[PORTLAND FUSION] Once you tear through the slight New Age façade, indie-jazz vocalist Coco Columbia's sophomore album, When the Birds Begin to Walk, reveals itself as an astonishing 10-track gallery piece. Deeply virtuosic from the first note of the layered, beat-defying opening track "Weight on Limb," the record blends prog-jazz breakdowns with spot-on J Dilla homages, all held together by the 25-year-old's vocals. And despite its many quirks—like when Columbia places a searingly groovy cover of Kate Bush's "Running Up That Hill" immediately after "Lionhearted," a song that heavily features lyrics inspired by the Hayao Miyazaki film My Neighbor Totoro—the record rewards its creator's daring choices. It's a technically masterful set of songs that's easily among the best jazz-influenced music to emerge from Portland in years, and it comes courtesy of a growing number of 20- and 30-somethings with the skills (but not the dough) to move to more certified jazz meccas. Songs like "Chalkboard Heart" showcase the burning fingers of Israeli transplant Gil Assayas on the Fender Rhodes, with a groove from drummer Micah Hummel and bassist Alex Meltzer that's as good as or better than anything from counterparts in New York. These combined musical efforts bolster the bandleader's rhythmic songwriting style, culminating in a shimmering example of Weird Portland done right.
SEE IT: Coco Columbia plays Doug Fir Lounge, 830 E Burnside St., with Sama Dams and Moorea Masa, on Wednesday, Aug. 17. 9 pm. $7 advance, $10 day of show. 21+.