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September 28th, 2005 Pat Wensink, Mark Baumgarten, Jeff Rosenberg | Music Stories
 

The Evolutionary Jass Band, Talkdemonic, Mary Flower

     
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Talkdemonic
IMAGE: MICHAEL RUBENSTEIN

The Evolutionary Jass Band | Wednesday, Sept. 28

To the person who tossed out that old clarinet: Jef Brown found it, and we thank you for that.

[JAZZ] Jazz. To a lot of twenty-somethings that's a dirty word, bringing to mind anything from limp, Dockers-clad fluff to atonal screeching in the name of free-noise. But jazz really isn't a four-letter word, and Portland's Evolutionary Jass Band is dead set on proving it.

In a town hemorrhaging with puerile rock and pop bands-as Portland is-a group of young free-jazzers sticks out like a speedboat in the desert. But, like watercraft in the desert would, EJB has attracted an audience, its sound splitting at the rivets with hotwired chops and youthful energy. Playing underground bars and soundtracking Popeye films, this band leads an odd existence, almost as compelling as its origins.

After finding a clarinet in an alley four years ago, EJB founder and former Jackie-O Motherfucker member Jef Brown quickly fell under the woodwind's spell and studied under 79-year-old neighborhood sax hero W.C. Cage. Brown teamed up with drummer Michael Hendrickson, and, for the past three years, the two have played as the Evolutionary Jass Band with a rotisserie cast of players of nearly 10 enthusiasts.

"It's like having a well to draw from," says Brown regarding the group's open-door policy. Each EJB performance is different, with additional saxes, vibes and even violin thrown into the mix to create a dynamic, but still structured, show. "I discovered there are a hell of a lot of people in this community who were really psyched when I said, 'Hey, would you like to play some music that requires reading?'" says Brown.

No matter the lineup, on any given night the group accomplishes what few jazz groups can, grabbing the attention of rock crowds. Opening for a handful of New York noise acts a few months ago, the group turned the seemingly pretentious club Dunes into the Village Vanguard within the opening notes.

Trading bug-eyed sax lines, the Jass Band steamed up the bar. The hip crowd buzzed into a hooting, "Go, man, go," beatnik hive. Jumping with erratic stream-of-consciousness flutters nodding to Ornette and the Arkestra and gelatin-slick bop lines à la Lester Young, the band chugged along without hesitation. It became clear the Evolutionary Jass Band owns a salmonella-raw jazz knowledge, setting them apart from the cliché of an overly academic, sanded-corner jazz yawn.

"I'd rather just do something that's completely different sometimes," says Brown. "Just throw it out there and shake people up a little bit."

The Jassers give crowds a jolt of what it must have felt like to hear horns riff with the verve and passion that's the stuff of legend now. "Some of the older [jazz musicians] that have seen us get excited because, they're like, 'This has energy,'" says Brown. "I've been kind of shocked, actually." PAT WENSINK.

The Evolutionary Jass Band plays with Blue Cranes, the Adam Hurst Ensemble at Holocene. 9 pm. $5. 21+.

Talkdemonic | Friday, Sept. 30

On the largest tour of its career, Talkdemonic is humbled, not hyped.

WW: What has the tour been like?

Kevin O'Connor: Well, we joined up with the National and Clap Your Hands at this ballroom in Cleveland after touring with Swords for the first part of the trip. We were sound-checking and the kids were lining up in front of the stage waiting for the show, and by halfway through our set it had filled up. It had to be about 500 people, and they've been around that size every night. It's just amazing to play for crowds that large outside of Portland.

You're probably the one band on that bill they don't know. How's playing to fresh ears?

We're really the ones that have to lay it down every night because we don't have a record with national distribution right now and there's more at stake for us. It's awesome because there are no expectations, and we can do whatever we want for the audience. And people respond to us in such an honest way, because there's no national hype behind us.

Which is very different from Clap Your Hands.

Yeah, well, we signed on to the tour before they got that writeup in Pitchfork, so it was pretty unexpected to have that much attention. One day we showed up and there was a U-Haul with 15 boxes of Clap Your Hands T-shirts. We were like, "What the hell are all these T-shirts for?" They were selling like 50 shirts a night. We brought about 80 for the entire tour.

Anyone who really dug you, that you remember?

The main sound guy at Pianos (where Talkdemonic played during New York's CMJ music festival) was working the door when we went on. When he heard us, he had someone else cover the door, so he could mix us. He told us later that we were the best thing that's played there in two years. That was really cool. To have the sound guy like you is a real compliment.

Talkdemonic opens for the National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Dante's. 9 pm. $10 advance. 21+. For an exclusive Talkdemonic tour diary, see wweek.com.

Mary Flower | Saturday, Oct. 1

She gave Portland her son; now she has brought herself.

[FOLK] After making a name for herself in the Denver music community and on the touring blues circuit, Mary Flower has planted herself in Oregon, only to find that her musical reputation here-at least for now-is second to that of her offspring. "My new identity is 'Jackstraw mom,'" she jokes, referring to son Jesse Withers, longtime bassist for the local bluegrass heroes. But her esteem for the Portland scene predates his successful tenure here. "I've been in love with this town for years," says the celebrated fingerstyle guitarist, who relocated here just over a year ago.

Flower's new release, Bywater Dance, on Memphis label Yellow Dog (also home to Oregon bluesmen Terry Robb and Mark Lemhouse), records her visit last May to another beloved-and now beleaguered-town: New Orleans. "I had no idea how fortunate I was," she says of the opportunity to record there, "to be able to walk away with a little of that magic. It'll be hard for anybody else to do that for years, maybe." So the album's release is, she admits, a "bittersweet" affair.

Several of the the Crescent City's leading players were brought in to bounce their chops off Flower's deft, sensitive fingerpicking and worldly-wise voice, for a truly original musical blend. Fortunately, Bywater Dance features such joyous music-making, even in the midst of the album's blues, that it's likely to lift the spirits of N'awlins-lovin' listeners. JEFF ROSENBERG.

Mary Flower plays at Mississippi Studios. 7 pm. $15. 21+.

Flower will be donating a portion of the proceeds from tonight's ticket and CD sales to Katrina relief.


The Evolutionary Jass Band plays with Blue Cranes, the Adam Hurst Ensemble at Holocene. 9 pm. $5. 21+.

Talkdemonic opens for the National and Clap Your Hands Say Yeah at Dante's. 9 pm. $10 advance. 21+.

Willamette Week is still awaiting a transmission from Talkdemonic's Kevin O'Connor containing the tour diary promised in this week's issue. The band is currently somewhere between Salt Lake City and Seattle. They've fallen off our GPS, so we're hoping for word soon. Hope people. Hope. And keep checking back here for the tour diary.

Mary Flower plays at Mississippi Studios. 7 pm. $15. 21+.

Flower will be donating a portion of the proceeds from tonight's ticket and CD sales to Katrina relief.

 
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