Posted by: Andrew | July 9, 2009

as “grassroots” as they come…

We rehearsed the PJCE the other night at a place called AudioCinema in Portland’s industrial district.  It is a great space, large and good-sounding, where I hope to do some gigs/mini-festivals or something in the future.  Nonetheless, an extremely loud rock band was rehearsing in another part of the building, which made playing the more introspective of our pieces nothing less than hilarious.  We powered through and yelled very loudly, however, and the material has come together very nicely!  I’m excited for our concert tomorrow night and hope to have a good turnout.

We have 9 pieces on this program, all of which are new to us, and 6 of which are premieres!  I feel quite lucky that all these fantastic composers have lent their talents to our group.  A preview:

– from Andrew Durkin, “Grabby McGee”, which features major triads, synth vibes, and a maniacal calypso ending (classic, for those familiar with the IJG)
– from Eric Allen, “Casually Imported Unicorn,” which is second only to “Senioritis,” which some of you may remember from last year, for his most EPIC composition thus far.
– from Galen Clark, “Cave Dweller,” an arrangement of a great groove tune from the Trio Subtonic book
– from Gus Slayton, “Fearless Frogs,” an undeniable groovy thing!
– also on the groove track, “Caribbean Project” by Levis Dragulin, who also arranged John Zorn’s somewhat Klezmerish “Kisofim” for us, featuring a woodwind intro and organ!
– my “Finished Projects” (see previous post)
– from Michael Owcharuk, “The Cat and the Watering Can”, a cute (but not trite) reggae thing with lots of great flute work by Lee Elderton.  Michael is coming down from Seattle to play it with us!
– and from Nick Sweet, arranged by Stephen Connolly, “Tricks and Tests,” a beautiful wispy composition and arrangment.

This organization is really about as “grassroots” as they come, partially due to the logistical difficulties inherent in organizing a 14-person ensemble, and partially due to Gus and my busy schedules.  I think it’s about time to bring some more people on board for ease of organization and functionality.  I still have aspirations to incorporate as a nonprofit, perhaps later this year or early next year.  This, however, is a huge task and requires probably more time than I have to spare.  Does anyone with experience in nonprofits or in large group jazz bands have any suggestions for the future health of our organization?

Meanwhile, stop by the concert tomorrow night at the Old Church!!


Posted by: Andrew | July 6, 2009

Finished Products

So it’s nearly time for the summer Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble concert, this coming Friday.  Co-directing this band is one of my favorite projects to date, though it’s quite time consuming and often frustrating to get fourteen musicians together to rehearse and perform four times a year, in addition to convincing various fantastic composers to write for us.  However, to my great pleasure, I barely even have to solicit compositions anymore, as various people in town and out of town continue to contact me asking if they can write for the band.  This is very encouraging and definitely makes me feel that starting this project up was the right decision.

I have learned a great deal about large-group composition not only by composing for this group myself, but also from checking out my peers’ (and teachers’) charts, some of the best of which you can enjoy at the “Music” page of our site.  My original effort was a 3 part Afro-Suite for big band, featuring various West African drum rhythms.  This was pretty successful.  After this I arranged some of my own and others’ small group tunes, which was a fun exercise.  For the most recent concert in February, I continued on my lengthy multi-part composition kick which had been instigated by listening to a lot of Claudia Quintet and Franco (the great Congolese guitarist and bandleader from the 50’s-90’s).  However, that piece, “Right Lane Turns Right Ahead” (sound familiar?) was actually not compelling at all, and didn’t accomplish my goal of taking the listener on an interesting journey through various musical styles and ideas, instead just sounding disjointed and incomplete.

Therefore, this time I have taken the total opposite approach, one partially inspired by my interaction with Adam Benjamin at Banff.  I have written 3 (and am working on a fourth) very short pieces entitled “Finished Products 1-4”, each of which deals with only one idea and is under two minutes.  I hope that this will be an instructive compositional exercise in addition to being an enjoyable listening experience.  So far, so good – I think I may have finally set enough restrictions for myself to compose something which isn’t trying to be “everything at once” – the young musicians’ worst enemy, it seems!

