Festival Previews, Week 4

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Burnt Sugar Arkestra photo by Marco Floris

Syncopated Classics Band / Birch Pereira & The Gin Joints

Sunday, October 29, 7:30pm | Columbia City Theater
$20 adults | $18 Earshot members & seniors | $10 students & military

Greg Ruby & The Rhythm Runners is the band responsible for bringing to life the unrecorded music of Syncopated Classic by Seattle jazz pioneer Frank D. Waldron. Published originally as a saxophone tutorial book, Waldron’s Syncopated Classic has been reimagined by guitarist and acclaimed composer Greg Ruby, now performing the historic music with his band The Rhythm Runners.

A mutual love of Prohibition Era Jazz teamed Seattle’s Ruby with New York multi-instrumentalist Dennis Lichtman during a chance meeting in 2012. The two musicians expanded their project with the talents of New York-based Gordon Au (trumpet); New Orleans-rooted Charlie Halloran (trombone) and Cassidy Holden (bass); and Bellingham’s Julian MacDonough (drums). Audiences of this Syncopated Classic band can expect cleverly crafted tunes and an air of unabashed optimism, unmistakably resurrected from Seattle’s songbook of the Roaring Twenties.

Also on the bill: Birch Pereira & The Gin Joints transport you to the time of speakeasies and honky-tonks with early swing, country, and rock ‘n’ roll influences. As heard on their 2016 Earshot Golden Ear Award-winning debut Dream Man, upright bassist and “old soul” tenor vocalist Birch Pereira is joined by Jason Goessl (guitar); Adrian Van Batenburg (drums); Steve Treseler (sax/clarinet); and Ray Larsen (trumpet).

Yeah, But Is It Jazz?

Monday, October 30 & Tuesday, October 31, 7:30pm | Columbia City Theater
$18 adults | $16 Earshot members & seniors | $10 students & military

Drummer Chris Icasiano curates two nights of genre-defying “jazz,” featuring Seattle artists who expand the art form and make audiences question their own notions of what jazz is.

On the 30th, it’s Porter Ray, a leading voice of the new generation of Seattle hip-hop; Bad Luck, Icasiano’s project with Neil Welch (sax/electronics); and The Sky is a Suitcase: Mike Gebhart (drums), Carmen Rothwell (bass), Levi Gillis (tenor sax), Ray Larsen (trumpet).

Vocalist Porter Ray skews the modern experiment that is contemporary rap music wildly. Coming from the same blocks that spawned Quincy Jones, Jimi Hendrix, and Ishmael Butler, Ray showcases dexterous wordplay, unflinching honesty, and vulnerability, tempered with equal degrees of braggadocio and charm.

A force to be reckoned with, and a stalwart of the local avant-garde scene, Bad Luck “chop up time and space into jagged, unpredictable shapes, but sometimes they hit upon a quasi-funk groove that sounds like an asymmetrical avalanche,” says The Stranger’s Dave Segal. “Most of the time, you have no idea where they’re going, but they impel you to follow closely, no matter what.”

Self-described as “a melodic free-jazz band made up of kind, weirdos from Seattle,” The Sky is a Suitcase plays “sandbox music.” Much like playing in a sandbox, all forms of cooperation and destruction are explored.

On the 31st, King Tears Bat Trip, guitarist Luke Bergman’s four-drummer (Icasiano, Thomas Campbell, Kristian Garrard, Evan Woodle) free-jazz ensemble, with Neil Welch (tenor sax) and Brandon Lucia (electronics); rapper DoNormaal; and The Baby Snakes play ZAPPA.

“The first thing you notice when you listen to DoNormaal,” says Jackson Howard of Vice, “is the uniqueness of her voice: it slurs, falls, and bubbles out of her mouth like a water fountain. It’s simultaneously creepy and vulnerable, intimate and jarring, and her sing-songy hooks owe as much to Three 6 Mafia as they do to Nirvana.”

