When the Riverhouse Jazz series launched in Bend last year, I couldn’t help but think of the old Western-film clich é , often spouted by gunmen slowly advancing toward each other on a deserted, dusty thoroughfare: “This town ain’t big enough for the two of us.”
Turns out, this town is big enough for two premium-priced jazz series. The long-running Jazz at the Oxford sold out every show in its seventh season last year, while Riverhouse Jazz also packed in the fans — this, despite at least three shows going head-to-head on the same weekends (that situation also repeats itself this year).
Wouldn’t you know it, the first shows of the series overlapped Friday and Saturday: Rising singer and pianist (and Prince protoge) Kandace Springs played two nights at Currents in Riverhouse on the Deschutes, while drummer T.S. Monk, son of Thelonious himself, led his sextet through three sets at The Oxford Hotel. And, perhaps unsurprisingly at this point, all the shows were sellouts.
I attended shows at both series last year, but never both series on the same weekend, so an experiment seemed to be in order. I caught Springs and her quartet Friday, then saw Monk’s late set Saturday.
Music-wise, at least for the opening weekend, Riverhouse skewed more modern while Oxford tacked traditional. Not that Springs’ Friday set wasn’t steeped in tradition — one of her finest moments was a solo take on Ella Fitzgerald’s “Solitude” late in the first set. But for every standard such as Etta James’ “At Last” or “Soul Eyes” (the title cut from her debut album), she’d throw in a funky take on War’s “The World is a Ghetto,” a solo jaunt through Prince’s “The Beautiful Ones” or even a classical piece on piano.
While Springs had a solid band backing her up — drummer Dillon Treacy especially deserves mention for his solid stick work throughout — this show was all about the star up front. Springs could have just sang and played her set, and that would have been enough to have the crowd in the palm of her hand. But she’s also a live wire, genuinely warm and funny, and she bantered back and forth with the audience often, encouraging sing-alongs and leading chants of “he-ey.” Often during songs, she’d turn from the Fender Rhodes at the front of the stage or the piano off to the side to offer her bandmates encouragement.
By contrast, Monk’s performance hinged on the tight interplay among the six instrumentalists onstage. Celebrating the 100th anniversary of his father’s birth, Monk turned in a set heavy on his dad’s standards, including a fierce take on the ubiquitous “’Round Midnight” (the most recorded tune in the history of jazz, as Monk proudly proclaimed), and told plenty of stories about his dad and the history of jazz along the way.
In this group’s hands, each composition was examined, re-examined and expanded thoroughly. You can’t pay tribute to Thelonious without an incredible pianist, and Theo Hill more than fit the bill. Though cleaner than the elder Monk, Hill ably captured his spirit with angular solos on set opener “Think of One” and the bouncy “Skippy.” The horn section of Willie Williams (tenor saxophone), Patience Higgins (alto saxophone and flute) and Randall Haywood (trumpet) led the way melodically, with the young Haywood especially impressing with his adventurous solos.
— Reporter: 541-617-7814, firstname.lastname@example.org