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Out & About: Fiddle phenom, jazz master, dance band visit Portland

Lifestyle

Out & About: Fiddle phenom, jazz master, dance band visit Portland

Portland music aficionados can look forward to a diverse group of visiting artists.

Topping the list is Eileen Ivers, an Irish-American fiddling phenom who plays this Saturday and Sunday as the Portland Symphony Orchestra’s featured guest artist. These two concerts open the PSO’s 2010-2011 Pops Series.

Portland Ovations hosts a visit by the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International on Friday; the venue will be the University of Southern Maine’s Portland campus.

The National Endowment of the Arts recently honored saxophonist David Liebman with its Masters of Jazz Award. Liebman will be visiting Portland’s One Longfellow Square on Sunday.

And speaking of jazz at One Longfellow Square, the 18-piece Portland Jazz Orchestra, Maine’s top big band, will play on Monday.

Portland Symphony Orchestra Pops

She’s American by birth, Irish by parentage and has traveled the world with her striking blue fiddle. That’s the quick take on Eileen Ivers, the fiddling phenom who will be appearing this weekend as the guest artist as the Portland Symphony Orchestra opens its four-part 2010-2011 Pops series with concerts on Saturday and Sunday.

Born in New York City of Irish-born parents, Ivers spent her summers in the Emerald Isle and learned Celtic fiddle style from some of that country’s masters. Although sometimes pegged as an Irish fiddler, she’s also absorbed a variety of diverse cultural influences that happily percolate through her music. (As I type this column, Ivers’ 1999 “Crossing the Bridge” album is spinning on my CD player. It features a nine-voice chorus of African women singing an arrangement of “Jama,” a traditional African song.)

The winner of nine All-Ireland fiddle championships, Ivers has been dazzling audiences with her multicultural and genre-bending performances for decades. Through appearances with the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony at the Kennedy Center, the Boston Pops, The Chieftains, Sting, and many others, Ivers has established herself as the pre-eminent exponent of the Irish fiddle in the world today.

For her Portland appearance, she’ll be bringing her band, Immigrant Soul. This combo has headlined prestigious performing arts centers, guest star turns with symphonies and major festivals worldwide. Her PSO program ranges from light classical, with a distinctly Irish flavor, to traditional Celtic tunes rendered with symphonic scope.

Two concerts are slated at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall: 7:30 p.m. Oct. 9 and 2:30 p.m. Oct. 10. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Occidental Brothers Dance Band International

“Maine and Its Ties to Africa” is an ongoing thematic thread that links a number of offerings by Portland Ovations. This Friday’s appearance by the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International marks the first of that series in Ovations’ 2010-2011 calendar.

Born from the Chicago-based West African highlife revival movement spanning the 1960s, 70s, and 80s, the Occidental Brothers Dance Band International blends soukous, Ghananian highlife, African jazz, rumba and other styles from Central and West Africa into an energetic concert experience. The tradition of the sound stems from the acoustic palmwine music of coastal towns in Ghana, Sierra Leone and Nigeria that progressed into big dance band music and on to African guitar band music over the past four decades.

This ensemble will be joined in their Portland Ovations’ engagement by Congolese singer Samba Mapangala, a legend of African music.

Plus there’s an educational component. Ovations Offstage hosts a free pre-performance lecture immediately preceding the concert. Chief Oscar Mokeme, director of Portland’s Museum of African Culture, discusses the tradition of African high-energy dance music and relates it to his native Nigeria. Mokeme also explores the contemporary cultural life of Maine’s growing African community.

Catch this event at Hannaford Hall, 88 Bedford St. (on the University of Maine’s Portland campus). The concert is slated for 8 p.m., with the lecture at 6:30 p.m. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

David Liebman

Saxophonist, composer and educator: That’s the short summary of David Liebman, whose professional career in jazz has taken him around the globe from his native New York during nearly four decades. This past summer he was honored with the Masters of Jazz Award by the National Endowment of the Arts. That award goes with a host of others, including an honorary doctorate from the Sibelius Academy in Helsinki, Finland.

A two-time Grammy nominee (Best Solo Performance in 1998 and Best Arrangement for Big Band in 2000), Liebman is a renaissance man in contemporary music. He boasts three CDs under his own name, and has appeared on approximately 350 recordings as a session player, sideman, composer, co-producer or arranger.

He has played with Miles Davis, Elvin Jones, Chick Corea, John McLaughlin and McCoy Tyner. He has penned books and recorded instructional DVDs. He is a leader in styles ranging from classical to rock to free jazz. He founded the International Association of Schools of Jazz and was inducted into the International Association of Jazz Educators Hall of Fame in 2000. Jazz Journalist honored him with its Best Soprano Saxophone Award in 2007.

He currently serves on the Board of Advisers for Jazz Improv Magazine, the Chet Baker Foundation, the Pennsylvania Regional Jazz Coalition, American Jazz Venue and is presently Artist in Residence at the Manhattan School of Music in New York.

David Liebman visits Portland Oct. 10 at 7 p.m. (an hour earlier than previously published) at One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State). Call 761-1757.

Portland Jazz Orchestra

Big-band jazz is featured the following night at the same venue. The band is the Portland Jazz Orchestra, led by Chris Oberholtzer, the University of Southern Maine School of Music’s top jazz professor. Although not one of the official USM ensembles, PJO includes a number of artists connected to the school. Plus other music educators: The PJO is entirely made up of professional musicians, many of whom are both performers and teachers in New England.

Started in 2004, the PJO is an 18-piece jazz ensemble that performs a variety of traditional and contemporary big band literature. The PJO frequently plays pieces written by its own members – such as Craig Skeffington, Willie Johnson, Chris Humphrey and Terry White – in addition to literature composed by a variety of jazz artists that include Tom Kubis, Matt Harris, Bob Mintzer, Bill Holman and Maria Schneider. The PJO also performs classic works from the big band libraries of the Count Basie Orchestra, Woody Herman Orchestra and the Stan Kenton Orchestra.

One Longfellow Square (corner of Congress and State in Portland), presents the Portland Jazz Orchestra at 8 p.m. Oct. 11. Call 761-1757.