The cure for heartache

Moonchild glows for Soul’d Out PDX

Los Angeles neo-soul-jazz trio, Moonchild performed Thursday, April 19 at the Star Theater with Momo Pixel as one of many performances comprising Portland’s annual Soul’d Out Music Festival. There’s no way I’d rather state it: Moonchild killed it. The performance exceeded my expectations going in, which were already high.

Moonchild’s previous three albums Voyager, Please Rewind, and Be Free have been featured on Portland’s KMHD 89.1 Jazz Radio, which is how I found them. I was driving home around midnight after a long day at work when I turned the radio station to KMHD, who was playing the last part of Moonchild’s “The List.” I couldn’t Shazam the song fast enough, but luckily the show’s host later announced the band’s name, and I’ve followed their music ever since.

The group is surprising for many reasons, not just because they sound just as good live as they do on record. You would never know by ear that they only have three members—Amber Navran, Max Bryk, and Andris Mattson—who all play their own brass instruments on top of vocals and keyboards. Moonchild was joined on stage by LA drummer Bianca Richardson, whose technical and energetic performance added an extra element of rhythm and creativity to the show.

In between instrumental sets, Navran, Moonchild’s lead vocalist, serenaded the audience with a unique voice reminiscent of classic tracks such as Julie London’s “Cry Me A River,” or Dusty Springfield’s “Spooky,” but she sounded just as smokey and sultry as any Norah Jones ballad. Navran’s vocals aren’t quite like any other. I nearly had an existential moment during the show when I looked out at the crowd, who were all watching Navran completely transfixed. It was special, beautiful and very strange.

Normally, the Portland concert scene provides the minimum of what you pay for: a concert. Worst case scenario, the artist doesn’t perform well and the drinks are overpriced. This show was different though, as not only did the band perform very well, but the audience was into it in a way I haven’t quite experienced with a small venue before. It felt like I was in a room full of people who got it. Nobody had to explain their love of the jazz-funk niche happening this week in Portland. It’s not mainstream, but it’s not trendy or hipster; it’s real music.

Moonchild’s playful and energetic effect on the crowd made the performance unique. People of all ages and social groups were completely pumped for every song.

After closing with the song “Back To Me,” the audience was not ready to see the band go. Bryk came back out on stage and asked the crowd, “Do you want one more?” The crowd cheered. “How about two?” People went nuts. I left the show after with a new appreciation for my hometown’s music scene, Soul’d Out and the experience of watching a group of artists thrive, knowing they’re going to go far.