Sensuous, Passionate Roots Rock Reggae
I-chèle and the Circle of Light celebrate new CD
BY VANESSA SALVIA
There’s nothing traditional about I-chèle — you’ve probably seen her around town; she’s a recognizable figure with waist-length dreadlocks and leopard print dress. I-chèle grew up in New York City, where she studied theater and dance, but she craved a more natural life than what the East Coast could offer.
|I-chèle and the Circle of Light, untifyno. 9 pm Friday, 2/16. McShane’s • $5 • 21+
Once transplanted to Oregon, I-chèle enjoyed country living and met a musician who became the father of her son. “He covered me in the umbrella of music,” she says. This was the ’70s, and the couple played on the streets and in cafés. During their separation I-chèle began playing more guitar. Then she met Bibbs Goff, a musician from Belize and “a musical uncle” to many around town. He brought her into a reggae band called Arousing Spirits. Circle of Light came to be after years of playing with Goff, and about seven years ago became I-chèle and the Circle of Light.
I-chèle’s last recording, a cassette from 1993, has its charm, but her newest, Salon d’ Esoterica, is something to be proud of. Her reggae is a potent mixture of rootsy rock — spare except when highlighted by sax, violin, trumpet or keyboards — and smooth, liquid vocals; it’s what you might expect if Sade switched from jazzy R&B to reggae.
The CD was produced and mixed by Vince Black, a Eugene resident who has worked in reggae and blues for decades. His musical accomplishments include performing and recording with Black Uhuru, Andrew Tosh, Wailing Souls, Prezident Brown, Eek-a-Mouse, Lee Perry, Ken Boothe … everyone who’s anyone in reggae. I-chèle and Black met backstage after a Circle of Light gig. Since then, I-chèle says, Black has “fortified my musical life … he’s the wind beneath my wings. Vince mixed the music so that it’s lush … it’s sensuous in a way that is appropriate for all ages.”
Circle of Light was the backing band for the Northwest Showcase of the 2006 Northwest World Reggae Fest, an experience I-chèle describes as “amazing.”
I-chèle doesn’t find being a woman to be an obstacle in reggae and says most women really want to hear women sing. “There’s a respect I know I’m obligated to have for this music,” she says, “because I was wandering around and found it and wanted to come into it, but that wasn’t the house I grew up in. I always give props to the sisters who paved the way for other women.”
Heroes and Villains join the sideshow
BY ADRIENNE VAN DER VALK
Heroes and Villains are the chosen people. Last year, they were chosen by Harold Von Killian, a renegade performance mastermind from Slovovia living a life of artistic exile in Portland. They were chosen to help him create the latest incarnation of a show Von Killian crafted over decades traveling with his adopted gypsy family of clowns, acrobats, musicians and freaks: the No Ring Sideshow and Traveling Spectacular. They were chosen, according to drummer Scott Magee, because Heroes and Villains embodies the surreal aesthetic and old-world whimsy that is quintessential to Harold Von Killian’s vision.
|Adam Raitano of Heroes and Villains with Harold Von Killian
“We hope it impresses The Ringmaster,” Magee says, his voice brimming with trepidation. “It is a dubious honor.”
Magee and his bandmates won’t be alone in their attempt to make Von Killian’s latest vision a reality. The WOW Hall stage will come alive with a swirling array of flashing petticoats, lumbering stilts, mini-bikes, contorted bodies and dizzying hula hoops, moving not only to Heroes and Villains but to the old-time jazz stylings of Trashcan Joe and the off-beat of the March Fourth Marching Band. The latter, a glittering ensemble of performance artists (35 in all), has taken xylophones and bass drums off the football field and into fairs, rock concerts and roller derby venues and has become a staple of the funky sideshow scene. Described as a “Fellini-esque mix of Mardi Gras mayhem, Afro-beat, Mexican hustle, sultry samba, big band and gypsy folk,” March Fourth can move bodies and souls and will bring a spectacular visual element to Von Killian’s cast of bohemian misfits.
With a cast of characters rounded out by the Alberta Street Clown House, the second year of the No Ring Sideshow (it’s not a circus!) is “guaranteed to be 75 percent more entertaining, 50 percent more clownery, 85 percent more sideshow and 115 percent more spectacular,” than last year, according to Magee. Will Harold Von Killian be present to witness the efforts of his anointed artists? While this mysterious figure remains largely behind the scenes, Magee assures audiences they won’t be left wondering about this stranger from the East.