I’ll post the recordings up here after the concert and you can judge for yourselves whether I’ve been successful or not!  Meanwhile, encourage your friends in Portland to come check out the show, we have many new and exciting works by composers from here and from Seattle!

Friday, July 10, 2009
7:30-9:30 PM

The Old Church

1422 SW 11th Ave
Portland, OR 97201

Portland Jazz Composers Ensemble
Directors: Andrew Oliver and Gus Slayton
Trumpets: Joel Griffith, Levis Dragulin, Tree Palmedo
Trombones: Dave Bryan, Dan Evans, Douglas Peebles
Saxophones: Mary Sue Tobin, Willie Matheis, Gus Slayton, Lee Elderton
Rhythm: Andrew Oliver; piano, Kyle Williams; guitar, Bill Athens; bass, Kevin Van Geem; drums

$10, $8 students

Posted by: Andrew | June 27, 2009

Urs Leimbgruber, and more

So on Thursday night I was invited to play in the Creative Music Guild Large Ensemble directed by Swiss virtuosic improvising saxophonist Urs Leimgruber.  The CMG is a great Portland-based nonprofit that brings many fantastic creative improvisers to town.  They are now moving into involving more local musicians as well, which is fantastic.  We had an 18 piece group (2 drummers, 2 bassists, piano, harmonium (I played my low-quality but endearing Indian harmonium which my college roommate brought back for me from a trip there), cello, violin, 4 electronics guys, 4 saxes, guitar, pedal steel) – many of them musicians I haven’t met or worked with before – the amount of people doing crazy innovative and “under-the-radar” things in Portland is immense!  Anyway, Urs led us in some vaguely structured and cued free improv – his discussions about the primacy of sound over everything else really helped the vibe and I feel that at least by the end of our hour-long set we went some really fascinating places sonically.  His obsession with playing extremely softly was also rather mind-0pening, especially with such a large group.  Having all those people with no input mixing boards and what not was very intriguing to me, as I rarely work with that crowd.  However, I am only starting to realize the sonic possibilities of collaborations of that genre.  Yes, more projects!!

Before our set, Urs played a riveting 40-minute solo set involving bird-like multiphonics with three or four separate registers of material going on at the same time, the disassembling of his tenor mid-performance, and a great interaction with a passing freight train. Here’s a short YouTube clip of Urs for an idea of his sound:

It’s always a great pleasure to hear masters of free improvisation, people who are able to create genuine structure and hold the interest of the audience in an extended solo performance, which brings me to the ever-popular issue: How does “the general public” react to “avant-garde” / free improvised creative music?  Are people’s opinions clouded by weird preconceptions?  Is it more attractive to the audience if the artist’s theories or ideas (or compositions, for that matter) are explained, as in a modern art gallery with verbose paragraphs near every painting?  I posed these questions to my girlfriend (not for the first time) after the rehearsal with Urs on Wednesday.  We didn’t come to any definitive conclusions, but I always enjoy these discussions.  I tried to argue that if this music is presented in the right way (whatever that is), that non-musicians and people heretofore unexposed to it will respond positively – there is not the whole baggage of the jazz tradition to understand and internalize before you can hear the form or chord progression of the music.  Someone may argue at this point that the tradition and precendents of avant-garde music also must be understood on a certain level, and although I admit that having a knowledge of that tradition does add to my understanding and enjoyment of the music, I still believe that the inherent simplicity of the idea, even when it is very structured out with graphic scores a la Wadada Leo Smith, etc., contains a certain directness which open-minded listeners can hopefully access with relative ease.  At the end of everything, Steph countered that no matter what, it is still art music and therefore in the realm of a very small audience sector – I suppose this is true but then again, attempting to bring as much music to as many people as possible is something I hope to remain positive about for a long time, lest I lose my motivation due to cynicism.

