Portland Jazz Festival 2011 - A Look Back
I had heard all the noise and all the hype surrounding Spalding, which historically is a sign of another pretty package being developed and marketed, but this was something completely different. When I heard that Pat Metheny had said that she had the "X" factor, I immediately became a little more open minded and even curious. It's been a very long time since someone considered part of the jazz mainstream knocked me out like this. Brad Mehldau certainly, but this is an artist who has star power. If jazz is going to survive in mainstream contemporary culture, a star is going to be required.
Regardless, it is completely extraordinary that someone so young has a grasp so strongly on whatever it is that is deep inside the creative spheres that beckon us. It can be found within the artists on the outer fringes of contemporary culture, but it is rare outside of that realm. Amazingly, it also exists in her bass playing as well. When you get to this level, comparisons rightly go out the window. She radiates poetry and beauty in all things artistically creative, but also those things which cannot necessarily be grasped by the human touch.
With the lights slowly dimming... Esperanza tenderly walked across the stage to a living room chair, a small wooden side table, a lamp, and a bottle of red wine that awaited her. After slipping off her shoes and pouring a glass of wine, she gently sat in the chair as lush chamber music played softly in the intimate and lavish setting. She was onstage in her native home of Portland, confident, relaxed and at ease. With the curtain opening, she moved to center stage, picked up her bass and with the first note her charismatic, poetic artistry owned us all.
But it wasn't only the audience who sensed something special was happening. Each member of the band was just as sensitive and respectful to her, and the moment as well. It clearly had a lot to do with the intensity and aura of this artist, which clearly is something to behold.
Each band member was well selected with the disciplined and adept Terri Lyne Carrington on drums, Lois Martin on viola, Sra Caswell on violin, Jody Redhage on cello and vocals, Leala Cyr on vocals and the underappreciated and talented Darrell Grant on piano. I have heard Grant on a number of occasions but it was here, in this setting, where he seemed to rise to another level of pianistic valor and grace.
Two years ago, a young jazz ensemble from Scandinavia made their debut appearance at the Portland Jazz Festival and to this day, it remains a favorite Portland Festival performance. Pianist/composer Nick Bartsch and Ronin returned again this year for an encore performance. Bartsch calls his band the Zen Funk quintet and describes his music as ecstasy through asceticism. This quintet (recorded on ECM) includes Kaspar Rast on drums, Bjorn Meyer on bass, Andi Pupato on percussion, and Sha on sax and bass clarinet. Bartsch explained that his music is based on the tradition of urban space, from the universal sound of cities. He went on to explain that the music draws its energy from the tension between compositional precision and the self-circumvention of improvisation.
But it is here, in the live setting, where the music worked surprisingly well. Think in terms of music being created architecturally, establishing a setting of moods within a newly discovered universe, and that universe is the place in which Bartsch's compositions reside.
Maceo Parker and his band closed the festival at the Crystal Ballroom, which is the perfect setting for this funk master's party like atmosphere. Funk is a music of a particular attitude and Parker is simply brilliant at being able to carry on a tradition with the enthusiasm and joy he seems to bring to the bandstand every single night. As he likes to say, he learned from the University of Funk, the school of James Brown and he carries on the tradition proudly. He also spent time with George Clinton, Ray Charles and even Prince.
Funk is a music and genre that does not receive enough credit, nor enough respect. It is one of the most original forms of American music that can make a statement when performed by those who know how to break the code. As with all great art forms, its simplicity is its complexity, and Maceo Parker is one of the most important artists to have enriched this music for future audiences to study and hear. He is truly one of the greats, and the day will arrive when people will wonder in amazement why they did not know more about this unique and creative artist.