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Out & About: Jazz the focus of 'American Songbook' in Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: Jazz the focus of 'American Songbook' in Portland

Music from several countries, cultures and time frames is coming up in southern Maine.

This Friday, Bates College in Lewiston offers Europa Galante as part of its public concert series. Europa Galante is an ensemble that specializes in the Italian Baroque period of classical music.

The biggest show is in the Port City, where the Portland Symphony Orchestra switches to pops mode on Saturday and Sunday for a pair of concerts titled “Swingin’ the American Songbook.” American jazz is the focus, with particular emphasis on the musical stylings of the 1920s through 1940s. Jazz singer Banu Gibson will be the featured performer, while guest conductor Keitaro Harada will wield the baton.

On Sunday evening, Portland Ovations presents Haitian singer-songwriter and guitarist BelO, known as his homeland’s socially conscious musical ambassador.

One Longfellow Square offers Portland-based singer-songwriter Eric Bettencourt; his distinctive gravelly voice will fill the intimate music room on Nov. 8. Catch him now, because he’s packing his guitar and motoring west to spend the next six months writing and playing in Austin, Texas.

Europa Galante

Europa Galante is a globetrotting Baroque ensemble that seldom visits Maine. So this Friday’s appearance at Bates College in Lewiston is an opportunity I don’t want to miss.

Europa Galante was founded in 1990 following the dream of its musical director, violinist Fabio Biondi, to create an Italian ensemble playing on period instruments and interpreting Baroque and classical repertoire.

The ensemble has a varying structure and often performs chamber music such as the string sonatas of Italian composers of the 17th century. This Friday’s program will focus on composers Antonio Vivaldi and C.P.E. Bach.

Europa Galante has appeared in many of the world’s most celebrated concert halls such as La Scala in Milan, Accademia di Santa Cecilia in Rome, Suntory Hall in Tokyo, Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, Royal Albert Hall in London, Musikverein in Vienna, Lincoln Center in New York and the Sydney Opera House. The ensemble has toured throughout Australia, Japan, Europe, Canada, Israel, the U.S. and South America.

And now they’re schedule for the Olin Arts Center on the Bates College Campus in Lewiston at 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2. Call 786-6135.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

Jazz is one of America’s most distinctive contributions to the world’s musical culture, and a singer who has presented our country’s jazz around the world will be featured this weekend when the Portland Symphony Orchestra swings into pops mode with a program titled “Swingin’ the American Songbook.”

Banu Gibson will be the featured artist. A swinging jazz singer, Gibson is one of the few vocalists of her generation to maintain exclusive loyalty to songs of the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. A powerful force on stage, Gibson’s enthusiasm and showmanship are highlighted by her wide range and her ability to infuse new life into old standards.

With an extensive repertoire of songs, Gibson’s performances cover many high points of America’s golden age of popular music. Rather than mimic singers of the past, Gibson mixes fresh renditions of Tin Pan Alley standards and jazz classics by George Gershwin, Duke Ellington, Irving Berlin, Hoagy Carmichael, Fats Waller, Cole Porter and others.

Gibson has performed abroad with New Orleans Hot Jazz in Germany, England, Holland, Norway, Sweden and Australia. Other highlights have been a week of performances in Vienna and a tour of Japan with The World’s Greatest Jazz Band.

Gibson has expanded her audiences with pops programs for symphony orchestras, logging more than 60 concerts. She has taken this pops program to St. Louis, Cincinnati, Indianapolis, Phoenix, Tucson and San Diego. Perhaps her highest profile appearances have been with the Boston Pops and a three-night booking at the Hollywood Bowl with John Mauceri and the Hollywood Bowl Symphony Orchestra.

Gibson exercises creativity within the boundaries of the genre, consistently inventing fresh and imaginative variations giving new life to timeless, unforgettable music.

Guest conductor Keitaro Harada, the music director of the Phoenix Youth Symphony Orchestra, is one of the world’s most exciting up-and-coming young maestros. Born in Tokyo and educated largely in this country, the 27-year-old’s formal training includes stints with the Boston Symphony Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony. His practical experience ranges from performer (saxophone) to conductor in a variety of styles, including classical, opera, American musical theater and cabaret.

The Portland Symphony Orchestra presents “Swingin’ the American Songbook” twice at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 3 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 4. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

BelO

A socially conscious folk singer, hailed as Haiti’s musical ambassador to the world, will be appearing this Sunday under the aegis of Portland Ovations.

Jean Murat Belony, known professionally as BelO, was born near Haiti’s capital and started singing at a very young age. BelO interprets ballads and other songs channeling his deep and diverse Afro-Caribbean roots with the intriguing beats of reggae and the soul of R&B.

Active in many humanitarian efforts to rebuild Haiti, BelO inspires change at home and abroad with his powerful lyrics tackling hard-hitting themes focused around the destiny of Haiti’s children and rebuilding his country after the devastating earthquake of 2010.

Catch BelO at 7 p.m. Nov. 4 at the Abromson Center for Community Education, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Eric Bettencourt

One’s first impression of Eric Bettencourt is the archetype of the purposefully disheveled singer-songwriter who’s perpetually in a creative and dynamic state of disarray. But when Bettencourt straps on his guitar and steps up the microphone to perform, his musical talent overwhelms the appearance – and causes southern Maine audiences to flock to his shows.

With a gift for melody and lyricism, keyed to his scratchy, gravelly voice – Janis Joplin, Bob Dylan and Rod Stewart come to mind here – Bettencourt has become a formidable force on the Port City Music scene, having recorded and released three CDs and currently working on the next one.

But the next album may not happen here. Bettencourt is looking for a change in physical climate and heading west to the fertile musical climate of Austin, Texas, where he plans to spend the next six months. On Nov. 8 he’ll make his last pre-departure Portland appearance, promising to introduce a slew of new songs to his admirers and newfound friends.

Catch Eric Bettencourt’s “Goodbye For Now” show at 8 p.m. Nov. 8 at One Longfellow Square, corner of State and Congress in Portland. Call 761-1757.