F e b r u a r y   2 0 0 2

Aural Report

Washed back to a time more refined
The Stuart Wylen Trio
by Kurt Dahlke

old Saturday nights in the Northwest are for staying home, curled up and warm – storing fat and energy for the inevitable frenzy that is spring and summer.

But no one told that to the Portlanders thronging the rain-slicked streets of Old Town this particular January night. A thick line of confused thrill-seekers stretches half a block from the door of Banana Joe's. At 9 p.m. And Banana Joe's, a dance club that's "the newest entertainment concept" to hit Portland, is merely another chain founded in the pursuit of the '80s nostalgia dollar – a place where Animotion reigns supreme, except on Salsa Night.

Earlier, at the deserted Tube, I thankfully enjoyed a tasty, eye-pleasing Soma-tini with friends while admiring the gloriously impractical Kubrick-styled Formica-and-Lucite interior. Stories you might have heard about the Tube's aloof servers may be true. And if the place is crowded, I'm sure it's a chore just being there. But otherwise, it's the coolest interior in Portland. Worth a look.

Tight, hot and sweaty: The Stuart Wylen Trio is full of groove.

Still blithely assuming a quiet night, we dig into the Shanghai Tunnel, a dark-brown, cozy basement bar occupying space once used, in part, for Portland's drunken-sailor-slave-trade. We aren't shanghaied, but the writing is on the wall; soon every booth is occupied, and we're on our way to Jazz de Opus.

We realize that the horrid parking and loud groups of leather-wearing 20-somethings on the cell phones yelling "We're in Chinatown, man," are for real.

We hurry to duck into the Opus. It's standing-room only as we squeeze into the living darkness, feeling the dark wood and the cool jazz.

The Stuart Wylen Trio is a smart-looking group, and their stylish appearance matches their sound. Drums, hollow-bodied electric guitar and upright bass convey a fiery-yet-smooth take on '50s-style West Coast jazz; a little bit cool, a little bit hard bop, and full of groove.

The emphasis is on rhythmic propulsion and coherence. Melodies are easy to define and harmonies are memorable. There's no unpredictable, volcanic horn player delving into wild solos that lose the audience, though guitar-fancies over chugging, walking tempos make it easy to enter a happy reverie.

Wylen's guitar sounds organic and warm, his Wes Montgomery-type chord work reminds me of sheets of buzzing honey. Bassist Tom Miller walks up and down his instrument's neck, providing ground for the sound to bubble along. Drummer John VanOeveren swings like an old pro. His sticks skitter around, alternating between straightforward time and the syncopated accents that define the style with gentle splashing of cymbals.

The Stuart Wylen Trio keeps regional audiences dancing and smiling – even if things get a little tight, hot and sweaty in whatever room they play. My companions and I can no longer take the crush, eventually repairing to one of Chinatown's more notorious gin palaces. There's plenty of gin, but the place is no palace, which is okay, as echoes of the SW3 wash us back to a time more refined.

Warm up to the Stuart Wylen Trio in Portland:
• Jazz de Opus: Feb. 1; March 6, 29 & 30
• Paragon: Feb. 2 & 8
• Rivers: Feb. 6 & 20
• Billy Reed’s: Feb. 22

E-mail Kurt at orangeandorange@msn.com, and don't miss his previous reports.

site design / management / host: ae
© 2001-2005 nwdrizzle.com / all rights reserved.