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Masters of Sax

Saxophones will be ringing this autumn, and Eugene Symphony opens the classical music season

After a decade exploring the classic, Sonny Rollins-style sax-bass-drums ensemble (and other trio configurations including piano, guitar and even electric bass) Eugene sax master Joe Manis has ventured into another classic jazz assemblage: the organ trio, featuring recent NYC-to-Portland transplant George Colligan (who’s teaching at PSU and making quite an impression in his own Oregon gigs on piano) at the keyboard. Todd Strait will man the drum kit for this show 9:30 pm Friday, Sept. 27, at Sam Bond’s. Manis has also made other changes, leaving his gig in the Cherry Poppin’ Daddies (see music) and landing a record deal with the venerable SteepleChase jazz label. As his excellent new album North by Northwest demonstrates, Manis hasn’t strayed from commanding sound and astute improvisations, nor from his inventive way with the classics, this time including songbook standards, tunes by jazz legends Monk, Coltrane and Lenny Tristano and appealing original compositions.

Another great improvising sax man, Chicago’s Ken Vandermark, has so impressed listeners with his imaginative explorations that he became one of the youngest recipients of a coveted MacArthur Fellowship (the so-called “genius grant”) in 1999. The former member of the NRG Ensemble has performed with some of the most out-there free jazzers of the era and explored noise music. He’s also capable of covering everyone from Sonny Rollins to George Clinton to Sun Ra and classic reggae tunes. He’s performing at the UO’s Beall Hall on Oct. 8 with another impressive improviser, trumpeter Nate Wooley, the Oregon native who moved to Brooklyn a dozen years ago but still returns home enough to remind us why big names like John Zorn, Anthony Braxton, Fred Frith, Mary Halvorson and more keep his number on their favorites list. Together, Wooley and Vandermark should be an explosive combination.

He won’t be improvising much, but still another sterling saxophonist, Kenneth Tse, will play contemporary classical music on Oct. 6 at Beall Hall. A professor at the University of Iowa who’s snagged a slew of major awards, Tse will be accompanied by pianist Matthew Pavilanis. Also at Beall, Seattle-based retro singer/ukulelist/cornetist Casey MacGill picks a time period and plays different kinds of music that were happening simultaneously. So at his trio’s free concert on Sept. 28, you might hear Nat Cole-style cool crooning alongside Fats Domino, New Orleans boogie or Fred Astaire show tunes.

The classical music season opens at the Hult Center this Thursday, Sept. 26, with one of the Eugene Symphony’s most appealing programs of the year, a Franco-Spanish flavored tapas menu that includes the inevitable popular tunes from Bizet’s opera Carmen and more music by great French composers looking toward Spain. Everyone knows Ravel’s Bolero, but even after repeated listening, it offers surprises and thrills beyond that implacable melody. Claude Debussy’s Iberia colorfully depicts the French master’s impressions of Spain’s street life, festivals and (as one movement is titled) “The Fragrance of the Night.” And speaking of Spanish nights, the program includes one of the 20th century’s most magical works for piano and orchestra, Nights in the Garden of Spain, which the great Spanish composer Manuel de Falla began while living in Paris during a crucial period of his development; here he met Ravel and Debussy as well as Igor Stravinsky. Rising pianist Orion Weiss is at the keyboard. 

Public drunkenness, insulting a public official, jail time, wild parties, lewd flirting, disguises, inebriated singing, deception, revenge, sneaky affairs … must be back-to-college time! Actually, it’s “The Bat” ( or “Die Fledermaus”), Johann Strauss’s ever-popular 1874 operetta, which Cascadia Concert Opera is performing around Oregon this month and next with a stop at The Shedd Oct. 4. The champagne-and-waltz-fueled frothy comedy, whose plot revolves around comeuppances and scheming about extra marital dalliances, is this year’s production from Cascadia Concert Opera, the Eugene-based group that for the past few years has brought scaled-down but high-spirited concert performances (in English and accompanied by piano) of popular operas to small venues such as churches, senior centers and other places and audiences who might not otherwise encounter it.