With unmitigated audacity, The Baby Snakes play ZAPPA is the legendary Queen Shmooquan, backed by a nine-piece band. Paying homage to Zappa’s fabled Halloween shows of the ‘70s and ‘80s and featuring arrangements by guitarist Simon Henneman and bassist John Seman, the group brings spooky jazz noise well-suited for a memorable 31st.

“These artists range from modern avant-garde improvisation to contemporary hip-hop to ‘60s prog,” says Icasiano, “but can all draw a direct line back to the Black American music called ‘jazz.’”

Gregory Porter

Wednesday, November 1, 7:30pm | Moore Theatre
$41.50–52.50 + fees

Presented by Seattle Theatre Group

Singer and songwriter Gregory Porter has a unique relationship with his audiences. A vocalist who subtly crosses the boundaries of jazz, blues, and R&B, Porter is a sophisticated, soulful, and consummately stylish performer whose last two albums, 2016’s Take Me to the Alley and 2013’s Liquid Spirit, won Grammys in the category of Best Vocal Jazz Album.

Porter’s singing, recalling the melodic intuition of Marvin Gaye, the honest and emotional touch of Bill Withers, and the dramatic depth of Johnny Hartman, has a musical poetry all its own. This sensibility shines through particularly in his songwriting, recalling his humble origins as one of eight siblings to a minister mother and a largely absentee father.

As a young man, Porter sang gospel on his own time, reserving his ambitions for the NFL. He received a full-ride scholarship to San Diego State University playing football until a career-ending injury in his junior year left him at a crossroads. Working relentlessly on his repertoire and writing, Porter gigged, workshopped, and networked his way into success, first as a singer for artists such as David Murray and Dianne Reeves, then on his own with 2010’s Grammy-nominated Water, before signing with Blue Note Records.

Porter has toured on stage and in festivals throughout the U.S. and Europe, collaborating with artists such as the electronic group Disclosure, Jamie Cullum, Buddy Guy, and Renée Fleming.
“To me, if I contribute anything to jazz, it’s my vulnerability and really thinking about the emotion in each song,” he has said.

Jovino Santos Neto & Martin Kuuskmann

Thursday, November 2, 8pm | Chapel Performance Space
$5–15 sliding scale

Presented by Nonsequitur

Rarely does the fortepiano meet mano a mano with the bassoon—though composer/pianist Jovino Santos Neto and virtuoso concert bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann will certainly have a few things to say about this marriage of winds and strings when they perform as a duo for this year’s festival.

Born in Brazil, Neto is a top-tier composer, pianist, flutist, and educator based out of Seattle. From his native Rio de Janeiro, Neto earned his bona fides touring and recording with Hermeto Pascoal and his group. In 1993 he moved to the U.S., and has toured, recording, and composed music in a bewildering variety of settings without losing his signature musical humor, inventiveness, and scholarly respect for the various traditions of South American music.

Neto has earned Grammy nominations through his Seattle-based Quinteto, composed music performed by the Seattle Symphony, and played with the likes of Paquito D’Rivera, Bill Frisell, and more, all earning him a spot in the Seattle Jazz Hall of Fame—and in the hearts of listeners worldwide. He is currently a professor of jazz composition at the Cornish College of the Arts, and also teaches in music camps in California and Brazil.

“He’s a star,” conductor Paavo Järvi has said of Grammy-nominated bassoonist Martin Kuuskmann. “His playing is world-class virtuoso playing…but I would say that his presence is his real strength as a soloist.”

Combined with this strength, Kuuskmann, a graduate of Yale and the Manhattan School of Music, has furthered the musical conception of his instrument through his modernization of bassoon technique, making one wonder why the instrument doesn’t take its place beside the tenor of Coltrane or the guitar of Hendrix. Modern composers such as Erkki-Sven Tüür, David Chesky, and Christopher Theofanidis have dedicated concertos to him, and, in addition to premiering these, he has performed works written for a variety of modern ensembles by composers such as John Patitucci and Daniel Schneider.

