I'm beginning to have a new place in Portland just a couple months before I leave. It's called the Airplay Cafe, and it's on the corner of E. Burnside and 7th.
Frankly, a lot of the events are geared toward families with kids and are not my cup of tea. However, there's a great open mic every Wednesday night with a featured songwriter (such as Dustin Pattison, who you should check out), which also allows musicians to use the house band during the second part of the evening. But, tonight I moved from giving mixed reviews of Airplay to being a fan. Tonight, there was jazz.
There were four young players who swung hard and funky – Farnell Newton (trumpet), Greg Goebel (piano), Eric Gruber (bass), and Chris Brown (drums). Do yourself a favor and follow the links to check out these guys' music, because it's phenomenal.
I first saw Farnell Newton a couple years ago at the Monday night jazz jam at Produce Row, and then saw him later with local Cuban band Caña Son. He's an exciting player who excels in straight ahead jazz, funk, soul, Latin, hip-hop, and what sounded tonight like a hard-bop/funk fusion.
I first saw Greg Goebel playing at Wilf's with Kate Davis during this year's Portland Jazz Festival, and saw him again at a Produce Row jam. He is quickly becoming one of my favorite pianists in Portland, with harmonically complex and rhythmically adventurous solos that are always tuned in to what the rhythm section is doing around him. He is slated to play a long run of shows with local modified bass master David Friesen in support of Friesen's newest CD release, Five & Three.
This was my first time to hear Eric Gruber, and I liked what I heard. He really helped amp up the energy in the rhythm section and had some fantastic harmonic interplay with Greg on some of the solos. He only took a couple solos himself, but they were harmonically rich and rhythmically driving. He plays with tenor saxophonist Devin Phillips' New Orleans Straight Ahead and the Andrew Oliver Sextet.
I had never heard of Chris Brown, and I can't believe it took me so long. He was leading a lot of the songs tonight and brought high energy and tons of rhythmic complexity. They played one or two of his compositions and a few of his arrangements, all of which were stellar. He's a Portland native (son of the famed Mel Brown), but has been on the East Coast for a decade now, where he teaches jazz theory at Rutgers and plays drums in the New York scene with luminaries such as Benny Golson, Essiet Essiet (see the link for Produce Row above), Kenny Davis, and Roy Hargrove.
These guys put on an amazing show. You have two more chances to catch them as a quartet before Chris heads back East. Tomorrow night they'll be at Jimmy Mak's at 10pm playing as Itutu and Saturday night at they will be playing as the Farnell Newton Quartet at a very cool new Portland event (which sadly ends in mid-June) called 'Round Midnight at 11:30pm.
Do me a favor and go to one of these shows, since my early work schedule will not allow me to enjoy a repeat performance. And after Chris leaves, be sure to catch Farnell and Greg whenever you can. They're well worth the affordable cover fees that Portland's underappreciated jazz scene currently charges.