Photo by Kenneth Kearney

Sax Maniacs

Melt the winter blues with some hot music coming to town

Word of the day: “brasshouse.” That’s the term applied to bands like Moon Hooch, which plays the WOW Hall next Tuesday, March 12. They blend percussion and brass instruments to translate the feel of electronic dance music (EDM) to acoustic instruments.

The raucous Brooklyn trio (horn players Mike Wilbur and Wenzl McGowen, drummer James Muschler) can bring the noise like other bands (Morphine, Jerseyband, Skerik’s various groups) that have punked-up sax, jazzy or otherwise.

By piping its live music (saxes, drums, clarinet) plus Moog synth and EWI electric wind instrument through laptops, using digital magic to swerve their sounds, Moon Hooch “has effectively reverse-engineered EDM from a primarily electronic format into an acoustic one,” writes Portland saxophonist Patrick McCulley in Oregon ArtsWatch after the band’s last Oregon visit. “Through that creative mashup of saxophones, drum set, musical skill and dance music, they’ve brought together audiences that range from academic saxophonists to danceaholics.”

They have opened for bands as diverse as Beats Antique, They Might Be Giants and Lotus. With their express but never preachy commitment to environmentalism, veganism, pacifism and social consciousness, they’re also perfect for Eugene. 


Circuits Trio

Saxophiles should also connect with Circuits Trio, which plays the Shedd Thursday, March 7. Leader Chris Potter is one of the most in-demand sax masters of his generation, playing with everyone from Steely Dan to Herbie Hancock to Pat Metheny and many others, and scooping up some of jazz’s top awards.

Potter’s new trio gives plenty of room to keyboardist James Francies’ synth, sampling and other keyboard textures, as well as to drummer Eric Harland’s driving polyrhythms. Potter is on both tenor and soprano sax, flute and clarinet in rhythmically propulsive electronic jazz-rock, in the Weather Report/Michael Brecker tradition but updated for the 21st century. 

Still another jazz style unfolds March 16 at the Jazz Station with Portland-based Bossa PDX’s arrangements (flute, piano, bass, percussion, guitar) of Brazilian classics from Gilberto Gil, Tom Jobim, Caetano Veloso and many others. 

Speaking of south-of-the-border sounds, this Saturday, March 9, The Shedd bids bienvenidos to Mariachi master José Hernández and his Sol de México. Hernandez’s family brought him and his seven siblings to California from Mexico when he was 4 years old, back before the U.S. government built concentration camps for Mexican immigrants and tore children from their parents.

A baker’s dozen of masters of this quintessential Mexican genre, the band embraces both classic and modern styles and has worked with Selena, Willie Nelson and more. 

The Shedd hosts still another musical tradition March 14 when the world’s greatest Celtic fiddler returns. Neither Irish by birth (he was born in England) nor residence (he’s lived in Portland for many years and is a member of the Oregon Music Hall of Fame), Kevin Burke has won Ireland’s most prestigious music awards, both in competitions and for his work in some of folk music’s foremost groups, including the exciting Celtic Fiddle Festival and Patrick Street. He’s an ideal choice for a pre-St. Patrick’s day concert. 

Another Portlander with roots in the Old World is composer Tomas Svoboda, who led the music department at Portland State for many years after immigrating from then-Communist dominated Czechoslovakia. In 2013 the Eugene Symphony premiered his terrific Clarinet Concerto and, in 2017, I heard our Delgani Quartet play his blistering sixth quartet, an homage to his idol, Dmitri Shostakovich, that left the audience cheering.

Ranging from bleak to ominous to tense, the quartet fully captures the Russian composer’s spirit without resorting to mere imitation — one of the most powerful chamber music performances I’ve heard in Oregon. Delgani will play it again Sunday and Tuesday, March 10 and 12, at United Lutheran Church (2230 Washington Street), along with earlier Czech music by Dvořák (his final quartet) and a dance-inspired composition by Erwin Schulhoff, whose legacy of infusing classical and Czech traditional music with jazz, Dada and other forward-looking influences was cut short when he died in the Holocaust. 

Ireland, Mexico, Brazil, Prague… last stop: London. This Saturday’s Oregon Mozart Players concert at the UO’s Beall Concert Hall focuses on English music from one of Haydn’s miraculous London symphonies (written for a much bigger orchestra than OMP’s chamber orchestra forces) to a couple of mid-20th-century works, Benjamin Britten’s Rossini tribute Soirées Musicales and Malcolm Arnold’s Serenade for Small Orchestra, to contemporary composer Jonathan Dove’s nifty Mozart tribute Figures in the Garden.