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Portland Jazz Festival 2008

AAJ Staff By

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The musical brother of Ornette unquestionably was Don Cherry, whose son David Ornette Cherry (note the namesake) performed in the Paramount Hotel, conveniently right after and just around the corner from Ornette. The originally intended acoustic piano trio of this recently turned Portlander expanded threefold in headcount, plus each band member was a multi-instrumentalist. Taking over the hotel lobby space, countless instruments were strewn through the open area—including melodica, kora, piano, flutes, guitars and banjo, tenor saxophone and clarinets, acoustic and electric basses, talking drum, drum kit, balafon and various percussion, not to mention an odd dancing routine from what many initially thought was just an eccentric and moved audience member who at one point intentionally extended her routine to block hotel guests from getting to the elevator to get to their rooms! Cherry's ethnic-sounding, highly rhythmic ensemble and jam-based repertoire had the looseness of a Fela Kuti unit, and boasted an especially pleasant surprise in its undeniably most talented player—multi-reedman Tah Rei, whose foundation lay squarely on such strong European saxophonists as Peter Brotzmann and Bernt Rosengren as well recalling the "New Thing" tone of Pharoah Sanders. With all the sounds and textures on hand, the not-so pleasant surprise was the fact that Cherry strangely still on occasion relied on his electric keyboard as if discontented with the diverse palette of sounds already around him.

Myra Melford's Be Bread performed at the Winningstad, an Elizabethan 'black box'-style theater, which deceivingly holds up to nearly 300. It was curious that Melford's Be Bread was booked rather than her more recent Trio M group collaboration (with Mark Dresser and Matt Wilson), whose Big Picture(Cryptogramophone) release was one of last year's most memorable, speaking of the shape of jazz that's here and to come. Regardless, Melford (piano and the harmonium pump organ) played a strong, late-night set of music with Stomu Takeishi (electric bass), Brandon Ross (electric guitar), Cuong Vu (trumpet and effects) and Elliot Humberto Kavee (drums). Be Bread ran through Melford's compositions, including "To The Roof," which recollected the strength of the tune's appearance on the group's self-entitled 2006 Cryptogramophone recording. They also performed memorable compositions such as "Moonbird" (featuring a fantastic Vu solo, Melford on piano), "I See A Horizon" and "Knocking From the Inside." The ensemble's mesmerizing lines - in comparison to Ornette's set - reached the listener without getting lost in a muddy mix.

Former Portlander Tim Berne (alto) also played the Winningstad, with Craig Taborn (piano) and Gerald Cleaver (drums), a trio that certainly qualifies for The Shape of Jazz To Come moniker (as would any group under Berne's leadership). Their densely packed, highly rhythmic cyclic patterns and triangular exchanges and excursions varied in volume but not intensity. A fine move by festival organizer Royston was having fellow artists performing elsewhere during the festival offer introductions and concert-opening statements for their fellow musicians as Joe Lovano (in town with the SF Jazz Collective) did for Ornette, and Melford for Cecil Taylor. Berne gave one of the more memorable and ludicrously hilarious band introductions for The Bad Plus concert at the Crystal Ballroom. Incorporating a Scientology theme that involved Bad Plus drummer Dave King (we'll just leave it at that—it was a "you had to be there" off the cuff ramble), he immediately set the mood for the basically sold out crowd of near-900 as jovial and lively.

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