[ELEMENTARY FUNK] Guitarist Jason Newsom doesn't mind if you call his music simple. Hell, he might even take it as a compliment. Wielding a doctorate in social psychology as an associate professor at Portland State University, Newsom spends his 9-to-5 existence educating students on decidedly non-simplistic topics, like reliability analyses, chi-squares and logistic regression. But when it came to Simple Forms, the third and latest release from his jazz/funk band, the Anomalous Quintet, the Kansas City native was all about embracing a no-frills approach.
"Especially in jazz, the more you advance, the more you tend to play complex, faster melodies, with a lot more notes," Newsom says. "I didn't want to be afraid of the word 'simple.' In some ways, it's easier to be complex than it is to be simple." With melodies Newsom says are inspired in part by old Louis Armstrong solos, the songs on Forms mostly work off a whole lotta standard 12-bar blues and "AAB" song structures. Don't expect anything too experimental, heady or hard to digest—instead, Forms packs plenty of old-fashioned, hip-shaking sax and bass hooks that feel like they'd be right at home in the Goodfoot basement on a sweaty Friday night.
The quintet (whose name, if you didn't know, means "deviating from what is standard, normal or expected") consists of Michael York on tenor sax, Daniel Covrett on barry sax, Arcellus Sykes on bass and Ronnie LaGrone on drums. And it's been around in different variations since '97, a year after Newsom relocated from Pittsburgh—in part for what he says was Portland's once-stronger funk scene. Nowadays, he says it ain't always easy for an all-instrumental jazz band to get good gigs, especially with the more limited selection of local jazz venues compared to a decade ago.
In particular, he's one of the many local musicians who bemoans the decision to pull the plug on live jazz at the Blue Monk: "The reality is, you can't survive off this kind of music—even Mel Brown is an accountant," says Newsom. "And he's one of the most well-known jazz musicians in town."
The Anomalous Quintet celebrates the release of
Saturday, June 7, at a Wonder Ballroom benefit for Artists for the Arts. 7 pm. $15 ($5, children under 12). All ages.