If the fact that the Creative Music Guild has been in action
for 21 years comes as a surprise to you, don't feel bad. Even though I have
been familiar with the CMG as a group that supports experimental and avant
garde music in the city, my best guess was that they were, at the most, eight
The truth is that Rich Halley and Rob Blakeslee, two
well-regarded jazz players, created the guild in 1991, hoping to cultivate the
local improvisational and experimental scenes by hosting events featuring musicians
from all over the world. In that time, they've brought in a stunning variety of
artists such as free jazz saxophonist Bhob Rainey and master percussionist
In the last year, the profile of the CMG has been on the
rise. The all-volunteer organization has shifted the emphasis firmly on to the
wealth of local talent, first making sure that either a Portland musician or
band had the chance to open up a CMG event, and now with a bimonthly series of
performances called the Outset Series.
"We went from about eight shows a year to about 30," says CMG's board president Ben Kates over coffee at the Caffe Vita on NE Alberta. "And now we have this great outlet for people to play locally and
The shows have all been taking place at the Revival Drum
Shop, a well-regarded percussionist's paradise tucked away off NE Prescott. The series has provided a platform for an impressive range of sounds. Past shows have featured blues/folk guitarist Marisa Anderson, a duo of Rebecca Gates and her Consortium drummer Ji Tanzer, drone titan Daniel Menche, and a showcase for the individual side projects of the members of AU.
Tonight, the Outset Series will cross paths with Confluence, the Guild's visiting artist series, with an intimate performance from Norwegian jazz artist Frode Gjerstad and his trio.
The focus of CMG's board has also been shifted in the past year to include the Improvisation Summit of Portland, a free ranging event that incorporated music, film, and dance into two very full days of sensory overload. If your limits weren't already tested by the packed schedule, the summit gave one last big push with a closing night set by The Raven Big Band
Buddha Mind Ensemble, a group that boasted over 30 local players.
"I thought the festival, to a performance, was brilliant," says Kates, who not only helped coordinate the event but also
performed at it with his band Thicket. "There was also this
real sense of relief that by the end of the second day, nothing bad had happened!"
With that success in their pocket, the CMG is looking forward to a second improv summit - already scheduled for May 31st and June 1st of 2013 - and working to gather up some funding to help keep them going through the next year. One small step is that they've only recently started taking a small cut of the cover charge from their Outset events. Each show's admission is a sliding scale of $5 - $15. If you pay $5, all the money goes to the band. If you pay more, the band still pockets $5, but any leftover money will be split between the artists and the CMG.
"We've sometimes been able to hand $150 or $200 to somebody," says Kates. "It's not a huge amount but hopefully it means they can spend more time making their music."
2013 will also feature another fundraising event for the next Improvisation Summit, and a potentially profile raising collaboration with the upcoming Portland Jazz Festival
"We're going to be collaborating on two performances by [Seattle-born pianist/composer] Wayne Horvitz," says Kates. "In one, Wayne is going to be playing Blue Cranes songs, and they in turn will be playing
his songs. For the other, Wayne will be leading a large ensemble of local folks."
For the future, though, Kates wants to see the Guild's board
(which features several local luminaries like Blue Cranes saxophonist Reed
Wallsmith, flautist John Savage, and dancer/singer Alyssa Reed-Stuewe) push
their programming boundaries even further.
"The one area I think about a lot is experimental rock.
I don't want to get people that are so obscure or so experimental that no one
knows what it is, because we can't lose a ton of money on the shows. But I want
that to start happening a bit more. We have a lot of ideas. We just need to
build the infrastructure more so we can start to build that kind of
SEE IT: Frode Gjerstad Trio plays Revival Drum Shop, 1465 NE Prescott St., with Jon Shaw on Wednesday, Dec. 5th. 8pm. $5 - $15 (sliding scale). All ages.