“We will bring The Ringmaster.”
Harold Killian’s No Ring Sideshow and Traveling Spectacular. 9 pm Saturday, 2/17 • WOW Hall • $7 adv., $8 door
People’s Prima Donna
Dawn Upshaw’s sublime voice and vision
BY BRETT CAMPBELL
The qualities that make Dawn Upshaw the world’s most necessary singer aren’t the traditional accoutrements of divadom: outsized pipes, range and ego. Sure, the thrice-Grammy honored soprano has the chops to sing most of the big classical song cycles and opera roles and is as in demand as any other star singer of her generation. But far more than any of her contemporaries, Upshaw has the artistic range and courage to pursue new and unusual musical currents. Her radiant singing in overlooked 20th century repertoire, such as Gorecki’s Third Symphony, sets new standards. She grew up singing protest songs with her folk musician family, and her natural, approachable singing style (far from the stereotypical wide-vibrato, stentorian “operatic” wailing) have made her a favorite of contemporary composers such as Osvaldo Golijov. Her fiercely passionate performance of his Ayre song cycle with Eighth Blackbird at California’s Ojai Festival was one of the most moving musical moments I’ve ever experienced. She’ll perform music of Golijov, as well as Stephen Foster, Olivier Messiaen, Ruth Crawford Seeger and more, at the Hult Center on Feb. 17.
Few composers have had as eventful a life as electronic music pioneer Jon Appleton: A red diaper baby whose parents were blacklisted, he ran away from home (L.A.) to New York and the South Pacific; embarked on various other peregrinations and love affairs in Japan, Scandinavia and Moscow; helped develop the groundbreaking electronic instrument called the Synclavier; studied at the UO; taught at Darmouth … well, you can listen to his fascinating narration (and get a good sense of his music through its accompanying soundtrack) at eamusic.dartmouth.edu/~appleton/bio/incompletebiography.html On Feb. 17, the UO’s Future Music Oregon program brings Appleton back to Oregon for performances of four of his works. This is an ideal opportunity for anyone new to electronic art music to sample some of the most appealing sounds of anyone in electro-academia.
Also at the UO: On Feb. 16 the UO’s Beall Hall has Ravi Shankar’s greatest protégé, sitar master Kartik Seshadri, accompanied by tabla player Arup Chattopadhyay. His last show at Beall created an utterly spellbinding atmosphere which put his unbelievably virtuosic technique in the service of some magnificent ragas from the classical music tradition of North India. Indian as well as Middle Eastern colors tinge the original music of Portland cello virtuoso Adam Hurst; he returns to Cozmic Pizza on Feb. 21 for another evening of sinuous, low-register sonic adventure.
One of the happiest developments in last year’s music scene was the emergence of a regular group of Baroque music specialists, often pulled together by harpsichordist and Baroque violinist Margret Gries, performing occasionally around here and Southern Oregon. When played on the instruments and in the manner the composers intended, Baroque and early classical music sounds radically different from modern imitations. On Feb. 24 at Episcopal Church of the Resurrection (3925 Hilyard), Gries’ Oregon Bach Collegium will perform J.S. Bach’s scintillating second Bandenburg Concerto and a concerto and two cantatas by Bach’s great contemporary, Georg Philipp Telemann. It’s a rare chance to hear that famous trumpet line played on a Baroque instrument, which sounds quite different from the modern version.
Another welcome appearance last year was Cherry Blossom’s informal concerts of original music by local composers and performers. This month’s edition, on Feb. 18 at Tsunami Books (admission free, donations accepted), features music by Oregon composers Paul Safar, Gary Noland, Jack Gabel, Michael Coolen and Jeff Winslow, performance poetry by Carter McKenzie, and various local dancers — from tap to tango — and musicians.
Let’s also applaud the return (after a few years off) of another tasty local institution: the Oregon Mozart Players’ Chamber Music & Chocolate concert, which this time happens Feb. 22 at Springfield’s new Wildish Theater. The show features Dvorak’s ever-popular “American” String Quartet, Gershwin’s “Lullaby” and an undisclosed rock song arranged for string quartet — plus plenty of scrumptious desserts. These informal presentations knock some of the stifling formality off of classical performances and make it easy to enjoy sweet music.
