June 19: Thollem McDonas | André St. James | Tim DuRoche at Piano Fort

Thollem McDonas with André St. James and Tim DuRoche

Wednesday, June 19, 8 pm
Piano Fort
1715 SE Spokane Street (Sellwood)
$10 cover

Don’t miss this wonderful opportunity to hear my dear friend, improvisational pianist Thollem McDonas as he joins forces with myself on drums and the mighty Andre St. James (bass) for an evening of fiery and beautiful improvised music.


Thollem McDonas (b. 1967, US) is a pianist, composer, improviser and teacher. He was born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area of Irish and Cherokee descent. At the age of five, he began studying the keyboard repertoire from the medieval to the 20th century and studied with many notable teachers including Aiko Onishi and Lou Harrison. He is currently touring perpetually as a soloist, in collaboration with many other individuals and groups, as well as leading large ensemble free improvisation/collaboration workshops as well as master classes.Thollem has been commissioned by The Limón Dance Company for a large-scale piece in commemoration of their 50th year anniversary.  In 2008, he was invited to perform the late works of Claude Debussy on the piano on which they were written with master contrabassist Stefano Scodanibbio.He was invited by Pauline Oliveros to contribute an essay to An Anthology of Essays On Deep Listening (May, 2012).  “Deep Listening and the Peripatetic Life of an Improvising Musician” was written specifically for this collection.

As a pianist, Thollem has performed piano concertos with symphonies, played in West African drumming troupes, Javanese gamelan ensembles, punk bands, free improv ensembles, and regularly collaborates as a comproviser for film and modern dance.Musical collaborators include: William Parker, Susie Ibarra, Alex Cline, Amy Denio, Faruq Z. Bey, Jad Fair, John Butcher, Ernesto Martinez, Eduardo Gonzales, LaDonna Smith, Scott Looney, Gino Robair, Jon Raskin,  Marco Eneidi, Tim DuRoche, Jack Wright, Henry Kaiser, Liz Albee, Scott Amendola, Carlos Zingaro, Daniel Carter, Federico Ughi, George Cartwright, Davu Seru, Jacopo Andreini, Arrington De Dionyso,  Theresa Wong, Vinny Golia, Glenn Kotche, Rent Romus, Nels Cline,  and Hafez Modirzadeh, among many many others. Thollem’s also created music for films by Martha Colburn, Matthew Barney, and Peter Sparling, among others.

Bassist Andre St. James is a cornerstone of the rich, thriving Pacific Northwest jazz scene and works regularly with his own ensemble, Mel Brown, The Kin Trio, Gordon Lee, Renato Caranto, and many others. Over the last three decades, St. James has worked with an astonishing who’s who of modern jazz including giants like Sonny Rollins, the Harold Land-Blue Mitchell Quintet, Andrew Hill trio and large bands, Bobby Hutcherson, Charlie Rouse, Pharoah Sanders, James Moody, Alan Shorter, Nancy King, and George Cables. St. James’ strong sense of lyricism, buoyancy and surging momentum, as well as a deep respect for both tradition and innovation, have taken him to both ends of the jazz spectrum-from torch songs and two-beat to bop and beyond. He has enjoyed freewheeling, open-ended avant-garde combustion-with keepers of the flame like Judy Silvano/Cathi Walkup/Andrea Wolper, Ron Steen, Joe Pass, Kai Winding, Herb Ellis, Greta Matassa, and Houston Person as well as trailblazers like Julius Hemphill, Marty Ehrlich, Eugene Chadbourne, Michael White, India Cooke, Kash Killion, Mal Waldron, and Sun Ra, to name a handful.

