April 7th, 2010 | by Local Cut Music | Posted In: Columns

CD Reviews: Andrew Oliver Sextet, Horse Feathers

     
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Andrew Oliver Sextet 82% Chance Of Rain


(Oa2 Records)



[ELECTRIC JAZZ] With his Kora Band and Portland Jazz Composers Orchestra, hard-working young keyboardist Andrew Oliver has become a mainstay of this city’s jazz scene. His high-energy second sextet release gets the precipitation percentage wrong, but just about everything else right.

82% Chance of Rain is an eclectic collection, but a year of honing these 10 tracks has allowed them to benefit from the variety of the composers’ well-integrated yet distinctive styles, rather than sounding like several different bands. Oliver’s own memorably melodic compositions (“Inattentive Attendant,” “800 Turtles,” “Biannual/Biennial”) tend to be fairly straight ahead, even playful (“Very Small Island”); throughout, he makes smart use of retro tech like the Fender Rhodes and Wurlitzer electric piano without sounding merely throwback.

Guitarist Dan Duval’s pieces (“Public and Republic,” “Only a Quality Lime for Eric Gruber #1”) unleash some crunchy electric-guitar excitement, while drummer Kevin Van Geem’s contributions (like “Bolivar” and the title cut) add an indie-rock vibe. And saxman Willie Matheis scores with a warm ballad, “I Am Yours.” Matheis (tenor and soprano sax) and Mary-Sue Tobin (alto and soprano saxes and clarinet) contribute soaring lines that herald the ascension of a generous, diverse band that can appeal to fans of new jazz as well as older genres like fusion and post-bop. BRETT CAMPBELL.



Horse Feathers Thistled Spring


(Kill Rock Stars)



[LUSH FOLK] Horse Feathers’ music has consistently been more beautiful than rollicking; its concerts an opportunity for deep contemplation interrupted by polite clapping every 3 1/2 minutes. In that regard, things haven’t changed much on the quartet’s third full-length: We still find Justin Ringle’s honeyed tenor pulling the songs forward as alternately lush and spare string harmonies lend texture to the tunes. But on Thistled Spring, Ringle and company try out a handful of bumpy bluegrass rhythms, with mixed results.

The band has always been strongest when playing Ringle’s straight singing against wild, dynamic shifts—so the inclusion of more driven rhythms, played with tambourines and bluegrass picking, pulls some songs into monotony. The clearest example of this is “Vernonia Blues,” the album’s porch-stomper pop shot, where the beat stagnates instead of energizes, leaving us with something dry and standard compared with the band’s generally rich sonic fare.

A few songs—notably “Belly of June” and “The Drought”—manage to successfully combine more powerful rhythms with the group’s characteristic harmonic shifts. But the album’s true highs (“As a Ghost,” “Heaven’s No Place”) are the same kind of highs dished out by last year’s House With No Home—beautiful, low-key tunes that carry real emotional weight. BEN BATEMAN.

SEE IT: The Andrew Oliver Sextet plays TaborSpace on Thursday, April 8, at 7:30 pm. $7-$15 sliding scale. All ages. Horse Feathers plays the Doug Fir Lounge on Tuesday, April 13, with Justin Power and Dan Mangan. 9 pm. $10 advance, $12 day of show. 21+.

 
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