Portlander Ben Darwish and his quartet stepped it up a notch at the caramel-corn-scented Palace Theater as part of the Silverton Wine & Jazz Festival. If you missed this gig, you lost out on the most innovative of the day, though certainly the sexy mid-century couple of bass genius Glen Moore and the inimitable crooner/scatter/partner Nancy King, accompanied by pianist Dan Gaynor, attracted a way bigger crowd later in the evening.
Darwish, who looks uncannily like a combo of Bob Dylan and Keith Jarrett, is solely his own person and pianist with strains in his fast fingers of Bill Evans, Herbie Hancock and Jarrett. However, Darwish doesn’t moan like Jarrett; he sings and sings well.
A onetime student of teacher extraordinaire Randy Porter, who by the way stopped in to listen to his former student after his Bill Hughes trio gig, Darwish composes and performs inventive, melodic (this time around), and sometimes whimsical music with highly skilled young musicians, including Tim Wilcox on the sax, Bill Athens, bass, and drummer Randy Rollofson. He gives them all plenty of sound and solo time, but he is clearly in charge, and in charge of the full range of the piano.
The quartet played several cuts from the new five-cut EP, I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon, in the second set along with “Let It Pass,” “Bliss” and “Mind the Hair.” Among the EP cuts were “Under the Bright Red Sky,” “No More Lies” and “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” (the last, an arrangement from the Sesame Street Songbook).
When Darwish sings in his slightly breathy voice, sometimes tenor, sometimes baritone, sometimes utterly boyish, sometimes soulful, I can’t quite place his vocals. So they must be Ben Darwish’s. After hearing him sing “I Don’t Want to Live on the Moon” (“there are so many places I’d like to be but none of them permanently”), I have full confidence that this serious group of up-and-comers will keep pushing music, even its part of the best childhood songs. Theirs is alive and inspiring, crossing age-old skills with a range of genres.
A duo in the sun
Andre St. James
The combo of bassist Andre St. James and guitarist Frank Tribble, earlier in the afternoon Saturday on the deck above Silver Creek at Willamette Construction, was all about those ideal musical moments when “What the World Needs Now” or “Days of Wine and Roses” become a satisfying 10-minute conversation between two seasoned, sun-soaked string players. Onetime Midwesterner Tribble is a generous musician, letting St. James carry the melody every so often, though he can do any guitar imitation of Wes Montgomery, Grant Green or Cal Collins you might ask for on his blond Heritage. These guys play the jazz songbook with a light touch, grooved momentum and balanced dynamics, as well as with the high standards honed by several decades of serious practice. You can catch them at Portland’s Aloft Hotel’s w xyz bar in Portland on Wednesday nights.
Bill Hughes Trio, a clutch of super-talented guys, played an afternoon gig at Howard Hinsdale Cellars, one of the coziest venues at the Silverton Jazz Festival.
Guitarist Hughes, a onetime Salem physician, plays a lot of gigs closer to Salem than to Portland, so if you’re not familiar with him, now’s the time. Ken Anoe, among Oregon’s fleet of fine bass musicians, and the wonderful , whom jazz writer Lynn Darroch dubbed a “pianist’s pianist,” filled out the trio.
Hughes, a lively guy who yelled out “Ken Anoe on Bass!”‘ and “Randy Porter on piano!” and “What a lovely day!” more than once, said he forgot to think about bringing originals. No problem. There was a lot of good jazz-standard stuff like “Yardbird,” “Autumn Leaves” and “Slow Boat to China” to accompany a glass of Willamette Valley vino. This trio had that elegant, perfectly calibrated give-and-take going suited to a wine bar with a musicians’ balcony. And with a group like this, it is almost impossible to screw up anything.