Tim DuRoche (drums) works regularly with the collective ensemble Battle Hymns & Gardens and The Kin Trio, and has logged in extensive time with an array of US and European avant-garde jazz innovators, including Burton Greene, Dominic Duval, Matana Roberts, Paul Plimley-Lisle Ellis, Wally Shoup, Gust Burns, Bert Wilson, Urs Leimgruber, Jon Raskin,  Perry Robinson, Jack Wright, Doug Theriault,  Marco Eneidi, Didier Petit, and Frank Gratkowski, among others. Over the last decade he’s composed or performed sound/music for a number of dance artists, including Tere Mathern, Linda K. Johnson,  Cydney Wilkes, Mary Oslund, and BodyVox among others. Tim’s installation and public art work include The Hidden Life of Bridges, a temporary sound-video project that turned two of Portland’s iconic bridges into a radio and  a cinema, developed in collaboration with media artist Ed Purver,  as part of PICA’s 2011 TBA Festival. Tim is the host of “The New Thing,” a  weekly radio jazz radio show  on KMHD 89.1 FM and is the author of the book Occasional Jazz Conjectures (Durable Goods).

The Inflated Tear: Many Blessings

inflated tear

I was asked recently to write a feature on Albums We Love for KMHD 89.1 FM, the listener-supported jazz station for which I do a weekly show. My show, The New Thing, is a “bridge” show that creates on-ramps, pathways, and springboards for mainstream jazz listeners to the rich tradition of jazz’s more free and avant-garde terrain.

Occasionally I like to remember how and why I like the music that has been such a vital center of my life for the last 30 years—this was a great opportunity to muse on an LP that was an important permission slip in my adolescence—both for what it taught me as a listener and what it illustrated was possible within and without the tradition of this oh-so beautiful music.

The version of this that ended up reprinted online was unrecognizable from what I wrote (after editors cut, spindled and creased it into submission— reminding me of Billy Collins’ poetry students who instead of losing themselves in the experience, wanted to tie works of writing “to a chair with rope/and torture a confession out of it/They begin beating it with a hose/to find out what it really means.”)…seemed a shame to let a nice piece gather dust. So consider this a Christmas card of thanks to a great jazz artist, Rahsaan Roland Kirk.

On The Inflated Tear: Many Blessings
45 years ago, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, Roland Kirk recorded a small masterpiece for Atlantic, entitled The Inflated Tear. Following in the wake of the very recent deaths of Coltrane, Woody Guthrie, and Che Guevara, The Inflated Tear was indeed a welcome gift, a wunderkammern, simultaneously hopeful, irreverent, jarring, and otherworldly. The Inflated Tear exerted a profound influence on my 16-year-old self, showing me all the ways jazz could be: brimming with childlike joy and abandon; seething, tearing at the seams of jazz’s more polite surface, while remaining rooted to tendrils of melody and swing.

Prodigiously talented and wildly idiosyncratic, qualities that were both a blessing and a curse, it is very hard to write about Kirk’s music without talking about the man.

Blind from the age of two, Kirk was a marvel, playing tenor sax, flute, clarinet and long-forgotten members of the sax family—cast-off step-children of “the bent-metal serpent” (as poet Ted Joans called the saxophone) like the Manzello and the Stritch, which he played simultaneously, fingering two horns while playing a third as a drone. Around his neck, stuffed into pockets, were whistles, nose flute, a section of garden hose, sirens, harmonica, a trumpaphone, a cuckoo clock, flexatone and something called a black puzzle flute.  Steeped in bebop, wading knee-deep in blues currents (big city, country-fied and otherwise), with a penchant for the surreal—the sight of a stocky blind man in black wraparound glasses blowing three horns at once was like some kind of Beat epiphany. Easily written off by critics as Barnumesque gaullimaufry, Kirk was one of the 1960s most exciting performers who seemed, as Dr. Billy Taylor said, “to generate music like a dynamo creating electric energy.”

Bursting on the scene when “the New Thing” was shunning melody and shirking off time, Kirk embraced jubilant swing, waltzes you could ice skate to, time-traveling nostalgic ballads and deep blues. He saw no need to reconcile freedom with tradition because in his hands it was all the same continuum—drawing equal influence and inspiration from Sidney Bechet, Mingus, Don Byas and Lester Young, Fats Waller and Monk, Duke Ellington and many of his cadre including Barney Bigard and Harry Carney. Kirk presaged the dictum of the AACM by embracing “Great Black Music—Ancient to the Future” from the get-go of his particular downbeat. If Kirk was guilty of anything it was that he, as Gary Giddins said, “appeared to have too much fun playing at a time when solemnity was big.”

