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Out & About: Big musical weekend in Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: Big musical weekend in Portland

There are plenty of concert choices this weekend in Portland.

First up is singer-songwriter John Gorka, an exemplar of the New Folk movement, who will play Friday at One Longfellow Square.

Three topnotch offerings compete on Saturday. Portland Symphony Orchestra will play a Pops program devoted to the music of the late jazzman Dave Brubeck at Merrill Auditorium. Guest artists will be a quartet that includes two sons of Brubeck, Chris and Dan, who carry forth their father’s art.

Half a mile west on Congress Street, Yonder Mountain String Band, in the middle of a national tour, will visit the State Theatre.

A bit off the peninsula, Portland Ovations will host Scottish Gaelic singer Julie Fowlis at Hannaford Hall. Her program is titled “Music of the Scottish Isles,” and she’ll be accompanied by her own three-piece band.

Portland Ovations will also host the Paul Taylor Dance Company on Nov. 6 at Merrill Auditorium.

John Gorka

Rising from a milieu of lovelorn singer-songwriters, John Gorka illuminates instead with his trademark wordplay – twisting, turning and tying words and phrases in the way a balloon artist creates complex creatures from simple balloons. Few contemporary songwriters coax language as deftly as Gorka.

For over two decades, Gorka’s keen ear has picked up the stories of people he meets along his path of life, folding them into poetry and song. His perceptiveness inspires people from all over the world to share their stories.

Gorka’s professional career took off in 1984, when he won the Kerrville (Texas) Folk Festival’s top award. A dozen recordings on the Red House and Windham Hill labels followed.

Gorka flies below the pop culture radar with an almost cult-like following that seldom fails to fill concerts. His shy, almost self-effacing stage presence rightfully focuses attention on the songs. His versatility on guitar and piano keeps his sets musically interesting, while his rich baritone effortlessly executes his bidding. And he’s never short of the sly comment or clever joke that invariably ignites an audience.

Catch John Gorka at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland, at 8 p.m. Nov. 1. Call 761-1757.

Portland Symphony Orchestra

America’s leading exponent of modern jazz was Dave Brubeck, a pianist and composer who emerged on the national music scene in the 1950s and 1960s and continued at the forefront of the genre for more than half a century. Known for experimentation with tonalities and time signatures, Brubeck’s name was synonymous with “cool jazz” for many decades.

Dave Brubeck died a year ago, but his music continues via two sons, Chris and Dan. Their Brubeck Brothers Quartet will be guests of the Portland Symphony Orchestra for this weekend’s Pops program.

The Brubeck Brothers Quartet has performed across North America in jazz festivals, including Newport, Detroit, Ravinia, Las Vegas, Sedona, Spokane and Monterey. Experienced in collaborating with orchestras, the group’s creativity and improvisation promises an unforgettable night of classic hits while embracing the spontaneity of jazz.

This weekend’s two PSO concerts, conducted by music director Robert Moody, will feature some of Dave Brubeck’s famous jazz hits including “Take Five,” “Unsquare Dance,” and “Blue Rondo a la Turk.” Concert selections will also include “Black and Blue,” “In Your Own Sweet Way,” and “We’re Still in Love After All These Years.”

Two performances are slated for Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Nov. 2 and 2:30 p.m. Nov. 3. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Yonder Mountain String Band

Pushing the creative boundaries of a well-established genre is the shtick of a foursome from Colorado that’s visiting Portland on Saturday.

At first glance, Yonder Mountain String Band may appear to be a traditional bluegrass band, but the customary instrumentation (minus the fiddle) is stretched into new dimensions, transcending any single stylistic pigeonhole.

The four guys mostly perform their own original songs, a point underscored by their recent EP, which includes four songs, each penned by a different band member: Adam Aijala (guitar, vocals), Jeff Austin (mandolin, vocals), Dave Johnston (banjo, vocals) and Ben Kaufmann (bass, vocals).

Yonder Mountain String Band is regularly featured at major music festivals such as the Telluride Bluegrass Festival, Northwest String Summit and DelFest as well as massive multi-stage events like Austin City Limits Festival, Bonnaroo and Rothbury.

Yonder Mountain String Band appears at the State Theatre, 609 Congress St. in Portland, Nov. 2 at 7:30 p.m. Call 956-6000.

Julie Fowlis

Hailing from North Uist in Scotland’s Outer Hebrides islands, Julie Fowlis has attracted a huge and growing fan-base for her lilting, pure voice and inspiring performances, primarily in her native Gaelic language. A multi-instrumentalist who grew up singing, piping and dancing since she was a child, Fowlis burst forth on the world music stage in 2005 with an acclaimed CD and a slew of awards and nominations.

In the ensuing years Fowlis has become one of the hippest singer-songwriters around and is a proud standard bearer for Gaelic music and culture. She performs with several ensembles, including her own, which features fiddle, guitar, bouzouki and flutes.

She is perhaps most widely known for two original songs, “Touch the Sky” and “Into the Open Air,” written for “Brave,” the Academy Award-winning Disney Pixar film.

Portland Ovations will host Fowlis this Saturday at 8 p.m. at Hannaford Hall at the Abromson Community Education Center, 88 Bedford St. on the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Paul Taylor Dance Company

Iconic and iconoclastic: That’s a quick summary of the Paul Taylor Dance Company. For nearly 60 years the New York-based terpsichorean troupe has been at the forefront of modern American dance, and about half the company’s annual season has been spent on the road. It has appeared in more than 500 cities in 62 countries, and Portland is on the list, with a Nov. 6 performance slated.

A Juilliard School graduate, the namesake dancer first performed with the companies of Martha Graham and George Balanchine before founding his own ensemble in 1954. Renowned for his unforgettable characters and wordless stories, Taylor was very controversial in the 1950s and 1960s, creating dances on every imaginable subject, including some that were strictly taboo. Although he stopped performing in 1974, Taylor continues as the company’s choreographer and his creativity remains unabated.

The Nov. 6 performance will include three of Taylor’s best-known dances spanning three decades: “Dust” from 1977, “Mercuric Tidings” from 1982 and “Piazolla Caldera” from 1997. Catch this performance, hosted by Portland Ovations, at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall at 7:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.