A MUSIC-PAINTED MIND: THE TIPTONS

The days of Canasta, sewing circles, and Tupperware parties have been eradicated, tossed into the trunk with Atari's Space Invaders, cassette tapes, and typewriters. In their place have spawned five women chattering in brass and percussion circus ladders, creating culture with each note. A reformation of The Billy Tipton Memorial Saxophone Quartet, these women do great justice to Billy Tipton, who spent her life posed as a man in the world of jazz.

The GoodFoot Lounge in Portland is sparsely populated, in fact the crowd almost doubles when the women sit around tables during set break, but if the air weren't so heavy with winter I believe music patrons would flock like mice smelling a fell hint of cheese in the night (unfortunately, cold air has a small backpack for music). It must be difficult to play to a dark red-lit room splattered with faces like stars visible above L.A., but a few of those faces are clearly friends of the band and they're playing as if it's a treat to have an evening of creative music with friends in this great roomy space.

It's not much of a dancing environment this evening so I sit on a brown vinyl crescent bench wrapped around a little table with a single candle coated in red glass, pretending I'm a beatnik back in the days when you could sit in a dark empty bar jiving on creative music that takes you on a journey when you let it in and quiet your mind. The music is inspired and unruly, ideal for internalizing in a creative trip. My eyes pull my head in jerks to the music puncturing sharp pockets of sound like fleas springing from one spot to another without seemingly moving or bending any appendages. I'm watching something, following it as it darts across the room, bouncing off the walls like a racquetball; I haven't seen it yet. Its stream whizzes from ceiling to floor, into corners and walls in colors of sunset water droplets. If I move fast enough I'm sure I'll be able to see it-—though it seems strikingly similar to attempting to clank a single glass of beer in a cheers. Four saxophones and an entourage of percussion instruments release ("shoot" is perhaps more accurate) music into the room like fireworks and pent up genies angry at their oppressive golden prison. Knees bunch up, legs jerk, bodies jeer, feet tap--periodically, uncontrollably--grabbing music from all around them. They are a magical children's book with Velcro pull-tabs hiding layers that stream in trails through the room.

The women all gather and shake sounds loose differently. Tobi Stone, on baritone sax, chomps out music that starts from her tapping heel like a cartoon rabbit chewing carrots. Amy Denio on alto sax is a kooky creative spinster of brass sounds. They all dip and bend at the whim of their golden orbs, but Jessica Lurie on alto and tenor sax follows the flow and waves of her music more so than any musician I've seen. She stands strongly, bursting sounds, then, circling from the hips, she drops to the floor to pick up notes trying to escape her range, which they'd clearly underestimated; she doesn't wrench it from reserves, it's solid. Though she doesn't seem to go full throttle until the second set where they all thrive with a new energy, more cohesive, together and unified in their various outbursts. Sue Orfield on tenor sax is pure red-cheeked power. I love watching her and Jessica play together; they combat in invisible waves shooting flaming balls of jazz around the room... PLAHH! I swallowed one! These jazz balls are feisty (though it would be cool to cough up a fuzzy red-glowing jazz-belching hairball later). Elizabeth Pupo-Walker is the driving beat stringing together the splatters, skips, grooves, bursts, and melodies of the horns on percussion. She is as much a creator of unique sounds as she is the entire rhythm section for this onslaught of horns. They are a working anatomy: a machine made up of very distinct parts doing their own thing.

They use words like New Orleans jump-groove, hip-hop/punk, East European/Klezmer, and beyond to describe themselves. All fine words (I particularly like Klezmer). The creative talent is mind-boggling. It's not meant to be understood; it's an expression, but it's very coordinated at the same time. They've designed this chaos, mapped it out, written it to contradict itself, to hit every off-beat and create new ones. This is what psychosis sounds like. How the hell do I know that? When did my beatnik game become reality? Does anyone else in here realize we're in a Paris café? Have they noticed they're painting the walls in notes of artistic genius? Do they feel the Apocalypse Now vibe of "I Will Not Be Sad" that transforms the Goodfoot Lounge into a giant Chinese finger trap pulsing inward from all directions? Can they feel the animation surrounding us (and I'm talking full Papa Smurf, Tigger-bouncing animation)? Are they dancing to the audience titled improv, "Other Eggs," in slippers across the deck of a cruise ship commercial where cruises seem like happy places with fruit baskets, smiles, and cocktails? Do they sense hundreds of frogs sucking holes out of a porous mountain with puckered bites like ravenous termites? Is this the common experience to their music? Since I'm writing this I'm going to say yes, it is. Intensity is building; the mountain may collapse.

They build a base just solid enough to break with a solo or exploration from one of them, perhaps a few (sometimes all), then dive back into it as if it were a doorway open for only a moment while they happened to be passing by. Winding down the short second set, Amy, Jessica, and Tobi drop the saxophones for a moment to join Elizabeth on percussion by clapping their hands at high speeds, barely offbeat from one another—-there are suddenly ten people making music and growing exponentially with each simple slap of their palms. With all the clapping I almost forget to look at Sue going nuts with pass-out-cold sax energy before they join and loop right into the beginning of the song. They perform a similar feat with a story from Serbia that shapes itself behind my eyes as a small man sentenced to life as a vine growing between stones, desperate, before it transforms and loops back to its original parade of insects joining from tree tops, under logs, rocks, and sky to dance gracefully in a carnival—-they gather on a leaf and blow away over the sea.

Reanna Feinberg
JamBase | Oregon
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[Published on: 11/11/03]

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