Throughout the 1960s, Kirk reinvigorated jazz as both art and entertainment, weaving together a vivid sense of theater, politics and protest, humor, and an unimpeachable, heavy artistry – but it’s with The Inflated Tear, that he perfected and distilled his singular blend of tradition, freedom, pathos, and sense of play.

Stand-outs: “The Black and Crazy Blues” is an understanded dirge that finds pianist Ron Burton and Kirk playing catch with time and space without ever betraying a hint of corn. A flute feature, “A Laugh for Rory” crackles with innocence, light and feverishly good, tickle-and-pounce drum interplay from Jimmy Hopps. “Many Blessings” has a wonderful herky-jerky Monk-like tune (think of the tenor-piano cat-n-mouse of Monk’s “Shuffle Boil”) that evolves patiently before Kirk unleashes a rapid-fire, cascading tenor solo that overflows with flurries of notes and delicious sharp turns. On Ellington’s “Creole Love Call,” Kirk deploys his multi-horn blowing to stunning effect—uncoiling and taking things out into orbit, just enough, before landing back in the pocket. It’s a great illustration of Kirk’s diachronic love affair with the music: a nod to both his forebears and the playful, knotty shape of jazz to come.

The title track though is the prize at the bottom of the box. “The Inflated Tear,” a reference to a childhood incident of over-medication that turned a young Kirk from partially to fully blind, is deeply moving and begs repeated listening.  Opening with chiming shards of little instruments, flexatone, bells and Kirkian who-knows-what, silence is cleaved by a breathtakingly beautiful line like something out of the Strayhorn-Ellington canon, replete with Ron Burton’s piano-on-a-turquoise-cloud embellishments.  Beauty, sadness, tension, dignity, catharsis and forgiveness are all in attendance – creating an aural snapshot of a life poised, as the poet Kirsten Rian writes, “somewhere between grief and happiness.”

Like some kind of jazz-borne ancient mariner, Kirk used music as a sextant, measuring the angles between jazz’s birth and its path into the future. Roland Kirk, who said that he could “hear the sun” and ventured that “the wind was in Bb,” could seem at times like a saxophone-and-whistle-wielding shaman or like a jazz version of the Potato Face Blind Man, Carl Sandburg’s Rootabaga Stories minstrel who sat, “salut[ing] the dawn and the morning with a mixture of reverence and laughter.” Now, as in 1967, that is a gift, one worthy of thanks —and we are forever grateful to Kirk for this small masterpiece.

Tis the Season: Perry Robinson returns!

Perry Robinson with Battle Hymns & Gardens
Monday, December 17, 8 pm (doors 7:30 pm)
Backspace (115 NW Fifth Avenue, Portland)
$5-15 sliding | All ages

The ebullient and talented jazz/avant-garde clarinetist Perry Robinson plays Monday, December 17 at Backspace (115 Northwest 5th Avenue in bustling Old Town Portland) with drummer Tim DuRoche, bassist André St James and Seattle trombone great Marc Smason —sharing the bill with Battle Hymns & Gardens

Perry Robinson (clarinet)
The son of Earl Robinson, famed songwriter and compadre of Pete Seeger, Leadbelly and Woody Guthrie, who wrote ”The House I Live In,” “Joe Hill,” young Perry Robinson grew up surrounded by music of all shapes and sizes. Growing up in New York during the 1950s, he was exposed to a rich array of jazz, including the music of Tony Scott, who would become an early influence. Awarded a scholarship to the radical Lenox School of Jazz, Perry soon found himself in the orbit of Ornette Coleman and Don Cherry, George Russell, Herb Pomeroy, Bill Evans, Max Roach, Kenny Dorham as well as the entire Modern Jazz Quartet.

