The hype surrounding the 2023 edition of the Biamp Portland Jazz Festival has been somewhat muted this year. And that's in spite of the fact that the event has hit a major milestone: the fest's 20th anniversary.
Some of that restraint stems from the fact that this year's lineup is so strong that it hardly needs to be shouted from every rooftop. The excitement surrounding big ticket events like Angelique Kidjo (pictured) performing Talking Heads' Remain In Light, pianists Kris Davis and James Francies sharing a bill for the first time, and sets by genre-fluid acts like Hiatus Kaiyote, Mark Guiliana, and Moor Mother has been palpable for months now.
Still, the folks who worked tirelessly to get this festival booked and organized aren't taking the achievement of reaching the 20 year mark lightly.
"I think that the organization made it to 20 years shows the commitment of individuals in this community to this music and the work the organization is doing," says Nicholas Salas-Harris, artistic director for PDX Jazz. "It takes a whole lot of work from a whole lot of people to get an organization from inception, which is where Bill Royston started, to celebrating its 20th anniversary. It's been a lot of hard work by hundreds and hundreds of people over the course of 20 years to make this milestone happen."
There's no denying, however, how much the festival has evolved in the few short years since Salas-Harris took on the role of artistic director after the departure of Don Lucoff in 2019. The organization's booking decisions are far more adventurous, and they've wisely tapped into the deep wellspring of young jazz talent that exists within Portland right now. The city has responded in kind with audiences skewing younger and younger, and definitely much more diverse.
"It's really important that we serve the entire community," says Salas-Harris. "If you really want to engage people in the community, you have to go out and find what is relevant to them, to make them want to be engaged with your organization. And that's what we're trying to program."
With the Portland Jazz Festival properly getting underway tonight, here are a few suggestions of can't miss events happening during what will surely be a whirlwind couple of weeks in the city.
Angelique Kidjo's Remain In Light (Friday, Feb 17 at Roseland Theater)
Talking Heads are most assuredly never getting back together, so it is up to daring artists like singer Angelique Kidjo to keep that foundational post-punk band's music alive. As she has been doing for the past few years, Kidjo will be performing all of Remain In Light, the Heads' 1980 masterpiece that found the group further incorporating African rhythms and avant-garde textures into their sound. Kidjo emphasizes the former and takes the music skyward with her unbeatable vocals and regal stage presence.
I AM (Saturday Feb 18 at the Jack London Revue)
Spiritual jazz duo I AM — consisting of drummer Michael Shekwoaga Ode and saxophonist Isaiah Collier — makes music that feels like being caught in an atmospheric storm while floating above the surface of Jupiter. Their most recent album Beyond is a colorful swirl of squalling melody lines and turbulent rhythms that evoke legendary musical clashing by Coltrane and Rasheid Ali or Milford Graves and Albert Ayler.
Machado Mijiga Trio (Tuesday Feb 21 @ The Jupiter NEXT)
Local drummer and composer Machado Mijiga is gearing up to release a brand new album of original work that continues to shore up the bridges connecting jazz with hip-hop, electronic, and future R&B. With any luck, we'll get a sneak preview when he and his trio take on an afternoon set at this upscale hotel.
Charles Musselwhite & Curtis Salgado (Thursday Feb 23 at Revolution Hall)
These two blues greats have surely shared many stages together during their lengthy careers. But it still feels special when a double-bill like this is in full swing — especially when graced with the foundational rumble of Charles Musselwhite's harp playing and Curtis Salgado's well-seasoned and thoroughly emotive vocals.
Dave Holland Trio / Derrick Hodge Trio (Friday Feb 24 at Newmark Theatre)
When living jazz legends come to town, it's only right and natural to pay them our respects. PDX Jazz has no shortage of those names in the lineup but one standout is Dave Holland. The NEA Jazz Master has shared his talents with the likes of Miles Davis, Betty Carter, Chick Corea, and Stan Getz, shifting and adapting his playing to meet any style or mood. For his Portland Jazz Festival spotlight, he will be showcasing his chameleonic skills in tandem with his long standing trio that includes guitarist Kevin Eubanks and drummer Eric Harland.