Eugene Weekly : Music : 5.28.09

Build It and They Will Play
New venues spawn new musical opportunities
by Brett Campbell

Mbira dzeMuninga

Just as investments in infrastructure like light rail and high speed train tracks pay off in environmentally friendly development and transportation, investment in arts venues pays off in compelling art, as anyone who’s visited the UO’s refurbished music school or the Shedd can attest. A few years ago, Springfield invested in its downtown by creating the Wildish Theater, and its first resident company now gives its debut performance. On Monday, June 1, Chamber Music Amici, comprising some of the most reliable and familiar names in Eugene classical music (Victor Steinhardt, piano; Sharon Schuman, violin; Steven Pologe, cello; Pilar Bradshaw, violin; plus guest violist Fritz Gearhardt) perform Mozart’s sweet Oboe Quartet, Francis Poulenc’s equally ear-pleasing sonata for oboe and piano and Robert Schumann’s piano quintet. It’s great to see the community gain a new chamber music fixture.

However, it’s even better to see a chamber ensemble dedicated to today’s music. That’s the goal the intrepid students in the Eugene Contemporary Chamber Ensemble have been pursuing so assiduously for the past few years, and their forward-looking attitude evidently applies to the presentation, not just the content. As so many vanguard groups have been doing in recent years, ECCE’s free concerts May 29 and 30 combine original music with choreography and multimedia installations, video projections and other enticements for our increasingly visually oriented culture. The intrumentation ranges from solos (sax, viola), duets, wind ensembles and percussion to electronics. It’s always a treat to see students — and any artists, for that matter — reaching across genre boundaries and combining forces. ECCE has become a vital part of Eugene’s progressive music scene. And speaking of new venues spawning new opportunities, these concerts take place in the UO’s  new multi-purpose room 190 at the music school.

The UO’s year-end concerts offer plenty of other attractions. On May 28, several of the school’s choral ensembles sing music by Benjamin Britten, Holst and the world premiere of “A Tapestry” by UO alumnus Terry McQuilkin. Another choral concert on June 4 gives us a foretaste of the biggest attraction of this summer’s Oregon Bach Festival: excerpts from Sven-David Sandström’s new “Messiah,” plus music by Palestrina, Brahms and even a modern Haitian work.

Eugene’s longtime home of jazz, Jo Federigo’s, hosts the rising young trumpet-led jazz quartet Protean Visions on May 27, the Arizona experimental jazz-rock quartet Moseyhorse on May 28 and the new NOW! 4tet (with members of 11 Eyes, Son Melao and the Sugar Beets) unveiling its Afro-Cuban electronica accented jazz on the 29th.

Eugene’s world music capital is Cozmic Pizza, which regularly books bands who play music from non-Western traditions. Last year, the restaurant hosted the exciting Zimbabwean ensemble Mawungira Enharira, and on June 2, it hosts a quartet of mbira players from that group, Mbira dzeMuninga. They weave interlocking melodies from the gourd-encased metal thumb piano that produces a lovely harp-like sound. Like Wynton Marsalis and other jazz neo-traditionalists who emerged a generation ago, these young mbira masters have reignited their rock-oriented generation’s interest in the joyous traditional music of Shona people of Zimbabwe. The show also features Eugene’s own upbeat Kudana Marimba. On June 5, Cozmic also presents a potpourri of world beats — Cuban, Balkan, Cajun and more — at a benefit for the valuable Sparkplug Dance company, which brings dance into kids’ lives. 

One of the bands on that bill is Scrambled Ape, whose founder, the ever-adventurous Michael Roderick, also leads Eugene’s tango-tastic Mood Area 52. When the group was in Portland for a recent gig, they heard fizzy Ethiopian bluesy jazz emanating from their hotel. It turned out to be Tezeta, which includes former members of 5 Fingers of Funk, who play riff-based instrumentals featuring Jimmy Smith-style keyboards, guitar, horns and rhythm section. You can check out both bands on May 29 at Sam Bond’s Garage.      



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