Perry recorded his first album as a leader in 1962 in Newark for Savoy Records with a very young Kenny Barron on piano, bassist Henry Grimes, and Bill Evans Trio drummer Paul Motian. He recorded with Grimes again in 1965 for the ESP label in a trio setting. Later forming important alliances with New Thing musicians, Perry worked with Bill Dixon, recorded with Archie Shepp on his 1966 album Mama Too Tight and worked with the Jazz Composers Orchestra in the early 1970s and participated in the Liberation Music Orchestra, led by bassist Charlie Haden. Throughout the 1970s, Perry worked with German multi-instrumentalist Gunter Hampel, along with vocalist Jeanne Lee,  drummer  Steve McCall and wind players Mark Whitecage and Thomas Keyserling. Since then, Perry has been leading his own groups as well as appearing on recordings of Clarinet Summit with Alvin Batiste, John Carter, with William Parker, and with pianist Anat Fort, among others.


Battle Hymns and Gardens is a collective ensemble featuring Reed Wallsmith (alto saxophone) and Joe Cunningham (tenor saxophone, penny whisle), bassist Jon Shaw, and drummer Tim DuRoche.  Originally formed in 2007 as a free improvisation ensemble, BHaG have evolved into one of the most compelling units on the Portland scene, balancing spacious, lyrical composition with a healthy dose of deeply conversational harmelodic interplay and accessible frenzy. Battle Hymns & Gardens have appeared as part of the 2012 Portland Jazz Festival, the 2012 PDX Pop Now fest, individually as part of the Creative Music Guild’s Improvisation Summit of Portland. They will release their debut album this coming winter.

“Some of [Portland's] most creative musicians. . .some of the city’s most intriguing far out jazz.”  —WILLAMETTE WEEK

GATHER: Support a new dance work about convergence and community

GATHER is a new dance-music piece about convergence and community scheduled to premier October 25–28 and November 1–3, 2012 at Conduit Dance in Portland, OR.

Developed by myself and choreographer Tere Mathern (co-artistic directors/co-creators),  GATHER explores notions of interdependence, connection, singularity, isolation, division— offering both creators and the audience ways to think about how we gather, create, agree and disagree and navigate common purpose —when the commons becomes more and more fleeting in our lives.

Our seventh project (we’ve previously created two full-length performances including PIVOT, Mathern´s commission for White Bird in January 2010 as well as smaller works over the last five years), GATHER forges new ground for both Tere and myself —foregrounding the role of discovery, improvisatory composition, and group-driven creativity as a more richly concentrated element.

GATHER includes some of the region´s exciting artists: Battle Hymns & Gardens (saxophonists Reed WallsmithJoe Cunningham —both members of the critically acclaimed Blue Cranes—bassist Jon Shaw, drummer Tim DuRoche) and dancers Kristine Anderson, Eowyn BarrettLyra ButlerTere MathernRachel Slater, and Joshua Thrower.

We currently have a USA Projects Campaign running —through October 22. And we need your help.  

We need to raise $5500!  We are seeking funds for the final phase of the project and to pay artists a more ‘livable’ artist fee. We also need funds for production costs – a costume designer, and a lighting designer/technical director.

One of the overarching themes of the work is how we change the conversation about the commons and activate an ethos of  “we are the ones we’ve been waiting for.” Your donation makes you part of that “we” – helping to reinvigorate the commons through live art and ask the questions that illuminate who we are, what we believe, and how we GATHER.  You can give as little as $1 or as much as $1500 and get a live music performance in your home!

Your donations are also tax deductible! We are grateful for your support!  Thank you for supporting live art and new ideas!

Battle Hymns & Gardens at the Waypost, April 14

Battle Hymns & Gardens w/ Ascetic Junkies
Saturday April 14, 8 pm
The Waypost (120 North Williams Avenue in Portland)
$5 cover | 21+

“[Battle Hymns & Gardens are] persuasively combining some ‘60s-style free-jazz possibilities with a more structured framework to create some of the city’s most intriguing improvisation.” – Willamette Week

History Pub

Monday, March 26, at 7 pm, I’ll be talking at History Pub, a wonderful collaboration between Holy Names Heritage Center, Oregon Historical Society and McMenamins/Kennedy School (5736 N.E. 33rd Avenue  Portland). I’ll be taking a look at the legacy of Dorothea Lensch (Director of Recreation for Portland Parks & Recreation, 1937-1972), particularly in the realm of arts and culture, but also her role in community building and nurturing Portland’s civic ecology over a number of decades.

