As I find myself battling the mix of Northwest rain, interspersed with the constant creeping sun of spring, a slew of interesting shows hit Portland, Oregon. While I drool over the Disco Biscuits setlists that appear on my computer screen each morning, I have resigned myself to exploring the options closer to home as tDBs are not venturing into the Pac NW anytime soon (as far as I can tell). So here is an exploration of some different musical styles that are found in the Biscuits' repertoire.

FILA BRAZILLIA | Berbati's Pan | 04.04.02

Veteran English downtempo duo Fila Brazillia rolled into Ptown in the midst of their first-ever American tour. Unfamiliar with their actual music, I entered Berbati's that night expecting to hear some downtempo electronica mix with world music influences. While I have been exploring the outer reaches of the downtempo scene through various CDs by DJs Cam, Krush, Shadow, Boards of Canada and a slew of others, I had somehow managed to neglect Fila, one of the innovators of the scene.

When they stepped on stage at 11:45 pm, they were more than a duo. There was a live drummer, a live guitarist who also had a synth in front of him, a live bassist with a synth and one person manning a laptop. They instantly kicked into mid tempo grooves that were highlighted by Talking Heads-esque rhythm guitar work and pre-programmed loops that filtered through the laptop and added extraordinary amounts of color to the music.

I was expecting a far more laid back vibe, but Fila brought some serious energy and some wicked dance music. As the party began bumpin', Portland's vast array of scantily clad women kicked some wonderful moves and Fila kicked a set that won't soon be forgotten. I highly recommend checking these folks out if you get the chance – don't expect anything, and you might be nicely surprised as I was.

ZONY MASH | The Fez Ballroom | 04.06.02

I hadn't ever heard Zony Mash until earlier that evening, when I called up their webpage and downloaded some mp3s of their live shows. As I played some FIFA 2002 on PS2, I was hit with a wicked mix of Hammond B-3 (played by the incredible Wayne Horvitz) jazz and stunning psychedelic guitar licks. The mp3 jammed drove into the outer reaches of jazz /rock improv and blew me away to the point where I decided to drive the 10 blocks to check out the show.

The Fez Ballroom is a swank venue for Portland, with their plush, make-out couches lining the walls and a seriously large dance floor. When Zony took the stage a good crowd of hipsters, hippies and jazz heads mingled onto the dance floor and were instantly dancing to the explorations of the four members of Zony Mash. The bass playing of Keith Lowe mixed serious funk grooves with jazz exploration, and the guitar work by Tim Young really astounded me as it complemented the lead playing of the organ so well. It was incredibly psychedelic stuff that forced his body into wicked convulsions and gyrations. It was so melodic and so forceful at the same time it was restrained and polished. Zony Mash can rawk, for damn sure.

MEL BROWN QUINTET | Jimmy Mak's | 04.11.02

Mel Brown is a drummer and the cat is famous. He's played with the Beatles. That what his website says. He's played with The Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas, Smokey Robinson, Gladys Knight, Marvin Gaye, The Four Tops and many, many others. He plays four nights a week at the venerable Jimmy Mak's, Portland's finest jazz club. I had not seen Mel play until this night when I strolled in for some dinner and an evening of jazz.

I was astounded by the crisp sound of the band as they took the stage and weaved through so many familiar jazz themes, that I spent half the evening wondering which songs they were playing and why I could not put a name on them. When I realized I was wasting time thinking, I put that aside and let my ears bristle with the tune of sax player Thara Memory's warm, full tones, and a trombone player (whose name I did not catch) highlighted the sax with touches of blurps and bleeps, long, slow washes and otherwise inspired play.

Guitarist Dan Faehnle impressed with virtuoso ripping on his classic Les Paul. He ran up and down the guitar neck all evening long, mouthing his notes and greeting the audience with a wide smile. His playing jumped out of his body and kept me mesmerized all evening long. Accompanied by another Hammond B-3, the Mel Brown Quintet was backed by Mr. Brown himself who played magnificently. He was restrained but seemed to lead the band through all the changes in a very quiet way. His arms seemed not to move all evening long but his syncopation was dead on, the mark of a true professional.

SYSTEMWIDE | Berbati's Pan

Systemwide is amazing. They are a live electronic/dub band that has one foot firmly entrenched in the 70s Jamaican stylings of King Tubby, Lee Perry and Prince Far I, and one foot reaching into the future of electronic music. They are a live bassist with a synth, a keyboardist, a DJ, a live drummer and a vocalist who also plays the melodica, made famous by Augustus Pablo.

I have seen Systemwide a number of times; they are a local Portland act that is dropping a new record in June. They bring such amazing energy to their show that it forces the audience out onto the dance floor and into some serious, deep and dark grooves. Drummer Josh Skins (!) is the driving force behind the band as his complex beats are so fierce that they propel the band into the outer limits of dub. Often the vocalist will play with an effects set up that runs through his microphone, delaying his voice and making a high pitched wailing sound. He will also point the microphone onto the drums, creating delays and echoes.

Keyboards add touches of reggae's texture to the mix, and the driving bass lines anchor the band into their melodious and complex grooves. A flute player joined Systemwide for a few numbers on this evening, and added Sphongle-esque layers to the mix that further drove the band into danceable madness.

Systemwide sometimes makes it down to SF's Dub Mission [Sundays at the Elbo Room]; when they do, you Bay area folks should check them out.

Chris Calarco
JamBase | Portland
Go see live music!

[Published on: 4/26/02]

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