Seven String King
From slick to quick wits on guitar
by Brett Campbell
What is this, jazz guitar gods month in Eugene? First Metheny; now Charlie Hunter returns to the WOW Hall on May 18. Hunter blasted out of the Bay Area sporting amazing technical facility on seven-string (with three bass strings) guitars, various effects pedals and other electronic enhancement, along with a vocabulary transcending standard jazz guitar lineage. Accordingly, he earned a strong audience among jam-banders, funk fans and indie rockers as well as jazz geeks. He’s released 17 albums, including his latest, a tribute to Lester Bowie’s great 1980s Brass Fantasy, although he’s playing a trio gig here with the fine Denver-based trumpeter Ron Miles and drummer Eric Kalb. Unlike too many other slick jazz guitarists who seem to be all about pasting one virtuosic lick after another and calling it a day, Hunter prizes groove, melody and musical communication before ego, technique and flash. He always puts on a fun, funky show.
Miles, who’s worked with everyone from Bill Frisell to Don Byron to the Ellington Orchestra, will be toting his trumpet down to Sam Bond’s on May 23 to sit in with one of our town’s most interesting jazz acts, saxophonist Hashem Assadullahi and his quintet, with whom he recorded their first CD.
Assadullahi got his master’s at the UO, where you can see other emerging musical talent this month. On May 17 at Beall Hall, student chamber ensembles play a free concert of music by Mozart, Stravinsky, Barber, Dvorak and Brahms, as well as Debussy’s glittering String Quartet. Another free chamber concert on the 21st at Aasen Hull Hall includes another jewel of chamber music, Schubert’s great String Quintet, and more music by Debussy and Villa Lobos. On May 20, the Oregon Wind Ensemble presents a characteristically imaginative program at Beall, with music by Copland, Portland native Morten Lauridsen, sly-crazy Stanford composer Mark Applebaum and more. The next evening, Beall showcases choral music from pre-Classical masters Luca Marenzio and Samuel Scheidt to 20th century works by Copland, Gyorgy Ligeti and more. And for a welcome taste of contemporary choral music, try Sospiro’s May 26 concert with “green” pieces based on texts by Robert Frost, William Blake and others.
On May 22, the Oregon Percussion Ensemble pays tribute to its longtime conductor and late mentor, Charles Dowd, who died earlier this year. The members, including some of Dowd’s former students, perform favorites by contemporary master Christopher Rouse and more in what promises to be a poignant, powerful evening. On May 23, the University symphony plays a too-seldom heard 20th-century work by Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera, Variaciones Concertantes, and Dmitri Shostakovich’s first symphony.
The Eugene Symphony closes music director Danail Rachev’s inaugural season May 20 at the Hult Center with Gustav Mahler’s first and probably most accessible symphony, Richard Wagner’s pretty gift for his wife, Siegfried Idyll, and Delius’s popular Walk to the Paradise Garden. For even older music, try another free concert of harpsichord works of 18th century women composers by the excellent Barbara Baird on May 16 at First United Methodist Church. The Eugene Symphonic Band plays a Hollywood-oriented pops concert at First Baptist Church, 3550 Fox Meadow Road, on May 17.
Since leaving San Francisco’s pioneering mid-1960s proto-psychedelic rock legends the Charlatans, original hipster Dan Hicks has been retro before retro was cool, blending Western swing, Django jazz, folk and wry wit (“How Can I Miss You When You Won’t Go Away?”) into an irresistibly delightful, occasionally spooky (“I Scare Myself”) groove, earning the devotion of everyone from Willie Nelson to Tom Waits to Elvis Costello. After a couple decades of sporadic solo work, Hicks revived the Hot Licks in 2000, and their most recent CD, Tangled Tales, continues Hicks’s breezy, quick-witted wizardry. They’re performing at the Shedd Saturday, May 13.