By Don Heckman
Ashland, Oregon. I expected another memorable musical experience Saturday night when I looked at my schedule. And with good reason. For the past few weeks, I’ve heard and enjoyed a series of compelling evenings of music in concerts produced by the Siskiyou Music Project.
Saturday’s performance by Jeremy Siskind and the Housewarming Project – another musical group well-chosen by the SMP’s Artistic Director Ed Dunsavage — was no exception. It reached, in fact, beyond music, into a transformative event in which the players, the music and the location blended into an intimate togetherness, drawing its listeners into a kind of complete experiential participation.
The location was to me, as an Ashland newcomer, utterly gripping. It’s called the Old Siskiyou Barn. And that’s exactly what it once was.
But now, despite its location in the woodsy mountain area south of Ashland, it has become a beautifully restored performance space (check the photo) with embracing acoustics, the earthy fragrance of ancient wood and the opportunity to experience the music up close and personal. Surrounding the Barn are banks of wild flowers, grassy green picnic areas and three ponds streaming with mountain waters. No wonder it is one of Ashland’s most popular performance areas, for local talent, as well as touring, stellar artists.
Saturday’s headliner, The Housewarming Project, was a trio led by pianist/composer Jeremy Siskind. His two creative companions were singer Nancy Harms and multi-woodwind player Lucas Pino.
The combination of a piano, voice and a collection of woodwind instruments doesn’t seem, on the face of it, to contain any unusually creative potential. Which might be the truth, if the players were anyone other than Siskind, Harms and Pino.
The music they offered on Saturday was utterly unique. Virtually all the selections – with the sole exception of a few standards – were composed and/or arranged by Siskind. A gifted pianist/composer, Siskind’s collection of material reached across a far range of material: cabaret tunes, a song calculated to be – in Siskind’s description – “a Paul Simon kind of song,” another inspired by Jack Kerouac, other works based on lyrical poetry with titles such as “Hymn of Things,” “Theme For A Sunrise,” “The Trees Don’t Need To Know,” and more.
Add to that the unlikely choice of an old Ink Spots tune called “Whispering Grass,” and standards “Bye Bye Blackbird,” “Moonlight In Vermont” and a newly harmonized take on “I Could Have Danced All Night.”
It was a fascinating musical menu. But the magic here was what Siskind did with each of these songs, and what Harms and Pino did with their interpretive soloing.
Harms’ honey and bourbon sound blended intimately with the colorful tonal variations of Pino’s clarinet, bass clarinet and tenor saxophone playing.
Supporting them, Siskind’s pianistic work took full advantage of the piano as an orchestra in itself, from whispered high notes arching through Harms’ coloratura head tones to unison bass passages with Pino’s dark low notes.
As with previous Siskiyou Musical Project events, we headed for home with resonating echoes of appealing music still ringing in our ears. And looking forward to the next opportunity to experience another SMP musical evening in the embracing surroundings of the Old Siskiyou Barn.
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