Aside from playing and recording with world-class orchestras and his own Absolute Ensemble, Kuuskmann has found time as an educator to give back to his musical communities, serving as the woodwind coach for the Baltic Youth Philharmonic, teaching at the Arosa Music Academy in Switzerland, and more. Currently he teaches at the Lamont School of Music at the University of Denver.

Black Rock Coalition Get-Down Revue /
Burnt Sugar Arkestra “Caramelizes” Prince

Thursday, November 2, 8pm | Crocodile
$20 adults | $18 Earshot members & seniors | $10 students & military

Tonight and tomorrow, Seattle gets a chance to experience the singular fire and funk of the Burnt Sugar Arkestra and Black Rock Coalition in three unforgettable, earth-shaking settings. As David Fricke, writing in Rolling Stone, said, “The BRC’s shows have been a great fact of New York life since the activist group’s founding in 1985. The BRC has long been rich in underestimated talent.”

Kicking off tonight is the Black Rock Coalition’s booty-shaking, finger-snapping Get-Down Revue, an all-star repertory jump through worlds of music, dance, legacy, future, blues, rhythm, rock, and soul. Based in The Atlantic Rhythm and Blues, 1947-1974 box set, BRC respects the artists who gave birth to rock and roll, but were often limited by racism, culture, geography, economics, and circumstance. BRC notes, “The music they recorded was often allowed to escape those boundaries and dance its way into the hearts of people around the world, calling disparate communities to move on the one—crossing lines and expanding humanity 8 bars at a time.”

Helmed by 25-year crowd-pleaser Luqman Brown (Dope Sagittarius, FunkFace), and never far from co-founder Greg “Ionman” Tate, BRC’s Get-Down Revue includes Shelley Nicole, V. Jeffrey Smith, Lewis “Flip” Barnes, Ben Tyree, Leon Gruenbaum, Greg Gonzalez, and Jared Michael Nickerson.

Founded by musician and iconic Village Voice writer Greg Tate, producer Konda Mason, and Vernon Reid, guitarist for Living Colour, BRC’s founding members initially gathered in an art gallery named “Jams” on Broadway to meet and, according to Tate, “air out certain gripes that people had about the ‘glass ceiling’ in music for Black musicians….Recording contracts and performances pigeonholed black artists playing rock, metal, thrash, and other forms of modern rock music into preset categories, creating a vicious cycle of misinformed consumers and misrepresented performers.” Their growing circle of musicians, artists, critics, and music professionals found a common cause. “When we started to think about this whole tradition of people in jazz, like Lester Bowie, Art Ensemble of Chicago, when they started their organization in Chicago, the AACM, they just put on their own concerts…in different meeting spaces,” Tate said.

Next up is the Burnt Sugar Arkestra’s “avant-funk and roll splinter cell,” Rebellum, featuring vocalists Shelley Nicole and Mikel Banks, in “caramelized” tribute to the late, great Prince.

Since its inception in 1999, Burnt Sugar has been a “maximum blend” multiracial crew of Sisters and Brothers from around the world, espousing to the motto “it takes a village” to succeed.

Earshot Jazz is proud to present what Rolling Stone calls “a multiracial jam army that freestyles with cool telekinesis between the lustrous menace of Miles Davis’ On The Corner, the slash-and-om of 1970s King Crimson, and Jimi Hendrix’ moonwalk across side three of Electric Ladyland” for two evenings of two distinctively legendary and different songbook performances.