What’s or who is the link between the 1903 Olmsted Plan and the Portland Opera and the Children’s Museum? Yes, indeed. A student of the Progressive Era impulse to invest in community institutions for the betterment of all, Lensch was our Roosevelt, Franklin AND Eleanor. She brokered major capital projects, built community centers, and championed arts, culture and recreation as a right for all, paying particular attention to low-income neighborhoods, communities of color, children and seniors, and people with disabilities and planted the seeds for much of what forms our thriving arts and culture community.

I’ll be sharing the bill with my pal Penny Hummel, director of the Canby Public Library, who’ll be talking about Mary Frances Isom, one of the founders of what is now the Multnomah County Library.

Stop on in—History Pub is one of the best testaments to history as a social activity, better experienced with friends and family!. Plus and it’s free.


Il faut cultiver notre Jardin: this Sunday!

Anticipating a rift in the space-time continuum, or rather to fend off any potential litigious bar-fight with The Man, Better Homes and Gardens will henceforth be known as Battle Hymns and Gardens –look for a new  website, new CD and many more exciting, new new things in the coming months.  Meanwhile join myself, Reed Wallsmith, Joe Cunningham and Jon Shaw for an evening of music at The Blue Monk (3341 SE Belmont), on Sunday, March 4, 8 pm, as part of the Ninkasi presents Sunday Night Jazz series.  It will be lovely, challenging, full of discovery and wonder…just like any journey to the edge of the frontier should be!

Kin Trio: Exposing “Roots”

Join the Kin Trio (featuring two of my favorite musicians: Eugene Lee, saxophones/bamboo flute and Andre St. James, contrabass; along with me, TdR, drums) this Thursday, March 1 at 8 pm at Teazone’s Camellia Lounge (510 NW 11th Avenue) as the celebrate their limited edition CD release “Roots” – featuring minimalist bebop and compositions by Lee.

Wonderful music in a Konitz-Marsh-Tristano trajectory, spare and spacious, glazed in bop but with a patient unfolding quality.

Uptown Saturday Night: Jazz, Film and Cultural Combustion!

Saturday is a big day! The Portland International Film and Jazz Festivals, cross-cultural conversation, a little emcee-ing, all capped off with a dosage of live, free music.

Saturday, February 18, 5 p.m.
Jazz Conversation: Enrico Rava & Tim DuRoche
PCPA | Art Bar (1111SW Broadway, Portland)
I’m honored to be conducting the Jazz Conversation with Italian jazz trumpet great Enrico Rava – a vivid improviser, composer and influential figure on the international jazz stage for over 40 years! This is a free event!

Then I’ll run across the street to the Portland Art Museum/Whitsell Auditorium where I’ll moderate a panel discussion following the 6 pm screening of Jafar Panahi and Mojtaba Mirtahmasb’s This is Not A Film (Iran):

Censorship & Documentary filmmaking – a Belarus perspective
Saturday, February 18, 7:15 p.m.- 8 p.m.
Stevens Room, Portland Art Museum (1219 SW Park Ave.)
Free with film admission

For this brief panel discussion, a group of international filmmakers (being sponsored by The World Affairs Council of Oregon’s International Visitor Program, through the US Dept. of State) discuss the artistic, political and practical challenges of producing films in Belarus (a country not unlike Iran, where internet, radio, press, TV, music and filmmaking are monitored and/or censored by centralized government control and free expression is limited).

Then I’ll walk back across the Park Blocks and introduce Enrico Rava at the Winningstad Theatre/PCPA, as part of the 2012 Portland Jazz Festival.

I’ll get to enjoy his Portland debut (for about 20 minutes) and then. . .transition to the Art Bar where I’ll set up for a (free) 9:30 p.m. gig with Better Homes & Gardens (featuring Reed Wallsmith and Joe Cunningham, saxes; Jon Shaw, contrabass; and myself on drums)….all new material, free music for a brave new world!

Better Homes & Gardens at the Portland Jazz Festival
Saturday, February 18, 9:30 p.m. – Free!!

Portland is a grand place – full of wonder and mystery, sounds and sights – and I’m glad I get to be a part of it. Hope to see you there.