2010 Portland Jazz Festival
Perhaps the most underrated member of the quintet and in my mind, one of its most important is vibraphonist Steve Nelson. This is a musician who can match the creative sensitivities and humility of Holland and has the ability to build around the solid foundation that Holland aspires to. He always plays within the music with a respect that is second to none, but because of the chops in this band, can be overlooked. Importantly, he also appears to be re-inventing himself musically and artistically along with letting his emotions become more transparent. I feel this is a significant key to his more recent creative growth but perhaps that's not a surprise from such a beautiful and sensitive humble player and artist.
I have always felt the Portland, Oregon audience shared an appreciation for music that is at a higher level than most and is one of the reasons I'll make the trek to catch particular acts. Pharoah Sanders was no exception and received a long standing ovation prior to playing a note. He is an icon and wonderful representative of this important music and history and hearing his very first note was a reminder of his majestic voice and presence. On several occasions he brought out local saxophonist Devin Phillips who did himself proud in the presence of his "idol." But perhaps the stand out of this set was from the young drummer I mentioned earlier, 18 year old Justin Faulkner. This young man captured the audience with his technical dynamics and intensity but I was most impressed by his ability to get inside the music and bring the feel and time alive through his own voice. It was almost magical and one hopes he doesn't take this gift lightly. There can be a tendency for a young player to get caught up in the enthusiasm shared by the audience over dynamics, speed and flair but the truth is always in the "time and feel" which can create its own unique intensity.
One of the first Norwegian acts that I caught was the group, In the Country, which consists of Morten Qvenild on piano, Roger Arntzen on bass and Pal Hausken on drums. One of the very impressive aspects of this charismatic ensemble is its ability to take the listener to what I imagined to be the stunning landscape of Norway. The music was very in the moment and their use of spacing provided a graceful pastel texture. Additionally, their chemistry and style was also quite apparent and I was reminded of the beautiful creative late spirit of Sweden's Esbjorn Svensson. It should be pointed out that in the group's previous two performances, not more than twenty people attended but on this night, 500 plus were in attendance. That's not as much the group's doing as it has to do with Bill Royston and the new managing Director, Don Lucoff. Again, what a great job this staff has done with a festival that almost didn't survive 2009. Accolades must also go to Portland's music and arts community and their sincere efforts to work together to educate and support the greater Portland community.
On the last day of the festival, I had the honor of interviewing Dave Douglas prior to his performance at Portland's Crystal Ballroom. He would be performing with one of his latest musical incarnations, Brass Ecstasy, in memory of the late great Lester Bowie. As I mentioned in my introduction of Douglas, I believe his music will be a significant part of the tradition that future generations will be studying and researching. He has that rare ability of being able to write compositions that clearly have a respect for the past but are not bound by it. Additionally, the compositions are representative of our time and have that inherent character of courage and risk taking that seems to be inclusive of the work of visionaries regardless of the art form. The music is assessable but at the same time, it pushes the boundaries into new territories within its own creative spirit. It is a genius that cannot be taught and one that I believe is shared by not just Bowie but all the members of the Art Ensemble of Chicago of which he was a part.