Paul Kikuchi: 9066

Friday, November 3, 7pm | Japanese Cultural & Community Center of Washington
$16 adults | $14 Earshot members & seniors | $8 students & military

Marking the 75th anniversary of Executive Order 9066, which led to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, this performance—in a building used as temporary housing following the internment—uses pre-War music sourced from the Center’s collection of hundreds of 78rpm records, to create soundscapes incorporating live performance. The shellac platters came to Seattle with Japanese immigrants, or Japanese Americans bought them from stores in the city’s Japan town, which thrived until thousands of Seattleites, among 120,000 Japanese Americans, most U.S. citizens, were forced into concentration camps in the interior of the western United States.

Kikuchi says he wants his production to answer the question: “How can the music of a community help us to get an idea of who people were, and humanize immigrant populations, which is pretty important in the politics of today? But also, I’m just interested in what people’s musical collections were like.”

Kikuchi’s group includes him on percussion and vocalist Haruko Crow Nishimura (Degenerate Art Ensemble).
Presented with support from 4Culture.

Burnt Sugar Arkestra: We Insist! Freedom NOW

Friday, November 3, 8pm | Seattle Art Museum
$24 adults | $22 Earshot members & seniors | $12 students & military

In homage to Abbey Lincoln, Max Roach, and Oscar Brown Jr, the Burnt Sugar Arkestra Chamber revives and reimagines the legendary 1960s canon of Liberation music, with compositions specifically from the We Insist! Freedom Now Suite, Percussion Bitter Sweet, and It’s Time, as well as selections from some of Ms. Lincoln’s later solo work and from the Max Roach Quartet.

Under the conduction baton of founder Greg Tate (in gesture and spirit, continuing the flow of Butch Morris), the Burnt Sugar Arkestra includes Shelley Nicole (vocals), Mikel Banks (vocals), V. Jeffrey Smith (sax), Lewis “Flip” Barnes (trumpet), Ben Tyree (guitar), Leon Gruenbaum (keys), Greg Gonzalez (drums), and co-leader Jared Michael Nickerson (bass).

The Burnt Sugar Arkestra Chamber, founded by Village Voice sage Greg Tate and co-led with bassist Jared Michael Nickerson, was originally conceived in 1999 as a forum for the New York area improvisers to compose, record, and perform material, often through deployment of Butch Morris’s “Conduction” system, reflecting the breadth and depth of American diaspora music in the 21st century.

With an alumni that includes Matana Roberts, Vijay Iyer, Julia Kent, Graham Hayes, Okkyung Lee, and Qasim Naqvi, Burnt Sugar’s prodigious collective chops allow a wide swath through the avant-soul-jazz-hip-hop and rock spectrum along with a variety of songbook performances from Sun Ra to Steely Dan.

Gregory “Ionman” Tate likes to say the Burnt Sugar Arkestra is “a territory band, a neo-tribal thang, a community hang, a society music guild aspiring to the condition of all that is molten, glacial, racial, spacial, oceanic, mythic, antiphonal and telepathic.”

Steel House: Edward Simon, Scott Colley, Brian Blade

Friday, November 3, 8pm | PONCHO Concert Hall
$30 adults | $28 Earshot members & seniors | $15 students & military

Co-presented with Cornish Presents

Three world-class instrumentalists—Edward Simon (piano), Scott Colley (bass), Brian Blade (drums)—who met in New York in the early 1990s, convert their shared histories into nimble, poetic, genre-leaping music. This collaboration of visionary artists, each with their own robust composing, recording, and performing careers, promises to be a compelling evening of musical communication that stays deft and spell-binding, focused on moment-to-moment interaction.

Venezuelan pianist Edward Simon, a formidable recording artist, educator, and bandleader, is at the top of his game. His musical approach is to get to the essence of the message, communicating by making every note count. In 2010, Simon was named a Guggenheim Fellow and joined the all-star SFJAZZ Collective, which comprises top jazz performer/composers in jazz today.

On bass is Scott Colley, “one of the leading bassists of our postbop era, and a composer-bandleader of quietly serious resolve” (The New York Times). Embracing the unknown, searching for the unexpected, stands as a career-defining aspect of Colley’s musical path—one that continues to balance his role as a leader and a band member, as a creative collaborator.

