Save the Polyphonic Spree, a cult so large it's confusing, anticipation seems to grow in direct proportion to the number of musicians on stage. Chris Robley brought his gang of eight to the Someday Lounge Friday evening, occasionally reaching a double digits stage presence with guest appearances from hip-hop outfit Sandpeople. With so much to marvel at, one was not sure where to begin looking.
In the back, a pair of flutists shared a mic, giving each track an element of flight as they engaged in their delicate brass duels. But it was but a thin layer among a towering wafer of sound that was at times cacophonous but mostly robust and exhilarating. Two drummers were not enough for guitarist-made-conductor Robley, with a third person alternating between portable tom-tom and trumpet.
The evening's toast was devoted to his just cut release, Movie Theater Haiku
, a teeming record injected with philosophical musings, Big Band-meets-brooding-indie-soloist sound, and yes, an actual haiku here and there. Robley is at the fore of a growing movement in Portland—that of the large scale arrangement. It's the perfect trend for a city elbow-to-elbow in artistic enterprise. Perhaps there's no alternative.
But it's one thing to invite your artsy friends on stage and quite another to play alongside a deep cast of fellow music makers. The Robley family practices the latter, exemplifying the "practice makes perfect" mantra. Surprisingly, Robley's aching voice is never lost in the wind and thunder that surrounds him. Like the wand-waving wizard Mickey Mouse in Fantasia
, Robley commands and creates the storm.
The ensemble's collaborations with Sandpeople beat expectations, coming in the wake of an idea that's been overcooked just about everywhere else. Rhymes always sound better before a lush rhythm section and plenty of horns. Robley must have been taking notes from the Roots and RJD2.
Photos by Mark Stock