Portland jazz walks again

Before you even walk into LV’s Uptown the first thing you’ll notice is the sound. That swingin’, boppin’, groovin’ jazz that comes from two or three professional musicians just having fun and playing with such great verve and enthusiasm. The buoyant notes come bouncing down the corridor and smack you in the face so hard that you can’t wait to stand up and step in behind the double doors that covet the establishment that is LV’s Uptown.

“LV’s has been pretty specific in its personable attraction,” according to Darrell Grant, famed pianist and founder of LV’s Uptown. “I thought it would be a really good place to have a particular kind of jazz. The interactions with the musicians thus far have been very comfortable and intimate. I mean there might be a place where you’ll get a solo guitarist as background music, but at LV’s, due to the setup, you get a real show, a real give and take between the musicians and the audience. Now that we’ve moved to an even bigger stage, there is more room and we have the opportunity to make LV’s into something even larger. We have stuff you can’t find anywhere else; Dave Frishberg & Rebecca Kilgore for example, don’t really play anywhere else, so whenever they come to town, the place is packed. And I would never want to sacrifice that.”

And that’s mostly how LV’s functions. It is uncompromising, fresh and exciting in a world where jazz venues tend to be stereotypical smoky bars guarded by unfriendly bouncers who kick out underage kids. But everything at LV’s, from the all ages seating, to the 7 to 10 p.m. time slot and the close up, interactive setting screams: This is what jazz could be – a place for a community to hear it’s proverbial soundtrack.

“At one point in time jazz was cool and it served a particular community,” ponders Grant. “But then it parted ways, and the really rebellious college kids who used to listen to jazz started listening to Bob Dylan and Peter Paul and Mary. In the ’40s it was a jitterbug crowd, and people loved to dance, so jazz served that community, but once that demographic changed, and those people had kids, and the shortages of the war didn’t allow travel, big bands stopped traveling and jazz struggled and it had no community to serve, and I think that’s one of the things that hip-hop serves now; it allows kids to be rebellious and it connects music to a community. Jazz still serves that purpose for older people like my parents, but I mean who knows, maybe some new generation will decide to take up the flag and jazz will serve a new community of faux-jazz-urban-hipsters; but at the moment that’s not going to happen. And LV’s Uptown is trying to mitigate that problem by creating a sense of community and a place where new music can grow. But I mean you really have to work it if you want to attract a larger group. And we’re trying, but were just beginning that process.”

And he’s right. While LV’s can seat up to 60 people in it’s new digs, I sat amongst a meager crowd of 13 dedicated jazz fans all over the age of 40. But what LV’s lacked in conceivable capacity it more than made up for in musicianship. Darrel Grant and Dan Gildea, or DG2, burned through genre boundaries faster than an alcoholic misogynist on the run from a mobile M.A.D.D. meeting gone awry. Yet they were able to maintain a singular cohesiveness that can only be described as inspired chemistry. Each song in the set juxtaposed the swinging, bop-influenced piano lines with the gently bluesy guitar notes that wafted through the air. Gildea’s heartfelt, reverberating guitar created an off-balanced sonic surrealism while Grant held down a progressing rhythm even when he took off on inspired Monk-esque jackrabbit leads. Due to the eclectic quality of the set (Otis Redding here, Bonnie Raitt here, Louis Jordan there) it might be easy to write the duo’s ferocity and ingenuity off as a gimmick or quirkiness, but that would be a mistake; and you simply cannot dismiss DG2 ability to translate emotions into the language of music, as in the freedom and abandon Grant allowed Gildea on numerous songs. The duo can best be described as Wes Montgomery playing with Keith Jarrett, or maybe George Benson jamming with Horace Silver.

As the second part of the set progressed, the duo took more chances: walking out onto a ledge and simply jumping off, but never losing the deep, lush lyricism inherent in the duo’s chemistry. The thematic body and the hook at every song’s core were infectious and judiciously chosen; every song tended to open inwardly to an entirely new set of musical ideas. Spare, careful and emotionally moving, the duo tended to build until the entire atmosphere gelled and cracked into a breezy elegant walk through airy harmonics and slippery rhythms. There were prevalent notions of counterpoint, dense syncopated rhythmic figures, and tight, tense dynamics that provided segue after segue for the cohesive whole. But as my fellow attendees and I found out from the LV’s Uptown and the duo’s performance: it is the place between the cracks, where defined genres disappear into a poetic whole, and what emerges is something utterly new, guided and inspired by the limitless creativity of the jazz tradition.


LV’s Uptown will host the amazing blues and finger style guitarist Mary Flower with multi-instrumentalist Lex Browning this Friday. Saturday it’s Darrell Grant, with bassist Dennis Caiazza and saxophonist David Evans. All shows are from 7 to 10 p.m. with no cover charge and are located at 310 S.W. Lincoln St., inside the Double Tree Hotel.