Brian Blade, one of today’s leading jazz drummers, composers, and bandleaders, makes music that exists beyond borders, as demonstrated in his last Earshot appearance in February 2016 with his Fellowship Band. Sensitivity, honesty, and loyalty all inform his creative expression, but it’s perhaps his sense of spirituality that is most of all conveyed in every context. “When there’s a listener, when there’s someone to receive all your vulnerability and all your hopes and all your open heart,” Blade has said, “it completes something.”

Amina Figarova Sextet

Saturday, November 4, 8pm | PONCHO Concert Hall
$24 adults | $22 Earshot members & seniors | $12 students & military

Co-presented with Cornish Presents

Proving that many of the leading composer-arranger-orchestra leaders in jazz are women, Amina Figarova joins the likes of Carla Bley, Maria Schneider, and Mary Halvorson, adding her own independent voice to modern music, “one of the most important composers to come into jazz in the new millennium,” according to JazzTimes.

Born in Baku, the capital of the former Soviet state Azerbaijan, Figarova began her studies in classical piano, later studying jazz at the Rotterdam Conservatory in the Netherlands and eventually graduating from the Berklee College of Music in Boston. Now a Manhattanite with her husband, Belgium-born flutist Bart Platteau, she has over 20 years of composing, arranging, performing, and touring under her belt, as a solo performer and with her sextet, founded in Holland but based in New York since 2010.

Her phenomenal sextet includes Platteau on flutes, as well as New York-based Alex Pope Norris (trumpet/flugelhorn) and Wayne Escoffery (tenor saxophone). Escoffery, who has also worked with Eric Reed, Ron Carter, Ben Riley, and the Mingus Big Band, adds moments of inspired virtuosity to the Ellingtonian harmonies of Figarova’s compositions, backed by a fresh rhythm section including Jason Brown (drums) and Marcos Varela (bass). Their elastic ease in switches of mood, tempo, and texture are characteristic of the group’s remarkable longevity and testified in their rapid and unique musical communication, making the distinctive personalities in Figarova’s music shine all the more.

Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra with Wycliffe Gordon: The Art of the Trombone

Saturday, November 4, 7:30pm | Nordstrom Recital Hall
Sunday, November 5, 2pm | Kirkland Performance Center

Presented by Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra

Listeners looking for living proof of the big band tradition can look no further than the Seattle Repertory Jazz Orchestra (SRJO), which will be renewing its collaboration with composer, bandleader, and trombonist Wycliffe Gordon for a bill that’s sure to be a blowout.

Georgia-born Wycliffe Gordon was born into a musical family; his father was church organist and classical pianist, and he inherited a record collection from his great-aunt that included the recordings of Louis Armstrong and his hot groups. After shooting through the ranks of elementary and college-level bands, Gordon hit his stride with traditionalist Wynton Marsalis.

Gordon has toured worldwide as a performer, educator, and ambassador of jazz, teaching clinics and workshops to audiences throughout the U.S. With over 20 record dates as a leader under his belt, Gordon has earned the authority to play with brash and abandon in musical settings both large and small.

For those new to town, the SRJO is a Basie-ite supergroup of who’s who in Seattle music, a 17-piece big band founded in 1995 to wield an immense arsenal of swinging American music, from Fletcher Henderson to Gil Evans to works hitherto heard only on vinyl. SRJO is currently co-directed by Clarence Acox, director of Garfield High School’s acclaimed band, and saxophonist, educator, and composer/arranger Michael Brockman.

Having spearheading projects such as a recording of Jimmy Heath’s arrangements on 2010’s Jimmy Heath: The Endless Search, or their epic concerts of Duke Ellington’s sacred music at Town Hall, SRJO represents the best of the Northwest. Active in jazz education like Gordon, they will be sure to make this concert a lesson in rhythm and blues.


Posted on

September 30, 2017