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November 2nd, 2005 Tim Duroche | Featured Stories
 

Playing The Changes

Portland's barely legal boppers lead the way to a new jazz.

     
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"Talk to young jazz players and many will still tell you to make it you've got to go to [NYC] and try to get gigs—you come to grips with Miles Davis, come to grips with the evolution of the language, where contemporary jazz is going, as well as being aware of other musics." —Cecil Taylor

Never mind that free-jazz great Cecil Taylor said that in the early 1960s. The idea that New York City is the place for young jazz talent has been the prevailing attitude for eons. That city remains a lure and a good incubator for talent, but believe me, the times they are a-changing for jazz.

Resources for upcoming jazz artists are plentiful in more places than the jazz capital. Information is available with a quick search on Google or Wikipedia, instruction can be found with great high-school and college jazz programs, it can all be heard on extensive catalogs available on CD, and plenty of young, commercially successful role models abound (Jamie Cullum, Nellie McKay, Eldar, Norah Jones and Jason Moran, to name a few).

In Portland, programs at the Beaverton Arts Magnet, Portland State University and Mount Hood Community College, along with the havens for inner-city youth like Ethos and all-ages shows at Jimmy Mak's and LV's Uptown are helping to cultivate the young and jazz-prone. We also have award-winning talents like Mel Brown, Darrell Grant and Thara Memory ushering young players from band camp and schoolroom to the stage. These institutions give Portland musicians a good base in the art, but the real goods, in the true spirit of jazz, are coming from contraband corners where hip-hop, noise, indie-rock and world influences are being trafficked, remixed and snuck under the jazz-carpet.

The stylistic straitjacket that Lincoln Center's jazz-policy wonks Wynton Marsalis and Stanley Crouch advocate for jazz (the it-don't-mean-a-thing-if-it-ain't-got-that-swing dogma) is meant to keep up an outdated appearance, and it simply doesn't apply to the most exciting young jazz artists. What we're seeing lately, on the fringes in Portland and beyond, is a type of jazz that mirrors the birth of jazz: a simmering gumbo of mainstream, outsider, exotic and seductive sounds that redefine the parameters of acceptable musical behavior.

Twentysomethings interested in improv and jazz are finding footing through disparate forces like that anointer of hip Thurston Moore (of Sonic Youth), jam bands, hip-hop, 1970s Miles Davis, Mahavishnu, experimental drum-'n'-bass and electronica, the odious swing-band craze, and the piano-trio-plays-Radiohead phenomena of groups like EST, Brad Mehldau and, most significantly, the Bad Plus, which plays Berbati's Pan Thursday (see Music listing, page 35). At local clubs like the Tugboat Brewing Co., Dunes and the Red & Black Cafe—one of the best new venues for more experimental jazz talent—a lot of younger PDX players are approaching jazz as a broad four-letter word of discovery that goes far beyond the familiar anxiety of bebop-influenced, what-would-Miles-do? logic.

Rather than being a thing of the past, jazz is a statement of the future. Here's a small sampling of young players who are mapping that future while raising the bar for jazz in Portland.

DAN DUVAL
Age:
22
What:
Guitar
Where:
Andina, Red & Black Cafe, Portland State University, Tugboat

Dan Duval is soft-spoken and witty (not unlike Bill Frisell, one of his models) and very smart. But don't be fooled, he's not one to back down from a good dodge-and-parry around music, art and ideas. A nimble improviser who's devoured the gypsy bag of Django Reinhardt and the tone-bending canvases of Frisell, Duval has made good use of the area's resources, studying with PSU's Darrell Grant, Dan Balmer, Alan Jones, Glen Moore and John Stowell, among others. Duval came to jazz through the circuitous trajectory of Dave Matthews-meets-Phish-meets-electric-Miles Davis, eventually attending Boston's Berklee College of Music, where the student body "was 3,000, 1,500 of whom were guitarists," chuckles Duval. Scalewise, a move to Portland made sense. Instead of competing with 1,500 other players, here he could "be up on the call-list" for gigs—which has landed him regular solo work at Latin-guitar haven Andina and jazz gigs with his own group Fiction Junkies at the Red & Black and other spots.