Old traditions get a boost of new energy at the Shedd this month. On Feb. 16 the young Hawaiian ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro brings his extended range axe to town to play music never thought possible on the instrument. Lane County has a surprisingly strong uke community, so we’re part of the uke revival that’s happening all over the country. In fact, the instrument never really went away after its initial fad; George Harrison, for one, composed much of his music on it, and Shimabukuro will almost certainly play his quicksilver version of “While My Guitar Gently Weeps.” A similar revival has been powering bluegrass music in the past decade, and the Boston-based quartet Crooked Still is one of the bands bringing rock vitality to Appalachian sounds. They’ll bring their banjo, cello, bass and vocals to the Shedd on Feb. 25.
Jazz, too, has benefited from an infusion of modern rock, hip hop and funk influences, and one of its prime purveyors, Bobby Previte’s Coalition of the Willing (which includes Seattle’s great Skerik) plays the WOW Hall on Feb. 18. For a deep immersion in the state of jazz, check out this year’s Portland Jazz Festival Feb. 16-25. Featuring 140 events and paying tribute to the classical/avant garde influences brought by Europe’s ECM label, the PJF brings Chick Corea, Gary Burton, Dave Douglas, Tomasz Stanko, Charles Lloyd and scads more jazzers from hither and yon. You can see my full preview at www.wweek.com/editorial/3314/8553/
Country musician Robbie Fulks grew up on bluegrass and folk music. He also had a plethora of instruments to choose from: From one aunt, a banjo; from another, a fiddle. He eventually settled on the guitar, packed his bags and by 1983 hightailed it out of Pennsylvania for a more musically rich life in Chicago. There he became a music junkie and joined the bluegrass band Special Consensus.
Fulks has been recording since the mid ’90s and has at least four albums under his belt. His biography on Yep Roc Records says, “While some might try to copy old-style country music, Robbie Fulks not only knows it and loves it but brings its spirit, humor and otherworldliness to his own work.”
From reading reviews and interviews, I had a completely different idea about Fulks’ sound. Since he was described as an alternative country singer, I was ready for something like Cub Country or Old Crow Medicine Show. The writing on his website (www.robbiefulks.com)even hints at a layer of arrogance. In a comment about music he writes, “I like to think that what I am missing out on is Rock Music. That is a term, like ‘government,’ that connotes everything and nothing, a big, bland badness.”
All this combined, the last thing I expected from him was a straight-forward, right out of Nashville sound, especially since his 1997 release South Mouth admittedly pokes fun at Nashville. Where’s this revisionist attitude I’ve heard so much about?
But that aside, Fulks is a phenomenal writer. I’d say even more so in his blogs and CD booklets. And his songs cover all the familiar themes from adventuring into wide-open spaces to cheating hearts. Robbie Fulks and Peter Wilde play at 9 pm Friday, Feb. 16 at Sam Bond’s Garage. $12. 21+ show. — Amanda Burhop
Not Your Grandpa’s Circus Music
|They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?
Circus music — this is the default explication you find in nearly every review of Boo Hoo Hoo Boo, the debut album from Vancouver based septet They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Yet considering that circus music is barely ever replicated in popular music, it’s a spurious and superficial assessment of a band that may employ a few horns but in no way scripts for the big top. Would you call Neutral Milk Hotel’s On Avery Island “circus music?” No. There’s a degree of whimsy and bombast in Boo Hoo Hoo Boo, but there’s no calliope and no elephant wails — not circus music.
To slightly validate those critics who’ve dreamt up this description, there have been a few bands as of late that may echo some of the aesthetics of the circus in their music. Listening to the dramatic vocal styles and garishly eclectic instrumentation of groups such as The Dresden Dolls, Celebration or Sleepytime Gorilla Museum, it’s possible to see how one may arrive at such a label. But with those bands and with They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? the assertion is much too simplistic.
There is precedent for the music of TSHDT rooted right here within the last 30 years, deeply entrenched in the annals of 1970s post-punk. Right away, traces of Liquid Liquid, Devo and Roxy Music can all be heard in Boo Hoo Hoo Boo’s first few tunes. Take into consideration the cabaret-like musings of groups like Madness, and all of a sudden the horns and keyboards on “Emptyhead,” the album’s opening track, don’t feel too out of this world anymore. It’s just so hard to connect pop music to the circus, which may haunt our memories but really has been dead to our American culture for many years. The angular, cabaret-punk/punk-funk of They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? is quite alive and kicking.
They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? plays at 7:30 pm Friday, Feb. 16 at Cozmic Pizza. $5-$7. — Steven Sawada