End of Summer Sounds
Classical album roundup for the upcoming wet season
By Brett Campbell
It seems like summer just got here, but it is indeed waning. Here is our annual summer wrap up of Oregon jazz and classical releases to tide you over during the indoor time that’s imminent.
Cynthia Stillman Gerdes
The Portland-based composer enlists some of her city’s top musicians in this impressively varied disc of solo and chamber music, including a sly tango for violin and piano, a cheeky little toccata, a charming pair of piano waltzes, piano and trombone duets and more. Reflective and exquisite solo piano pieces are performed by Portland Piano International director Harold Gray. More ambitious works include songs sung by Portland State University opera director Christine Meadows, from Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin’s translation of the Tao Te Ching, a wide ranging conversation for piano and cello, a meandering violin and piano piece appropriately titled “Crazy Jane” and “Idaho Toccata Trio,” a vibrant musical retrospective of Gerdes’s Boise childhood.
Various Composers Light and Shadow
Eugene-based composer Rebecca Oswald has two of the loveliest pieces on this disc of modern symphonic works performed by several orchestras, in this case the Moravian Philharmonic. Movie directors take note: “Finding the Murray River” could work as a film soundtrack behind on a long pastoral shot of a carriage riding down a country road. “Sleep, Child” is an uneasy lullaby that seems to reflect troubled dreams rather than soothing thoughts.
Adam Hurst The Secret
After last year’s turn from Arab-influenced drones to a more romantic style, with piano accompaniment, the Portland-based cellist continues to evolve on his ninth CD, which pairs his cello with an Array mbira — a four-octave chromatic thumb piano whose shimmering sound complements Hurst’s own. If you’re looking for rich, dark, moody sounds on a chill winter’s eve, Hurst is your composer.
Ezra Weiss The Shirley Horn Suite
Over the course of four CDs and a decade in the Portland and New York jazz scenes, the still-youthful pianist has proved to be a reliably elegant and increasingly economical player and composer. On this lustrous new album, Weiss honors the legendary jazz pianist/singer who also had the confidence and taste to leave plenty of space for feeling to emerge — characteristics that earned Horn the admiration of Miles Davis. The limpid instrumental trio pieces frequently achieve a reflective beauty that will enchant any fan of mainstream piano jazz. The original songs featuring veteran Northwest chanteuse Shirley Nanette don’t clone Horn’s sound but do share her measured swing and emotional depth.
Bill Beach Buzios
Like the pearl divers referred to in the title track of his breezy new CD, Portland pianist/singer Beach dove deeply — into Brazil. Beguiled by that bossa beat, he devoted almost a decade to studying both Brazilian music and the notoriously difficult (for non-native speakers) to pronounce Portuguese, ultimately writing his own lyrics in the language. Buzios consists entirely of original compositions and reveals a musician completely at home in the idiom.
Various Composers Hendrix Uncovered
A true wild card, this collection of works inspired by Seattle’s great musician, James Marshall Hendrix, reveals the guitar deity’s breadth of musical exploration. None of the works by these little known Canadian, U.S. and European composers sound much like each other, yet all provide fascinating listening experiences. Even the titles — “Almost Nothing like Purple Haze,” “Castles Made of Sound” — are inventive. An obvious labor of love assembled by Portland composer Bob Priest, this may be the only Hendrix tribute that goes as far out as its subject.