ANDREA NIEMIEC
Age:
25
What: Bass
Where: Koji Osakaya, Brasserie Montmarte

Jazz in the 21st century is still in many ways a boys' club, adrenal blowing dates with huffing bassists, perspiring saxophonists and blustery brass displays of "top that, mutherfucker." Which isn't to say that contrabassist Andrea Niemiec wouldn't throw down and mop the floor with a drummer or two—but it's still all too rare to see women on the bandstand unless they're singing or playing piano. Niemiec is proof that it needn't be the rule. An exceptionally intuitive player (she garnered "Outstanding College Bassist" laurels at the Reno International Jazz Festival while attending the University of Oregon), she has a confidence and rhythmic buoyancy that is mature beyond her 25 years. Already she's worked with some of the crème-de-la-crème of Portland jazz players, including Alan Jones, John Gross, Nancy King, Randy Porter and veteran drummer William Thomas, who puts the young bassist at the top of his call-list, saying, "She bottom-fishes right in the pocket."

DREW SHOALS
Age:
22
What: Drums
Where: Red & Black Cafe, Tugboat, Blue Monk, Bitter End

Portland native Drew Shoals is a laid-back, extremely likable player who exudes an infectious ease and remarkable finesse behind the drums. Irreverently referring to his music as "gangstajazz," Shoals has been busy working with Three-Fifths Compromise, Ben Darwish, Fiction Junkies, Warren Rand, Janice Scroggins, Renato Caranto, the Chris Mosley trio and others, quickly becoming the drummer to watch in town. An award-winning soloist at the 2005 Lionel Hampton Jazz Festival, Shoals is a sly bandstand presence who joyfully interrogates tunes. An African-American studies major at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Wash., Shoals first encountered jazz through spoken word. While at Jefferson High School, he was heavily influenced by local jazztronaut Mike Van Liew, who introduced him to the wide-open possibility of the music, which led him from Mahavishnu Orchestra and fusion to Love-inspired grooves—and eventually to the jazz equivalent of a gateway drug: The Bad Plus. This opened the door for a further, speculative (at times, impolite and bone-worrying) take on jazz. Solidly grounded in pulse and forward motion, Shoals is able to balance on the fulcrum between boom-chick-a-rocka-chick and ching-chicka-ching. He is also faithful to all schools, old (and older) and new, and is one of the most talented, fresh voices on the scene. Catch him now, before New York grabs him up.

DUSTY YORK
Age:
27
What: Saxophone
Where: Jimmy Mak's, Tugboat

Soon to release his third CD, Dusty York (son of local tenor great Michael York) supports his 99 percent original songbook and a steady working group through waiting gigs at Bluehour and the Brasserie Montmartre. In the entrepreneurial spirit of Mingus, Max Roach and Sun Ra, York is running a small recording label, Diatic Records, where he is taking control of not only his own destiny but that of his peers and elders (among them, Farnell Newton-Marcus Reynolds, pianist Gordon Lee, John Gross and Dave Frishberg). Dedicated to a rough-hewn '60s hard-bop feel steeped in high energy and risk, York is amassing a great body of work for a younger player. Couple that with cultivating a stellar stable of artists and you've got an artist-friendly label to be reckoned with. Unlike most of his peers, York has also had the rarefied experience of learning jazz the old-fashioned way, through his father and a coterie of seasoned, salty bebop practitioners—it's an exceptional way of learning, and unfortunately one that isn't carrying over. While jam sessions, college programs, and jazz resources are thriving on the Internet, the simple oral tradition and mentoring—like fathers playing catch with sons—isn't happening like it once was.

These may be a few of my favorite things, but they aren't the only young jazz players deserving a much deeper, wider audience: Check out bassist Willie Blair; guitarist Chris Mosley; pianists Dan Gaynor, Andrew Oliver, Ben Darwish and Greg Goebel; and saxophonists Malcolm Lewis, Willie Matheis and Mary Sue Tobin.


Duval and Shoals play with Matt Wiers as Fiction Junkies Wednesday, Nov. 2, at PSU's Smith Student Union. Noon. Free. All ages.

Niemiec plays with the Randy Porter Trio and Reinhardt Melz Sunday, Nov. 6, at Abou Karim. 7:30 pm. Free. All ages.

For more on Dusty York's Diatic Records, go to www.diaticrecords.com .

 
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