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Portland Jazz Festival 2008

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Very much in line with the festival theme, The Bad Plus continue to bridge the gap between the traditional jazz crowd and the downloading generation. Ethan Iverson (piano), Reid Anderson (bass) and Dave King (drums) have gathered a repertoire based off of standards (not to mention strong originals) rooted in their generation, and not just jazz either. The band played several tunes featured on their latest release Prog (Heads Up): rocking-yet-jazzy renditions of such '70s rock anthems as Rush's "Tom Sawyer" (King donning the Neil Peart meets Rashied Ali "hat") and an extended rendition of David Bowie's "Life on Mars" (with an ever-intense improvisational-based conclusion), were intermixed with originals such as Iverson's "Mint" with its escalating spiral staircase-like twisting progression and frequent intensifying drum breaks, and Anderson's "Physical Cities" and "Giant." The latter featured an extended bass solo intro that segued into another King spotlight - from delicate brush work to digging his elbow into the floor tom, creating a musical creak that Denardo Coleman could only have envied because of the sonic clarity of the mic placement and acoustic superiority of this space versus the Schnitz (high rock club-like volume doesn't hurt either in this case). In comparison, Denardo looked as if he were pantomiming in the Schnitz. And in dedication to the festival's marquee performer and theme, The Bad Plus intuitively showed that Ornette's music is ever relevant to those young ecstatic and still impressionable ears with a rendition of his "Song X." Royston (a huge Bad Plus supporter for many years now as they've frequently played Portland thanks to him), has always realized the band's potential and core audience and so for this occasion set aside the entire and sold out balcony section to the under-21 attendees, safely distancing them from the main floor of delicious micro-brews on tap that Portland and the Northwest boast! He warmly addressed and pleaded to those in the wings at the end of the set's standing ovation: "Please don't let this be your last jazz show!"

Saxophonist/flutist Rob Scheps and veteran bassist Glen Moore (charter member of the well-known group and local favorite Oregon) played at the basement ballroom of the Marriott Waterfront Hotel, opening for Cecil Taylor in an intriguing if not quite curious double-bill. The artists realized this blatant fact as well. At one point, Moore frankly announced to the audience, "Thanks for allowing us to entertain you... We are but small flies on the windscreen...(but) we are looking forward to—as you are— hearing Cecil." Their performance of "Moot," with Scheps percussively doubling by tapping his saxophone's keypads as well as music stand, and "Caravan" demonstrated that there were a few sonic links between the duo's set and Cecil's ensuing one. Perhaps urged on by the daunting and once in a lifetime circumstance, Scheps on the latter stretched and heightened his tone's frequency, given he still maintained melodic clarity. Their set of such standards as "Cheek to Cheek" and "Lover Come Back To Me" overall provided no auditory preparation for the whirlwind that would soon touch ground, or rather lift the piano and stage (not to mention listeners' ears) skywards.

Cecil Taylor then performed before the nearly sold-out crowd, his ambidextrous approach sounding as if he were playing lines that in reverse would be swinging like mad. Characteristically his less than 3- minute encores served as "Cliff Notes," providing the most densely digestible portions of his lengthy sets. That said, Taylor overall might have been at his most introspective and subdued. He still resorted to his typical two-handed patterns with the inevitable note cluster orgasm thrown in - but there was a level of accessible musicality and even beauty on either side of these orgasmic note clusters. These gaps, or rather moments—intentionally left voids if you will—have become the true treasures that mark Cecil's legendary performances. Still, listeners can't get so comfortable as to let their defenses down. You still can't allow your ears to blink as you just might miss the sun peeping out from the densely aligned cloud covering (it should be noted it was a mix of sun and clouds the day of this performance). Towards the end of his set, he offered his very personal poetry reading, then sat back down to play, finally rewarded—like with Ornette—by a lengthy and deserved standing ovation.


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