I am reminded of a time I took Steph  to a Paxselin gig, before we were even dating – and her reaction to what was relatively free improv on short, simple heads, was remarkably positive (at least compared with the way my non-musician friends had reacted to such things in the past) – she related everything to movement or abstract art in some way, which I thought was a fantastic initial reaciton.  Incidentally, this also reminds me of the directions Tony Malaby‘s discussions of free playing often went last month at Banff – he began his artistic career as a painter and often described things in surprisingly concrete visualizations “I will put some pointillistic stuff in above the pianist’s more cloud-like foundation”.  I have tried to keep this in mind in various free playing situations recently to, I hope, great effect – though I am yet unsure as to how clear this has been to either the listeners or the other musicians, it is at least a fascinating exercise.

This is, of course, an ongoing discussion which I will probably reprise soon enough.  If anyone has thoughts, disagreements, agreements, let’s hear them!  Meanwhile, stay tuned for some exciting news on new serieses, grants, and other positive happenings in the Portland scene!

Posted by: Andrew | June 23, 2009

Back To Work!

So, it’s back to work time in many ways.  I have begun the process of returning from Banff to “real life” and have found a new-found love of practicing and time management.  I hope that I am able to sustain these positive habits and that the “time management” one will lead me to some better upkeep of this blog!

Matthew Berrill, an Irish clarinetist who I met in Banff, decided to do a short “Northwest Tour” afterward, visiting Vancouver BC, Seattle, and Portland.  In Seattle, Chad McCullough put together a quintet to play some reflective music he wrote at Banff with me, Matt, a bassist named Devin, and John Bishop on drums.  We did a short recording session, the fruits of which I hope to share with everyone soon…when Matt made it down to Portland, we also had a mini-house concert in my backyard, which was amazing!  The lack of venues in Portland these days, and increasing number of fantastic players (Chris Lawrence, for example just moved here last month and is killin!), is leading me (and some others) to want to do something about it!  One solution are small house concerts, of which I hope the recent one won’t be the last – even the neighbors I thought we might be annoying were enthusiastic and stopped by!

Meanwhile, I am organizing the summer PJCE concert on July 10 – the first rehearsal last night was very promising – lots of great new music in a variety of styles, as usual.

I don’t really have a concise wrap-up of Banff events and subsequent thoughts, but hopefully I can craft one soon.  Meanwhile, Dave Douglas has a nice section of his blog on it here, and Adam Benjamin (who was on faculty the first week), has written a nice post today as well which is very wise and succinct and deals with many of the reasons that Banff seems to be somewhat more successful than many other endeavors in jazz education.

More to come, and more freqently, I promise!  Thanks for reading.

Posted by: Andrew | June 6, 2009

Last Day..

Well I’ve fallen quite behind on blogging here – things are so busy and intense that it is difficult to keep up.

Many great things have happened this week – master classes with Hank Roberts and Edmar Castaneda were definately highlights as well as having the opportunity to play a gig with Don Byron at the Club last night, performing music he wrote for string trio and rhythm section + sax and clarinet – it was a great experience and great music.


On Wednesday, the EPIC sextet finally recorded in the studio – we put down some amazing tracks and some mediocre ones, but it was a great pleasure to get to record the material and hopefully we can move forward with a tour with that band next summer.


I have been hanging out with Marshall Gilkes, trombonist who is on faculty this week, quite a bit.  We had a nice session today with Pat, Tyson, and the 2 Chads (Chad Lefkowitz-Brown and Chad McCullough – who, amazingly, have the same birthday!)


Matt Berrill, an Irish clarinetist, is going to come down to Seattle and Portland to hang out next week – he has a couple weeks of vacation booked after the workshop.  Hopefully we’ll get to do some playing and maybe recording with him.


Matt, Chad McC, Tyson, and myself went on a fascinating hike last Sunday to a place called the Ink Pots.  These are freaky pools produced by cold underground springs that have a very high mineral content and are therefore various colors of blue and green.  It was a fascinating hike:



Our time here is nearly at an end.  I am very excited to go home, being somewhat burned out and overwhelmed with information and lack of sleep, but it has been a remarkable experience which has tought me many important lessons both musical and nonmusical and has given me the opportunity to meet and hang out with many great musicians from all over the world, many of whom I hope to connect with in the future.  When I get home I will post some more pictures, thoughts, and info on what has happened up here as well as continue to post my various thoughts/tirades/etc up here for your reading and (hopefully) thought-provoking enjoyment.

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