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The New Cool: Jazzlandia in Portland

Used with kind permission of the artist.
Snarky Puppy will literally fill the stage at the Roseland Theater for this year's Portland Jazz Festival.

The 15th Portland Jazz Festival begins February 15th, running through the 25th with big names like Abdullah Ibrahim, Regina Carter, Kurt Elling, Marcus Roberts and Dr. Lonnie Smith. On this week's New Cool show, we'll highlight a few of the modern jazz shows in Portland at this year's festival.

As always, this is just a sampling of the wonderful jazz - traditional to modern and beyond - at this year's Portland Jazz Festival. Check out their website for details on all eleven days of jazz.

Mike Dillon Band, Feb. 15 (Goodfoot) - I first encountered Mike Dillon in the late 90s playing vibes and electronics with the Seattle band Critters Buggin', and thought to myself, "here's a guy playing vibraphone with the attitude of a rock star. That's cool!" He worked with Critters bandmate Skerik in The Dead Kenny G's, and Garage a Trois with Skerik, guitarist Charlie Hunter and drummer Stanton Moore, along with countless other bands. Always playing in that no-man's-land between jazz and punk rock. The Mike Dillon Band is celebrating their new album Life Is Not a Football at the PDX Jazzfest this year, featuring Dillon's gravelly rock vocals that evoke musical mad scientist Tom Waits. On this week's show, we'll go back a decade to hear Dillon's funky GoGo Jungle. Skerik, by the way, will be leading his band in at the Goodfoot in Portland on the 17th.

Lettuce, Feb. 17 (Roseland Theater) - There are plenty of soul and funk-influenced jazz groups (and straight up funk groups) playing at the festival, and I think the finest is Lettuce. This amazing Boston band includes 2/3 of the group Soulive with Eric Krasno and Neal Evans at the guitar and keys, expanded to a septet with horns and a second guitar with a tight rhythm section. It's hard to make good funk sound easy, Lettuce stacks incredible musicianship atop that for a sound jazz fans of all stripes will love. I'll play one from their most recent release, Crush on this week's New Cool.

Tigran Hamasyan, Feb. 19 (Mission Theater) - Introduced to me by one of our more adventurous School of Jazz guest DJs, pianist Tigran Hamasyan won the 2006 Monk Institute competition when he was still a teenager. Hamasyan's complex compositions and blend of influences ranging from progressive rock to Armenian folk music has gained him fans in heavy metal and jazz alike. His newest release An Ancient Observer leans into minimalist classical territory with mostly acoustic solo piano work with occasional wordless vocals. I'll play a brand new single, the delicate and slightly electronic piece "Rays of Light" from Hamasyan's upcoming album For Gyumri on the show this week.

Mostly Other People Do the Killing, Feb. 21 (Mission Theater) - Taking a skewed look at jazz traditions is MOPDTK's method of operation. Formed about 15 years ago by bassist/composer/bandleader Moppa Elliott, the group has existed in several different configurations. Two albums were released last year; Paint was their first piano trio effort, and Loafer's Hollow features a septet with banjo and horns. You'll hear the "drunk on Basin Street" rambler "Honey Hole" on this week's show. Old-timey, slowly swinging, but knocked around by searching solos, outer-space reverb, and off-kilter drumming, it's trad jazz with a knowing 21st century smirk. A similar septet is scheduled for this tour.

Snarky Puppy, Feb. 24 (Roseland Theater) - Held up as one of the foremost leaders of modern jazz in the new century, this Texas-born New York-based collective is riding high on the heels of three Grammy awards in the past 4 years. Formed from friends in the jazz studies program at North Texas University, Snarky Puppy don't like to call themselves a jazz band. It's an international convergence of cultures (members from the US, Canada, Japan, Argentina, UK, and Puerto Rico), performing together for the joy of musical growth and adventure. Funky, soulful, urgent, swinging, able to musically travel the globe in each performance, Snarky Puppy will take you on a trip. Check out progressive rock-meets-big band jazz funk on the classic "Outlier" on the New Cool this week.

Yotam Silberstein, Feb. 25 (Mississippi Studios) - The nation of Israel continues to send wonderful jazz musicians to the US. Guitarist Yotam Silberstein has been gaining attention and a dedicated fan base since moving to New York a dozen years ago, when he was a finalist in the Monk Institute's guitar competition. He's played with jazz greats like James Moody, John Patitucci, Monty Alexander and more, but he'll show off his fiery playing in a leadership role in Portland. This week on the New Cool, you'll hear his dancing, driving tune "Parabens" from a recent release. At the festival you'll hear Silberstein's quartet with Victor Gonçalves on piano and accordion, with the wonderful Trio Subtonic + Dan Balmer on guitar opening the show.

Other shows worth exploring on the Portland Jazz Festival website include Seattle's own Skerik Band, McTuff, and the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio. Also of note for New Cool fans: Scott Amendola, Mike Gamble, Dave King Trio, Ben Allison & Think Free, Julian Lage, Bill Frisell, Kandinsky Effect, Ethan Iverson, Dr. Lonnie Smith, Miles Electric Band, and Portland's wild "organic electronica" trio Yak Attack.

You'll find a more extensive preview of the festival at on Monday with highlights including Esperanza Spalding with Ravi Coltrane and Terri Lyne Carrington, Julian Lage, the Dave King Trio, Bill Frisell and more.

The New Cool airs Saturdays at from 3 to 5pm, hosted by Abe Beeson and produced by KNKX Public Radio in Seattle, Wash.