catching is Hubert Laws, appearing with his quintet. I've never taken a deep dive into Hubert Laws work but he's been on the scene for 60 years at least, is widely regarded as one of the leading voices of jazz flute, and released a string of popular recordings in the 1970s on CTI and other labels. Laws is one of the first true crossover players, who recorded classical flute repertoire and worked as a symphonic player while moonlighting with Mongo Santamaria and other jazz acts in New York City nightclubs.

In my research for this article, I looked for his social media accounts and found video clips on Instagram of Laws performing duets in his home with various instrumentalists, and one concert excerpt in which the beauty of his solo line and expression transcended the distorted quality of the audio. It's rather interesting to me as a performer who also posts clips on social media and YouTube to see a big name like Hubert Laws posting such homespun content.

While we expect the concert will be polished and well produced, there's something endearing about his Instagram presence! Laws received the National Endowment Jazz Masters award 2011.

Blues harmonica fans have a couple of reasons to attend this year with the veterans Charlie Musselwhite and Curtis Salgado, appearing at Revolution Hall. Musselwhite’s discography runs from 1967 to the present day– recent releases include Mississippi Son, 2022, and from 2020, 100 Years of Blues (with Elvin Bishop), both on Alligator Records. Local harpman Curtis Salgado also qualifies as an elder statesman at this point, with a 50-year career that started in Eugene in the 1970s. Salgado has featured his songwriting and vocal talents more than his harmonica skills on recent recordings, such as Damage Control from 2021, where he plays harmonica on just 2 of the 13 selections. Salgado and Musselwhite will also participate in a pre-show “Jazz Conversation” with Ashley Kahn.

Some artists in their prime who are appearing this year include Mark Giuliana, the Electronica-influenced Jazz drummer; trumpeter Ambrose Akinmusire; Afrobeat superstar Angelique Kidjo; and saxophonist Mike Phillips, veteran of national tours with major music stars including Prince, Stevie Wonder, and Michael Jackson.

Several younger artists who have been generating buzz in the Jazz press will be present this year as well, including keyboardist James Francies, who has toured with Chris Potter and Pat Metheney; the duo of Taylor McFerrin and Marcus Gilmore; New Orleans groovers Dumpstaphunk with British keyboardist John Cleary; trending band Butcher Brown; and the artist Moor Mother, who brings heartfelt poetic narratives to the music.

New York arranger and slide trumpeter Steven Bernstein is known for prominent sideman roles as well as fronting several interesting bands, including the Millennial Territory Orchestra. This year he will bring his Sex Mob unit to Portland for the festival. Years ago the band played at the now-defunct local club Jimmy Mak’s on a tour stop.

The festival also offers the Portland audience it’s curated framing of artists living in our own neighborhoods and working in the city, such as George Colligan, in a trio with Eric Gruber and Michael Raynor; the (spectacular) Mel Brown B3 Organ Group; the Gordon Lee Quartet; and the Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble, presenting Ekta:The Unity Project, with Brazil-born Portland pianist Jasnam Daya Singh.

Other local acts include chanteuse/author Storm Large and her Burlesque Big Band, which is a new project for the TV-famous Pink Martini warbler. And anyone who hasn’t yet experienced the stunning and accomplished multi-instrumental musicianship and singing of Jet Black Pearl might want to check out her trio Friday the 17th at Artichoke Music, one of many free events going on during the festival.

On the global level, in addition to Angelique Kidjo, we have offerings including the Australian band Hiatus Kaiyote as well as Yemen Blues, a multinational, rollicking outfit founded by the Israeli Ravid Kahalani and featuring Yemeni oud player Ahmed Alshaiba. Yemen Blues borrows rhythmic devices from Africa and Latin America as much as from the Middle East. Ethiopian vocalist/cultural activist Meklit will perform at the Reser Center, underscoring Ethiopia’s long history as a source for deep cuts in a funky jazz idiom favored by cognoscenti.

The programming once again has something for everyone to enjoy, from the marquee events to the freebies, from straight-ahead jazz to contemporary, up-to-date postmodernism, world music, and adventurous duos exploring underexploited textures hinted at by masters of yore. Additionally, the festival is presenting at venues throughout the city, from cozy clubs like the Jack London Revue and various hotel lounges to our favorite mid-sized theaters to the new Reser Center in Beaverton.

The Biamp Portland Jazz Festival runs February 16-25, 2023. Here are detailed roster and scheduling information.

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