Feature : Feature : 12.18.2008


The Procrastinators’ Gift Guide

Hot Potatoes Gifts for those glued to the boob tube

A Gift That Could Land You a New Sweater

Music Picks

Homegrown Holiday Sounds Give a bit of Oregon


Homegrown Holiday Sounds
Give a bit of Oregon
by Brett Campbell

Thank DARPA for the internet — without it, how would we be able to snag last minute musical gifts out of thin air? Here’s some worthy homegrown music to stuff up your stocking, or someone else’s.

In Mulieribus: Live 2004-2008

Moving well beyond the 12th century French music that graced their debut disk, the new CD by the sublime Portland female early music ensemble includes some of the greatest medieval composers — Hildegard of Bingen, Guillaume Dufay, Guillaume de Machaut. Then it ranges even farther afield, moving down the centuries to the magnificent Renaissance polyphony of Tomas Luis de Victoria, Giovanni Palestrina, Cristobal Morales and Thomas Morley, and even a 20th century hymn by Maurice Durufle. The musicians handle it all with aplomb, scholarly authenticity and passion. Live albums are notoriously tricky (coughing, clapping, clunkers, candy wrappers), but in this case, the resonant acoustics of the Portland and Salem churches where these concerts were recorded over the past five years only enhances the beatific beauty of In Mulieribus’ (“among women” in Latin) iridescent sound. There are even a couple of 15th century carols (remember — still 12 days of Christmas to go), making this an ideal seasonal CD. Anonymous 4, Trio Medieval, watch out — these women from Oregon, who are drawing national attention and airplay, are nipping at your heels. 

Tomas Svoboda: String Quartets Vol. 2 (North Pacific)

The dean of Oregon composers retired from teaching at Portland State a few years ago and (like George Crumb and other composer-profs) has been on a compositional tear ever since. Svoboda’s fifth through eighth string quartets, composed between 2003 and 2006, though nestled squarely in a tonal, post-Bartok, late-20th century language, demonstrate the breadth of his compositional range. Quartet #5 is based on Renaissance harmonies that quickly turn modern, while #6, though equally intense, evinces a tense melancholy appropriate to its inspiration, that great 20th century composer of string quartets, Dmitri Shostakovich. Quartet #7, based on folk music materials, broods its way to bleakness. The epic final quartet traverses a world of emotion, culminating in a delicate sigh, in its single, 20-minute movement and feels like a career summation. But just last month, Portland’s Third Angle new music ensemble premiered the composer’s new 10th quartet, which shone with a pastoral quality heretofore rare in the composer’s output. Nearing age 70 and approaching 200 published works, this great Northwest composer is still capable of surprises. 

Don Latarski: Acoustica Funkus (Crescent)

The local fingerstyle blues-jazz fretboard legend, who heads the UO guitar studies program, has essayed a wide range of styles throughout his four decades as a studio musician, leader of three different bands and composer for film, TV and stage — and in other performance contexts. But he stays fresh by setting himself new challenges. For his 13th CD, he wondered, what would it be like to cover classic 1970s jazz-funk tunes — in bluegrass style? It works much better than you’d expect, in part because the unexpected approach avoids competing with the incomparable originals and reveals their universal musical strength. Making extensive and judicious use of overdubs and loops, Latarski plays acoustic guitar, a baritone ukulele, a 6-string hybrid instrument called a “banjitar” and a soprano guitar masquerading as a mandolin. The resulting laid back, back porch feel offers new insights into even familiar fare like Herbie Hancock’s “Watermelon Man” and “Cantaloupe Island,” Joe Zawinuls’ “Mercy, Mercy” and Miles Davis’ “So What,” while Latarksi’s three originals fit snugly into the laid back funkiness. 

Mood Area 52: Remember This Dream; First in Line to Get Stuck with a Pin (Rocketboy Arts)

I hadn’t heard MA52 in far too long, and this pair of new albums (recorded simultaneously) came as a shock. While maintaining all the tangofied goodness of its earlier work, Mood Area 52 has evolved into terrific indie band, complete with memorable tunes and plenty of passion, as indicated by bandleader Michael Roderick’s heart-y cover drawings on both CDs. Billy Barnett’s guitars plus a rhythm section add some oomph to the original atmosphere conjured by Amy Danziger’s cello and Roderick’s accordion and horns, and his gritty vocals (expertly paired with Marietta Bonaventura’s clear soprano) and evocative lyrics remind me of Tom Waits without the pretentiousness. The recent wave of bands channeling klezmer/cabaret/Eastern European instruments and influences seldom transcends novelty act pastiche, but MA52 offers a richer, multicultural palette — a confident band clearly hitting its stride and poised for national prominence.