Out & About: Portland Ovations hosts 3 acts in 7 days

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The long Christmas-New Year break is over for the national touring acts, and no fewer than three of them are heading into Portland’s Merrill Auditorium over an upcoming seven-day stretch.

All are hosted by Portland Ovations.

On Friday, The Jones Family Singers, a traditional African-American gospel ensemble with a vibrant new sound, will concertize in Merrill on the final leg of their Martin Luther King memorial tour.

On Sunday, a classical trio will hold forth. Calling themselves “JCT” after their initials, the three men like to think of themselves as “Junction Trio.”

On Jan. 26 it’s Vocalosity, a high-powered a cappella ensemble that covers a vast swath of artistic territory.

One Longfellow Square also has an important touring act featured this Friday. The Gibson Brothers have been mainstays of American bluegrass for decades, and four years ago they copped Entertainer of the Year honors from the International Bluegrass Music Association.

The Jones Family Singers

A Pentecostal preacher plus his five daughters and two sons: That’s the basic formula for one of the hottest new American gospel ensembles to emerge in the past few years.

Hailing from the Mt. Zion Pentecostal Holiness Church of the Gulf Coast town of Markham, Texas, The Jones Family Singers are on the final leg of their Martin Luther King tour. Portland Ovations will host them this Friday, as part of its American Traditions series.

The group, headed by patriarch Fred Jones, has an exciting sound that’s grounded in traditional African-American gospel music and supported by a quartet of instruments normally found in a rock band – keyboards, guitar, bass and drums – that’s crucial to bringing the music to wider audiences.

The Jones Family Singers have been performing together for decades, but were only recently “discovered” and brought to national attention. Part of that discovery happened when Austin filmmaker Alan Berg produced “The Jones Family Will Make a Way,” a musical documentary that became a surprising hit on the film festival circuit.

Two CDs, “The Spirit Speaks” and “Live From Mt. Zion,” won critical acclaim and led to bookings in New York’s Lincoln Center, Washington’s Kennedy Center and folk festivals around the country. Even more recently the Jones Family Singers released their cover version of Johnny Cash’s 1965 classic, “All God’s Children Ain’t Free,” a powerful song which is featured on the current tour.

Portland Ovations presents the Jones Family Singers Jan. 20 at 8 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Gibson Brothers

The same night, at the other end of Portland’s Arts District, another quintessential American musical ensemble will perform: the Gibson Brothers bluegrass duo.

The “brother act” close-harmony duo has been a staple of bluegrass music from its inception, and the Gibsons represent today’s apex of the art form. I’ve been going to bluegrass festivals in Maine for decades, and I’ve seen these two guys at least half a dozen times, always booked into the evening’s premier time slot.

This Friday they’re performing at Portland’s premier venue for Americana and related traditional and acoustic music, One Longfellow Square.

Banjo player and vocalist Eric Gibson and guitarist and vocalist Leigh Gibson grew up on a dairy farm in upstate New York. The Gibsons began performing together in the late 1980s and made their professional breakout in the 1990s with a series of albums and high-profile festival appearances. (Like most brother acts, they perform with a backing group; the Gibsons’ includes a bassist, mandolinist and fiddler.)

Twelve full-length albums have been issued, with the latest being “Brotherhood,” released in 2015 on Rounder Records. The Gibsons have been staples on the bluegrass festival circuit and they’re also favorites among the juries for two leading organizations, the Society for the Preservation of Bluegrass Music in America and the International Bluegrass Music Association.

The former group has bestowed six awards to the Gibson Brothers, including Entertainer of the Year, Songwriter of the Year and Best Vocal Group.

The latter has honored the brothers with eight awards, beginning nearly two decades ago with Emerging Artist of the Year and most recently with Entertainer of the Year.

Catch the Gibson Brothers at 8 p.m. Jan. 20 at One Longfellow Square, corner of Congress and State in Portland. Call 761-1757.

JCT Trio

Three young American classical virtuosos have banded together as a trio that’s currently touring North American concert halls. Violinist Stefan Jackiw, cellist Jay Campbell and pianist Conrad Tao call themselves the JCT Trio – from their last initials – but prefer to pronounce their ensemble as “junction.”

Although each of the three espouses new music by living composers, and Tao is a noted composer in his own right, the JCT Trio’s current tour features a program that represents the epitome of the traditional European-American classical idiom, with the newest work dating from more than a century ago.

The program opens with two short pieces by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, then segues into Charles Ives’ Piano Trio, which was inspired by the composer’s days at Yale University, a few years before World War I. The conclusion is Antonin Dvorak’s Piano Trio No. 3.

Portland Ovations presents the JCT Trio on Jan. 22 at 4 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

Vocalosity

Deke Sharon is a man on a mission: To spread the gospel of a cappella music to the far reaches of our planet in new and exciting ways. To that end, he’s created an act he calls Vocalosity, a 10-member ensemble that’s currently on tour throughout the U.S. The bus stops in Portland on Jan. 26.

The idea behind Vocalosity began with the movie “Pitch Perfect,” which featured a competition among teams of college singers, with musical arrangements and direction by Sharon. The improbable and unexpected commercial success of “Pitch Perfect” and its successor inspired him to further efforts.

Vocalosity represents that next stage.

Drawing a team of young singers from several television talent shows plus some Broadway actors, Sharon created an ensemble that performs his own arrangements of (mostly) familiar music. Sometimes all the singers perform together, while at other points in the show various sub-units are featured, sometimes performing in creative opposition to each other.

Sharon’s innovative and unexpected vocal arrangement are at the root of Vocalosity’s success. His palette is vast, ranging from Gregorian chants and traditional barbershop quartets to the Beatles and Bruno Mars.

Portland Ovations presents Vocalosity on Jan. 26 at 7:30 p.m. at Merrill Auditorium at Portland City Hall. Call PortTix at 842-0800.

The Jones Family Singers are a traditional African-American gospel ensemble who will visit Portland’s Merrill Auditorium this Friday, hosted by Portland Ovations.

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